Uncomfortable experiences can stretch us and help us grow, believes Nicole Law.
I find solace in poetry in difficult times because it serves as a balm for my weary soul. I was struck by poet Andrea Gibson’s recent post on social media: two short sentences which packed a powerful punch:
“Praise the moment
when our grief
becomes a window,
when we can see
what we could
not see before.”
My feed has recently been inundated with various iterations of the ‘Singapore dream’, a local adaptation of the ‘American dream’. It’s striking to see that, in our case, and as conservative as this might seem to Western ‘Woke’ eyes, this dream still largely revolves around getting married, having children and home ownership.
I recognise in this dream both highly positive values and a significant peril.
As a young adult, I’ve sometimes suffered from obscured vision, with only a narrow perception of what being successful might look like. Over the past few years, I’ve juggled work demands, relationships, family and personal interests. I’ve watched friends attempt to strike a balance between these diverse elements. I’ve listened to them share the dreams and aspirations they have for themselves.
All this has made me particularly wary of the danger of being sucked into the blackhole of wanting what other people have. I know that, were this to happen, I would be wholly unable to glimpse the broader truth.
It has also made me very aware of one very enticing but particularly dangerous temptation, the ‘peril’ I mentioned above: the desire to move smoothly along the road of progressive and uninterrupted well-being, modest and discreet perhaps, nothing extravagant, but abiding good fortune all the same.
Without a blip, we may be lulled into thinking that we have achieved some level of success or reached a certain point in life. It is easy to get swept along by the pursuit of these ‘performance indicators’. Sometimes what we need is a spanner in the works, a moment of grief to open the ‘window’ Andrea writes about.
We need to be knocked off balance once in a while in order to allow uncomfortable experiences to stretch our capacities and expand our perceived limits.
This can come in the form of a steep increase in work demands, confronting our negative relational patterns, experiencing failure or set-backs, or addressing our triggers and trauma.
We need the humility – perhaps on occasions the humiliation – to see that much of what has gone ‘right’ in our lives is often the result of a complex mix: human effort certainly – and humility can also recognise this – but external factors too, totally beyond anything we might have done or not done.
We suffer loss and insecurity in many ways. When we experience grief, we mourn the loss of something which gave us comfort and security. We may be facing new challenges at work and be negotiating a new environment where we are still learning the rules. We may be articulating new boundaries in our relationships with others, even permitting some of them to fade away with time.
These are all forms of grief which give rise to the clarity of vision Andrea highlights. We develop a greater awareness of our inherent limitations and fallible nature. We re-evaluate our ideals and question why they are important to us. And so loss can be a gain, helping us to acquire a deeper, clearer insight into life’s value and meaning.
I questioned earlier what significance the markers of the ‘Singapore dream’ held for me: why do I also find them so appealing? Certainly they offer the possibility of a secure and peaceful personal and social life and in that sense they are good and worth aspiring to. But perhaps also they contain that dangerous temptation I mentioned: the wish for a staid, and so ultimately stale, abiding life of comfort.
Perhaps too I felt the desire to conform to societal expectations or to prove to an unknown ‘society’ that I had ‘measured up’.
Stepping away and looking through the window, I came to the realisation that these ideas were idols. I desired them for the sake of acquiring them and not for their inherent value.
Perhaps with age and added responsibility, I’ve begun to see the world around me with new eyes. I’ve begun to treat myself and others with greater kindness and empathy, knowing that our behaviour is largely influenced by ingrained beliefs and past experiences. I’ve begun to see the beauty instead of pointing out the flaws in the canvas of my friend’s chaotic life. Their ‘blips’ also have much to teach me.
This new clarity of sight penetrates to the goodness which lies hidden within each human experience. It enlightens my vision to glimpse the purpose behind a difficulty and to know that it is this difficulty which allows us to ‘see what we could not see before’.
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