2 Quotes on The Transformational Power of Pain


I've been reading a lot lately and came across the following two passages that I found quite powerful. I spent most of my life always focused on what was next--I'd graduate, then go on fellowship, then have a baby, then I'd get this job, then I'd advance to another... I was always thinking that happiness was around the corner, so much so that I missed it. I missed it in the moments of solitude. I missed it in the beauty of sipping tea. I missed it in the look in my loved one's eyes. After my divorce and health crisis, I realized that all we really have in life are these moments in which we are present, alive.

First, a quote from Elizabeth Lesser:

You can either break down and stay broken down and eventually shut down, or you can break open. It's a decision you make. It's a commitment. I am going through a very hard time. I'm not going to waste this precious experience, this opportunity to become the best me. 

Through the experience of getting divorced and becoming a single mother, I lost everything--my financial security, my self-image, my support, my home. Everything changed for me. In the depth of that loss, I found out who I really was. I began to trust who I was. I began to find a genuine me that could withstand anything. And if we fight those times and fight the bud opening, we live half of a life. But when we open into our brokenness, that's when we blossom. 

Second, a passage from Anticancer by Dr David Servan-Schreiber:

In Existential Psychotherapy...Irvin Yalom, an eminent psychiatrist at Stanford University, quotes a letter written by a senator in the early sixties shortly after he had been told he had a very serious cancer. 

A change came over me which I believe is irreversible. Questions of prestige, of political success, of financial status, became all at once unimportant. In those first hours when I realized I had cancer, I never thought of my seat in the Senate, of my bank account, or of the destiny of the free world....My wife and I have not had a quarrel since my illness was diagnosed. I used to scold her about squeezing the toothpaste from the top instead of the bottom, about not catering sufficiently to my fussy appetite, about making up guest lists without consulting me, about spending too much on clothes. Now I am either unaware of such matters or they seem unimportant. 

In their stead has come a new appreciation of things I once took for granted--eating lunch with a friend, scratching Muffet's ears and listening for his purrs, the company of my wife, reading a book or magazine in the quiet cone of my bed lamp at night, raiding the refrigerator for a glass of orange juice or a slice of coffee cake. For the first time I think I am actually savoring life. I realize, finally, that I am not immortal. I shudder when I remember all the occasions that I spoiled for myself--even when I was in the best of health--by false pride synthetic values and fancied slights. 

Thus the approach of death can sometimes lead to a kind of liberation. In it’s shadow, life suddenly takes on an intensity resonance and savour we may never have known before. Of course, when the time comes, we feel the despair of leaving life behind, much as we would in saying farewell to someone we loved, knowing we would never see them again. Most of us dread that sadness, But in the end, wouldn’t it be worse to leave without having tasted of life’s full flavour? Wouldn’t it be far worse to have no reason to be sad at that moment of parting.