But I shall sing of your strength; and in the morning I shall sing of your love. For you are my defender; and my refuge, in the days of my tribulations. (Psalm 59:16)
Since moving to Italy a year ago, I often hear the word ‘tribolazione’. While rarely used in English, this word ‘tribulation’ often poetically enters Italian conversation when my neighbors are talking about a very long, difficult, and grievous period in their or someone else’s life.
Hearing this word more often, I started to wonder about its origins. I soon discovered that it derives from the Latin word tribulum. A tribulum is a threshing roller or sledge pulled by oxen that farmers have used for centuries to separate the corn from the husks, the wheat from the chaff.
How often I have felt trampled by oxen as they yanked sharp flints of cut stone over me. (Well, okay. I am dramatizing, but you know this feeling don’t you?) Something inside me is being purged and discarded allowing my truer self to be freed from its hidden form. Without the tribulum, the seed of new life cannot be beaten away from the wheat, the flail, or the corn. The new seed can only lay dormant and lost.
I know that this tearing and winnowing away of all my old resistance and useless patterns of being is necessary for my soul’s renewal and growth. Tribulations are always required before the next stage of my life can fully begin.
From a psychosynthesis viewpoint, change begins at that point when you recognize and decide to accept the deep feelings you have around your tribulation. Assagioli wrote the following about the “joy of suffering”:
“Joy does not exclude suffering. They coexist in us. In order to transcend and destroy suffering, one has to begin by temporarily accepting it. This can be achieved by recognizing that it is temporary and by learning…willing the lessons that it imports.”
In fact, Assagioli clearly states that, as we attempt to fulfill our higher needs, “conflicts, crises of adjustment and growth” are bound to arise, leading us to experience our suffering alongside joy. Usually these conflicts occur between our subpersonalities. For example, while we might feel joy at mastering a particularly unruly subpersonality, this subpersonality might experience this harmonization as painful. A part of us might rejoice in our willful determination to bring a subpersonality into check, even as this subpersonality defensively kicks and screams, making our lives temporarily a painful travail.
Assagioli writes how the great mystics and saints were able to smile as they endured their inner torments and physical martyrdom. He specifically quotes Saint Francis of Assisi with regard to this spiritual process:
“So great is the Good I look forward to, that I take joy in every pain.”
Assagioli is the first to commend us to love and accept our psychological, spiritual, and often physically difficult periods that seem to inevitably accompany our personal and spiritual growth. He clearly describes our tribulations as follows:
They are the result of an attempt to grow, and are of the upward quest; they are a by-product of temporary conflicts and imbalances between the conscious personality and the spiritual energies bursting through from above.
So next time you find yourself seeping in tribulation, try to accept it. Know that your pain will pass. And try to be open to the lessons it might teach you. In this way, suffering can become the husk that holds the spiritual fruits of your life, the shaft that bears the new seeds of promised joy.