By Rick Barker
Editor’s note: With permission from Rick, this is a letter he addressed to Bryan Asch regarding Bryan’s recent series on mental health in the Town Crier.
Suffering raises awareness, especially self-awareness. I was introduced to this concept decades ago by Dostoyevsky:
“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”
I’m not saying that’s “fair.” And clearly, there are other routes to heightened awareness. But it seems that suffering can be a shortcut of sorts.
Sometimes trauma results in the person being damaged goods, and this is especially true of chronic childhood trauma. But it is often a precursor to greatness of character. An unexceptional, “pleasant” life need not be examined, rebelled against, transcended. Childhood trauma can be a launching pad for soaring to the highest heights.
I’m reminded of something the shaman Juan Matus told Carlos Castaneda. Speaking of men who never face great challenges, he said:
“Men for whom an entire life was like one Sunday afternoon, an afternoon which was not altogether miserable, but rather hot and dull and uncomfortable. They sweated and fussed a great deal. They didn’t know where to go, or what to do. That afternoon left them only with the memory of petty annoyances and tedium, and then suddenly it was over; it was already night.”
What causes one sufferer to be broken, while another rises like a Phoenix from the ashes? One factor that can make a huge difference is whether the person fixates on himself, losing himself in martyrdom and victimhood, while another breaks the spell by focusing on the needs of others.
Developing a great capacity to feel empathy is important, for sure, but the key is to not just feel empathy, but act upon it; that is, in service to others. This principle has long been recognized in psychology as a lasting cure for depression, and it is a cornerstone of the 12-Step program. I’ve never been through 12-Step myself, but many of the most empathetic, spiritual, grounded and mindful people on the Hill were/are in 12-Step.
Knowing the importance of service, it was no surprise to me that you wrote “... I found true happiness operating a small business dedicated to helping people.”
Nice article, I really enjoyed it. Your strength of character is revealed in your capacity to be transparent and vulnerable. I’m looking forward to the next in stallment.