In his book, When you're falling Dive, Mark Matousek explores the effects that trauma can have on the progression of our lives. He argues that `post-catastrophe living' can often be more intense, more vibrant and more joyous than the lives of those who haven't experienced great suffering.
In an interview with Dr Rachel Remen, she tells him "The process of wounding actually awakens us to our strength. It shuffles our values. And the top priority is never what you thought it would be. It's never about perfection or power. It always turns out to be about love."
Although, this may sound counter-intuitive, when we are suffering the loss of love, it is often true, that grief can open our eyes to the love that is still in our lives. It can strengthen the relationships we have with other family members or friends and may bring new relationships and new opportunities into our lives.
Experiencing trauma makes us realise that life can be fragile and brings the concept of impermanence to the forefront of our minds, but this can also help us to loosen our grip on the dissatisfaction of the material world and help us to contemplate the bigger questions. This change of perspective can help us to appreciate the relationships we have, and with more empathy, we are often able to treat others around us with greater love and compassion and less judgement, which, in turn, can lead to the possibility of enhanced relationships with others and more joy and love in our lives.
Mark tells us "...terror can be a door to enlightenment. While traditional cultures have long understood the empowering aspects of fear and wounding, the double-edged force of passage rites to galvanize and deepen the spirit, we are too often shielded from this secret knowledge" He believes that our contemporary view of pain and loss as handicaps to be avoided at any cost, is not only `wrong-headed', but could also potentially be dangerous and counter-productive for the evolution of mankind. "...terror is fuel; wounding is power. Darkness carries the seeds of redemption. Authentic strength isn't found in our armour but at the very pit of the wounds each of us manages to survive. As one widow put it to me, `strength doesn't mean being able to stand up to anything, but being able to crawl on your belly a long, long time before you can stand up again."
In living through his own trauma, he has come to believe that it is through our suffering that we are able to become better human beings... "Our brains are highly mutable, reinventing themselves on a regular basis, which is why not putting pain to it's natural use - as grist for the evolution mill - is such an extraordinary waste of suffering. While hardship can certainly render us bitter, selfish, defensive, and miserable, it can also be used quite differently; as the artery of interconnection, a bridge to other people in pain, as blood in the muscle that propels us. Crisis takes us to the brink of our limits and forces us to keep moving forward. When people in extremis call it a blessing this is the paradox they are describing...Crises pushes you to travel wide, fast, and deep, expands the heart and calls forth reserves of courage you didn't know you had, like adrenaline in the muscles of a mother saving her only child. Only you are the child, and it's your life - the life of your own soul - that you are saving."
Life invariably involves loss, and whilst going through the excruciating aftermath of bereavement or trauma it is hard to believe there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, but in interviewing many people who have experienced different kinds of traumatic events, Mark Matousek's book is an optimistic portrayal of how these events can mould us into more, compassionate, kind and vibrantly alive people. So perhaps we can cling to the hope that there can be an upside to grief after all.