We need hope. The battle against despair, pain, and repression seems so overwhelmingly hopeless. We need lots of hope. The world is still a horrific place for far too many. Resilient, irrepressible and spirited inspiration is needed.
I was surprised when a young girl could so convincingly represent that for the world. Petite, 15-year-old Malala was shot in the face at point- blank range simply for wanting school rights for all. She didn’t die. Instead Malala said, “Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.” Two years later, Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize for her determination to stand up for children’s rights to an education.
“...protect your happiness so you can carry this beacon of hope.”
I must admit, I have protected myself. I had opted out of reading news reports of child brides, female oppression, rape and terror, simply because it’s too painful. I take responsibility for myself and my own happiness. It appears selfish. What about women’s solidarity, humanity and compassion? What about the desire to make a difference?
Taking the existential approach and being responsible for our own lives and happiness may seem self-centered, especially in my case. I am a psychotherapist, so it’s my job to meet people when they are in emotional or psychological pain. I love my job. I feel humbly privileged to follow my clients’ lives so closely. In meetings I do not shy away. I am present, compassionate, strong, and I experience the work as deeply meaningful. Why this difference? Why the fluctuation between selfprotecting and staying completely open?
It is human instinct to move away from pain in order to survive. It’s ingrained in us to avoid it, so we shield ourselves from pain. However, the danger is that we simultaneously sweep important issues under the carpet and we end up looking the other way when someone needs help. We become numb to reality.
It was here that young Malala woke me. I realized that where I felt helpless I sheltered myself from encounters with suffering. I lost the idea of how to contribute and do good. I shied away from pain when the only thing I could do was to empathize and just become filled with compassionate pain. It was actually my own pain I would hide from.
In my office, the experience was different. I had a function. The role and expertise of being a therapist gave me tools to feel strength and determination. Of course, I feel compassion, but it does not stop there. I have a job to do and therefore, I don’t allow myself to drown in my clients’ pain. I stay strong and filled with hope for them. Hope offers huge inspiration. Maybe taking care of my own happiness isn’t so stupid after all? For what kind of benefit or inspira- tion do I offer when I’m just drowning in pain along with the pain-sufferer?
I realized I didn’t need my title or office to stay strong. Little Malala inspired me. She is not broken by fear or pain. She is strong. She carries hope for something positive, something better. Hope is bigger than pain.
Similarly Mother Theresa inspired millions. She stayed strong, filled with love and hope. Many see her as one of the most self-sacrificing humans on this earth. I see a different quality. Mother Theresa did not give away her happiness. She chose to see and live with joy, love, and hope in the midst of hopeless poverty. She saw opportunities where others saw despair. She could not give away her happiness and hope. That was her tremendous inspirational power.
We like to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Thus it is important as a therapist, teacher, parent or fellow human being to protect your happiness so you can carry this beacon of hope. Take responsibility for yourself and your own happiness. Try not to shield yourself. Live so you can shine hope, love, joy and inspire others. Make your happiness so strong that you can lift others without sliding into the pit of pain. Hope is stronger than pain. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #276 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.