Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Extinction of Tolerance

If you see a spark, you will find it in the ashes.
-Elie Wiesel

A friend of mine called me today to ask my advice. She's enduring the ending of a long relationship, feeling destitute, lonely, and broken.  She asked, "Should I go on some meds to make me feel better?"

"Feel better?" I said. "Why should you feel better? Something really important is happening here in your life. It's a major change and what you're likely to feel is grief."

She blurted, "I don't want to feel grief. I don't want to be sad!"

Well, of course we don't want to feel sad. But...really...isn't there an appropriate time for sadness?  Have we, as a culture- as a people, lost our tolerance for feeling? Is there some cosmic treaty guaranteeing that neither you nor I nor our neighbor nor best friend will get through life absent suffering? 

Still, so many people seem to want a drive-thru cure, 30-second gorilla glue, for a broken heart- for normal feelings like sadness or grief or despair.  Many have not had much practice in sorrow, loss, hunger, desire, or want. Affluence attenuates tolerance. Low emotional tolerance increases the risk of depression and other negative psychological outcomes.

And, what do we miss by our evasions, as Jaspers asks? What happens when we obviate emotional risk?  There is a sublime, and I would argue necessary, beauty and aptitude waiting to be discovered in the dark emotions.  Suffering offers opportunities for change, transformation, and transcendence. 

Is it painful? Of course. But since there is no way to eradicate all suffering from the world, perhaps, the most genuinely humane thing we can do for ourselves and for each other is to feel our suffering and that of others. And in so doing, search for the spark, the light, within the ashes.

It just might be the spark that saves another.  

In the end, the best I can offer my friend is to feel with her- to confront the suffering by her side, and to fearlessly accompany her on her journey into the dark emotions.  In the words of de Montaigne, "the man who fears suffering is already suffering what he fears."


janis said...

I love what de Montaigne said...

And I dunno, but I guess in our current times, we seem to be obsessed with happiness. Lots of books out there about finding happiness, being happy... like its the current hip trend.
But just like day needs night and night needs day, we need sadness. It's one of the spices of life.

Lori said...

With all of your beautiful quotes (which I love to peruse when I visit your site), I wonder if you know the book Making Loss Matter by Rabbi David Wolpe. It is a treasure chest of beautiful thoughts and ruminations on all of the various losses we endure in life.

"Very slowly, the immediate agony subsides. Around the edges of that opening things begin to heal. Scar tissue forms. The hole remains, but instead of allowing only a constant stream of emptying, it begins to permit things to enter. We receive some of the love and wisdom that loss has to give us. Now is when loss can have content beyond the ache." - Rabbie Wolpe

But first... there is the ache.

Amy said...

It is interesting how quickly we as humans seek to alieviate pain and discomfort. A slight headache results in immediate popping of Tylenol. An intense workout that leaves muscles sore leads to a couple of Alieve being swallowed. I am guilty of this behavior too.

Emotional pain follows the same rules these days. Sad? Surely that can't be good, so take a pill to numb the emotion. But pills can not fix the heartache, and I don't know that a pill should. My pain from Liam's death is my own. It is part of who I am and is shaping the woman I am becoming. I would be resentful at this point if I had not felt each burning emotion of grief. The transition from raw searing pain to the inner calm is transformative. Many of the quotes you sight suggest this same experience.

Did I feel this way in the beginning? Probably not. But looking back down the long road I have travelled, I appreciate seeing each footprint of grief, knowing they are mine. Each tear I cried is my own. And it all lead me to where I am now and closer to Laim.

I read somewhere that the opposite of grief is not happiness. The opposite of grief is peace.

Thank you, as always, for provoking thought and sharing your insights.


Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Janis- I do too. Really evocative. I mean, I love being happy. But it's not the only way to "be".

Lori- beautiful, beautiful quote. And you know how I love quotes! Thank you!

Snarky Belle said...

You are like a breath of fresh air. I spent too many years shutting out my "feelers". I was afraid to cry or vent, afraid people would think I was too sensitive, overly emotional, or heaven forbid...irrational. I have found great peace in feeling. But that peace has come as I allow myself to feel it all, the good and bad, the comfort and the pain.
Thank you!

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Thank you. Just, thank you.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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