“Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox [1]

This famous quote resonates with us because we’ve all experienced it!  When we are happy and laughing, friends seem to be easy to come by.  But if we are suffering, people are often uncomfortable around us. There is almost a social obligation to be positive. Or, as psychologist Dr. Susan David says, “Being positive has become a new form of moral correctness. . .” [2]

For those who live with substantial physical or mental pain, the pain alone is a heavy load to bear. But to add to this, we are often alone in that pain. Even when others express heartfelt concern, ultimately, sufferers live in solitude with the pain as well as their inner dealings with that heartache. An existential loneliness settles in because pain is often misunderstood, whether it is physical or mental. Nobody understands what I am going through can be the thought or expression from the sufferer.

Others, in their sincere desire to help, may offer ideas or solutions to our plight without really understanding what we are experiencing. Their ideas are meant to help, but often do not; the need to prescribe may be driven by their own discomfort that someone they care about is suffering. And, they may feel afraid; what if this happened to me?! If we challenge or question their advice, we may be viewed as ungrateful or close-minded. Or, worse, we may be seen to be too attached to or obsessed by our pain, even that we are unwilling to give up our relationship to it. We may feel stung and dumbfounded by the responses of others.

Loneliness and pain may steal our present and our future. We may not be able to do the activities we once could, causing our current lives to feel bland and bleak. Future plans for work, education or marriage may be placed on hold. Thoughts such as how can I plan for the future when I am in such a mess now? may suck hope out of us. Feeling hopeless, we may isolate ourselves from others, thus deepening our despair.

What can we do?  Our next To Ponder will focus on how we can meaningfully respond to our pain as well as to those who respond to us.  But for now, a few more thoughts from Dr. Susan David.  Regarding the false positivity she decries in our modern world, she says:

But when we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity,

we lose our capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is,

not as we wish it to be. [3]

Know that you are not simply entitled to feel the emotions of what you are experiencing, but that these emotions are necessary in order to learn how to deal with life.  (Notice:  Dr. David speaks of skills to be developed – in our next meditation!)  And, a favourite quote of mine: “Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility…Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” [4] Whether you are experiencing physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual fragility, the discomfort (or, let’s be honest, the agony) is what it takes to have a meaningful life! 

But whether our pain makes us or breaks us depends upon our response – stay tuned for our next To Ponder.

[1] Ella Wheeler Wilcox quotes.  Goodreads. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/4210-laugh-and-the-world-laughs-with-you-weep-and-you

[2] David, S. (2017). The gift and power of emotional courage. TED TALKS. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_david_the_gift_and_power_of_emotional_courage

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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