Yesterday I met Lucia for the first time. She is a 7-month old solid soul who has nothing but gurgling smiles for the world. Between bites of chocolate ice cream, her mother became quietly despondent. “Hasn’t the news been terrible lately?” she asked.
Yes, the news has been terrible. The news is always terrible. That’s what news is. Terrible. It is either full of suffering or full of rich, happy, famous people. Sometimes it is full of rich, unhappy, famous people suffering. But usually it consists of poor, unhappy, non-famous people suffering. In fact, Assagioli once told a student of his that, while it was important to read the news, one should only do so in homeopathic doses!
If the news is making you feel sad, then there is probably something you need to feel sad about in your own life. A Dutch man I recently spoke with said that he had been so sad about the the pandemic that he hasn’t slept for weeks. He doesn’t actually know anyone who has been ill with the virus, but after he talked for a while, I began to realize that he was mostly sad for himself. Doing the same job for 18 years, he dreamed of moving to Italy and starting his own export business. He soon admitted that he had always been too lazy and complacent to change his life and now it felt like everything was too late. His sadness seemed to be more about how his own life felt like a suffocating virus with no cure in sight.
I call this inertia to inner and outer change “the comfort of familiar suffering.” So often we are afraid to change our life because we fear what suffering might come to us as a result. Better to stay where we are. At least we know what the suffering we are enduring now feels like! We know how to talk about it for hours and soothe ourselves with fantasy and addictions. Everything is in place and under control to help us feel comfortable in our suffering! (This is also true, I believe, on a collective level.)
As Viktor Frankl, survivor of four concentration camps during World War II, wrote:
“If there is a meaning in life at all, there must be a meaning in human suffering. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the human suffering it entails…gives him able opportunity to add a deeper meaning to his life” (1984, p. 88).
From a psychosynthesis viewpoint, change begins at that point when you recognize and decide to accept the deep feelings you have around your suffering. Granted, this is no easy endeavor! 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.”
Assagioli advocates that the joyous, generous acceptance of pain is not the same as “enjoying pain.” The equilibrium of joy and sorrow is not macabre or masochistic, but rather, with the right attitude, able to generate positive personal and spiritual growth. He wrote more than 40 years ago, “As now there is an overwhelming amount of pain and sorrow, it is necessary to put the emphasis on Joy. To cultivate and demonstrate it – while recognizing the value and uses in suffering.”
In fact, our resistance to suffering only prolongs it. Instead we might try greeting our suffering with “love and acceptance.” The sooner we do, the sooner our pain will have a chance to be reborn into new creative energies.
“The only way to overcome evil is to transform it into a greater good.” Dorothy L. Sayers
So if the news makes you sad, worried, upset, angry, despondent or depressed…go there joyfully and see where it brings you in your life. What does the latest crises in the news ask you to change in your own personal life? Find someone to talk to about it. And then slowly, with consciousness and will, start to move yourself closer to being the person you really are and long to be.
Frankl, Viktor E. (1984). Man’s Search for Meaning. New York: Pocket Books.