I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since my last blog post! I’ve been busy doing a lot of ‘inside travelling’ more than country-hopping, so I’ve kept my reflections a little quieter. It’s been a very good year.
I’m now a school counsellor. One thing I started last month is writing articles for the school newsletters. I’ve been hesitant, feeling that I can’t really have my own voice – it feels too under-qualified, too inexperienced and I might have it wrong and be criticised and lose respect and approval. Today I received an email from a friend of mine who is a mother at one of the schools I work at. It was titled “Being You and Writing From Your Heart”. She reads my articles and wanted to encourage me to let myself out more in my writing. The article below is the first (of hopefully more!) of me writing articles to mums and dads from my heart.
One of my favourite books is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Victor was a young neurologist and psychiatrist when World War II started and as a Jew, was taken to a concentration camp during the final year of the war. One thing he began to notice is that the people who saw no purpose, who gave up hope of understanding their experience and could apply no meaning to their grueling experience, died. Those, however, who found some way of making meaning from their suffering (perhaps a reason or lesson that they could teach others after the war), lived.
From this experience, Existentialism was born, particularly Frankl’s strand of Existentialism that sought to teach people that if they were able to make meaning from their difficult experiences, they would find much greater joy and satisfaction in life.
Today I sat with a young boy who is going through a really difficult time. It’s tough, it’s grueling and it’s heartbreaking. There’s nothing I can say to alleviate his burden. I can’t take away any of the factors and relationships in his life that are tough for him right now.
In today’s world, we’re often taught that this is ‘love’. It’s ‘loving’ to take do whatever you can to alleviate another’s suffering. To an extent, this is true; if there is something unethical, immoral or abusive going on, or if we can help with food, safety, water, this is certainly true. But often we try to sedate pain in other, unhelpful ways: we zone out in front of the TV or play X-box for hours to numb out; we overeat, or starve ourselves; we exercise addictively and compulsively; we might smoke, drink, take drugs, or engage in unhealthy relationships. When we do this, we miss what we can learn through sitting through the pain – we miss learning how to make meaning from our suffering.
A key word in Education this decade is ‘resilience’. Resilience is our ability to bounce back from life’s troubles, to work through difficulties and overcome adversity. There’s a lot of material out there about how to teach kids resilience, but I think it all comes back to one thing. Help them to sit with their pain and make meaning from it.
With the young boy today there was nothing I could do to ease his pain, so I told him two things:
- That, like a chapter book, where the main character goes through trials and challenges and then reaches a point where the issues are resolved and she/he is happy again, he will get to a point where the issues are no longer there and he will be happier again – that he just needs to understand that this is just a part of the chapter book – and to keep ‘reading’!
- That like seasons, we can go through difficult patches of weather. Times when things seem really cold and dark and uncomfortable inside of us. That he might be in winter now, but know that spring will come.
When you are suffering or when your child is suffering, sit with it. Let yourself really feel it. Know it. Some kids will want to draw where it is. Others may want to write about it in a diary or a letter. Some may want to shake it out or dance through it. Climb a tree. Sing about it. Whatever it is, let them be with it. And then explore it, reflect on it, squeeze the juice from the lemon and make lemonade – make meaning from it!
Some questions to invite reflection on this topic may be:
- What are you feeling from this experience that you’ve never felt before?
- What is this experience teaching you about your life that you didn’t know before?
- I know you’re not comfortable, but what is the best thing you’re learning from this?
- How could you help someone else from what you’re learning?
- Will this experience change the way you behave from now on? Why/Why not? Is this change of behaviour positive (will it make you happier and be kind to the world?)?
Though this, true resilience can be built because kids will learn that they can experience suffering and come through it, enriched – knowing they can do hard things and feel hard things and they will not be broken, but built.