Here in the Pacific Northwest, dark descends soon after 4:00 p.m. during these final days of autumn. I marvel at how different I feel from summertime when I could begin a long hike at 4:00 p.m. and still be back before dark.
Now it’s cocooning and going within as much as possible. And certainly calling it a day by 5:28 p.m. when the Flux app on my computer tells me the sun has set. How convenient, so has my energy level. Come Thanksgiving and onward, I welcome more reflection time, waiting in the dark for the light to slowly return on the winter solstice Dec. 21.
Part of this pre-winter routine has to do with my Catholic faith tradition of Advent and years of intentionally crafting the four weeks before Christmas to be retreat-like. Another reason for this pre-winter routine is that I have finally aligned my body-mind rhythms with Mother Nature’s, realizing that I am a much happier camper when I do—as are the people around me.
Over the last four weeks of pre-winter routine 2016, I have been thinking about suffering and its relationship to happiness. How can I truly be happy with so much suffering going on in the world for so many?
I read Martin Seligman’s now classic book, Authentic Happiness, several years ago. I resonate with “authentic” and glad he makes a point that being happy doesn’t mean we deny pain or suffering. Yet, holding both the good and the bad in life simultaneously, especially in these dark times, can be challenging.
But hold both we must—otherwise we may fall into the abyss of perpetual positivity, trivializing our human condition and replacing our compassion with callousness. Or another type of incipient trap that leads us to thinking that our positive thoughts are the only things that create our “reality.”
Imagine telling the people of Aleppo Abraham Hicks’ famous statement: “It is not possible for someone else to create your reality.” Really?
A weird kind of hubris takes over if we allow the “power of the positive” to deny the actuality that we are constantly creating our reality with others. In turn, those others continually impact our reality, and possibly even help to limit the effect of our positive thoughts. At least that seems to be a more accurate picture of reality based on my lived experience.
Please understand, I do see the transformative results of a positive approach every day in my coaching clients and the family support professionals I train to become PCI Certified Parent Coaches®. The Parent Coach Certification® Training Program I developed is founded on activating positive psychology in the daily lives of parents. I chose to use the powerful change process of an Appreciative Inquiry frame, developed by David Cooperrider and his colleagues at Case Western University. There is profound energy in meeting our challenges with our strengths and a positive approach, considering carefully what we can do make life better within it’s ever-present challenges. Accepting, understanding, even embracing suffering paradoxically ensures a positive change process. As a parent coach and trainer of other parent coaches, I work hard to keep this in mind. It’s a Both/And world…We all suffer AND for most of us there is good to be focused on in each moment.
You may have seen this one floating around Facebook or Twitter: “Pain is Inevitable; Suffering is a choice.” You may believe it. I don’t.
In my world, suffering is; it’s not a choice.
The choice becomes how to think about and live with our suffering. Once again that sneaky hubris seems to say that if you are in pain, “Buck up. You don’t need to suffer.” No one would even think tell that to the people of Aleppo right now, or to anyone suffering in homelessness or suffering with a chronic illness, either.
The problem of suffering has concerned philosophers and spiritual masters for centuries. The Buddha put desire as the cause of all suffering. Letting go of their desire to live by choosing suicide over rape, some women in Aleppo exemplify the end of all desire, even the desire for life and hence, the end of their suffering.
We ourselves suffer when we read about others’ suffering. Or at least, I hope we do, because that intentional choice “to suffer with the other” is known as compassion.
C.S. Lewis has written, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.