I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.’ Francoise Sagan

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The transformative value of suffering…

Bad things happen to us all from time to time but I have always believed that what defines our value as human beings is the way we respond to such challenges. And sometimes out of the greatest suffering, the most amazing transformations can be born.

As those of you who regularly read my blog will know, at the beginning of this year I found myself facing a crisis in my personal life. I cannot say that I am grateful for this experience because the pain I felt was so intense that for a while I struggled to eat, sleep and do even the most basic everyday things. On the other hand, it did serve a useful purpose: something akin to a long overdue and much-needed wake-up call! With the benefit of hindsight, I now appreciate that perhaps only something of this magnitude could have made me see that I had inadvertently taken a detour down a blind alley.  For the truth is that I had been sleepwalking through life for many months - barely conscious of myself or my interactions with others - along a route that was taking me further and further in the wrong direction. I would no doubt have continued in this way had the invisible hand of destiny not intervened  - forcefully slapping me awake and breaking me open!

I have always been a person who is prone to extremes. Unfortunately, this means that I am very sensitive to both the positive and negative forces in life - with an innate tendency to lean towards a ‘glass half empty’ type of thinking. So, unless I constantly challenge myself to stay conscious,  when difficulties arise I can easily find myself sucked under by their negative pull. This is effectively what had been happening to me over a prolonged period and although I was vaguely aware of it, I hadn’t fully appreciated just how far down the road to hell I had travelled until the Universe decided to intervene by giving me a huge kick in the rear! At the time, I wondered what an earth was happening and how life could seemingly be so consistently cruel to me. But, I have come to see that although this has been an excruciatingly painful experience, it has actually been necessary to get me back on the right track.

I do not often refer to Buddhism in my posts but it is of particular relevance here, because the way I have dealt with my personal challenges is firmly rooted in the philosophy of my spiritual practice. Nichiren Buddhism teaches that life’s problems are necessary because, without them, we would be unable to develop ourselves as human beings and change our negative karma.  This is quite a radical concept and one that embodies a profoundly hopeful way of looking at life’s adversities. Instead of seeing pain and suffering as just pain and suffering, this school of Buddhism teaches us to see any kind of adversity we may face as an opportunity. In fact the Lotus flower – which represents the guiding philosophy of this form of Buddhism - can only grow in murky waters. This perfectly symbolises the concept that in order to grow and change, we actually need to experience adversity. And, at times, life can definitely throw plenty of mud our way!

With this in mind, I have dedicated myself body and soul to using my suffering to make some much long overdue changes in my life. This has resulted in a radical re-evaluation of who I want to be and how I want to show up in the world. Almost every aspect of my life has been questioned in this process – including how and where I live, what I do for a living and the way I relate to others. In fact, in this last area I am already beginning to see positive changes in the way I interact with some of my closest family members – particularly my brother.

As you know, the title of my blog is Forever Phoenix and I have always felt a deep connection to this mythical creature and all that it symbolises. At various stages in my life, I have had to rebuild my world and start over but I have never learnt so much about myself in the process as I have in the last few weeks. Of one thing I am certain – this suffering has allowed me to become softer, more self-aware, and more compassionate to myself and others; but, above all, it has enabled me to become much clearer about how I want to live my life. So, despite a deep sense of sadness and regret, I actually feel more alive and more awake to life’s possibilities than I ever have.

Suddenly it feels like I am poised at the edge of something very new and exciting. And, like a diver, I am flexing my muscles and taking a deep breath – ready to plunge wholeheartedly into the beautiful unknown.