Converting trauma into power

Many of us suffer great trauma as we live our lives.

Some of this trauma is truly unavoidable.

Neglectful parents, pathological social forces like discrimination or oppression, economic hardship, early deaths: these life events leave scars that may not ever fully heal.

How do we deal with painful life events that leave their mark, that haunt us, that produce pain and suffering?

I think one answer is to find ways to convert trauma into power. Into strength. Here are some things that I think about when I try to convert my own trauma into power:

(i) Those who are forced to deal with trauma understand reality more than most. People who remain sheltered their whole lives, who have never suffered -- they have a certain privilege. And it is easy to envy those people.

But those who have dealt with trauma understand a totally different aspect of life. They understand that pain and suffering is a real facet of life. Particularly in rich countries, it is easy to forget that there are millions, or even billions, of people who suffer tremendous physical and mental hardships every day.

Those who know trauma do not forget about the pain of others.

(ii) Trauma requires a person to cultivate patience, strength and fortitude. In order to manage trauma, a person really does have to undertake a distinct regimen to have the courage and the power to manage trauma. They say that time heals all wounds, but some traumas last longer than others (perhaps years or even decades).

Trauma teaches a person to cultivate deep and powerful qualities they may not have otherwise developed.

(iii) A deep trauma is the only way a person can experience a deep joy. The cosmos plays in opposites. Yin and Yang are fundamental principles of the universe, of Nature, and of our lives. Those who have been cursed by a trauma -- life does not leave them totally behind.

Just as we would never know what it means to be happy without understanding sadness, being exposed to trauma gives a person the capacity to experience the opposite sensations: a deep joy, a deep sense of compassion, a deep sense of purpose.

Those who walk with trauma can learn to access these positive elements. This is a tough journey, filled with hardship. But it is possible to find these positive opposites, and to cultivate them.

We are living through an extinction event. The Sixth Great Extinction is well under way. And I believe those who have suffered, who have experienced terrible trauma -- those are the people who will find the courage to lead us through this strange time.