Buckley’s Book Club Review: Mark Matousek’s “When You’re Falling, Dive”
Does suffering have an upside?
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, especially when we are in the middle of a painful experience, it is often true that suffering can open our eyes to the love that is in our lives. It can strengthen the relationships we have with 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 those 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 my own trauma, a cancer diagnosis at age 37, I have come to the same conclusion as Mark, 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 its 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…Crisis 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 treatment and aftermath of cancer diagnosis or trauma of any kind, it is hard to believe there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, but if we allow it, these events can mould us into stronger, kinder, more compassionate, and more vibrantly alive people. So perhaps we can take some comfort in the hope that there can be an upside to suffering after all.
Book reviewed by Anna Buckley.