You don’t seem ter see any trouble being glad about everythin’,” retorted Nancy…

Pollyanna laughed softly.

“Well that is the game you know, anyway.”

“The – game?”

“Yes; the ‘just being glad’ game.”

 

As I slowly recovered from a period of intensive and debilitating treatment for cancer, as I transitioned back into the world of work, and social commitments, as I returned to the world, altered but alive, anxious yet hopeful about what a newly reorganized life might have in store for me – I suddenly remembered Pollyanna.

 

Maybe it was comments like these that summoned her from the sub-basement of my memory:

“Great attitude! Keep it up!”

“Such a terrific outlook you have on all of this.”

“Your attitude is really inspiring.”

What was this attitude (terrific or not) that I was able to summon for public consumption, for clients and acquaintances, and for my children and for all those that I felt I needed to care for or protect? And what attitude did I drop when I was in the presence of my husband or friends who could withstand the “dark night of the soul” along with me? What function did my “attitude” have? For me? For others? How authentic or essential was it to me? Was it part of my character? Or a learned behavior? Where did it come from?

Or maybe it was because I had relied heavily on Pollyanna through a tumultuous childhood, marked by high conflict divorces and remarriages, dramatic relocations and changes of circumstance and position. Pollyanna was a book that I discovered as an early reader in first grade, and re-read, and carried with me well into junior high- and then, once its themes were completely internalized, forgotten entirely for nearly a half a century.

Regardless of what had called her forth, I suddenly remembered what must have been an early edition hard bound book, covered in what my family called “Virgin Mary blue” cloth, with yellowing pages, and old fashioned type face – found high up on my grandparent’s bookshelf, her name and her author’s name embossed in light blue letters.

Pollyanna charted my course from one lost family to the next, and to the next after that. She had drawn me a map and guided me through waves of chaos, loss, and disruption.

In my minds eye: Aunt Polly’s house on the hill was identical to my childhood house on the hill. Mr. Pendleton who had a dark dusty mansion with “skeletons in his closets” lived in  my paternal grandmother’s home. The streets and woods Pollyanna walked through from scene to scene were the ones I walked along. Jimmy Bean’s orphanage was superimposed over the “old folks home” that was on the other side of our village. Her church? The one that I attended. The young maid Nancy: bore a strong physical resemblance to my favorite babysitter. And the outline of Aunt Polly was filled in with the features of my brittle and severe paternal grandmother.

 

And this winter, as I found one life stripped out from under me yet again, and as I moved toward a new way of living in the world– a yearning for the consoling company of Pollyanna awoke in my heart.

Pollyanna was already an “old book” in my day – first published in 1913, a book my maternal grandmother, born in “nineteen ought-one” might have read in her early adolescence, and one my mother certainly read herself in the mid-1950’s. A Disney movie in the sixties starring Haley Mills superimposed itself over the novel in the collective mind transforming the tale into something brighter, spunkier, and less heroic than I understood Pollyanna to be. It wasn’t a popular book in the revolutionary era of the late sixties and early seventies, and it was not one that I talked about or shared with friends. At school recess we secretly passed around dog-eared paperbacks of the Exorcist and shocked each other by reading the most blasphemous bits in a whisper when the playground aids weren’t watching.

The old tattered blue book came with me -already dusty –  to college, and then moved with me like a relic through a few young adult relocations, slowly disintegrating until it was eventually lost or tossed out in pieces.

I thought it would be nice to read again. I thought it would give my chemo-addled brain a rest. I thought it might be soothing. But strangely, as I re-read this old story for the first time in adulthood, after many losses and my first personal introduction to my eventual death – I found myself underlining passages, jotting down notes in the margins. And I was startled to discover that it not only withstood a fairly close reading, it made my own encounters with suffering, more understandable to me.

The story, for those that do not know it, centers around a young girl of eleven, a minister’s daughter, sent to live with her maternal “spinster” aunt, by the “Ladies Aid Society” after her impoverished, widowed father’s death. She arrives with nothing to her name, no transitional objects from one world to the next, except the one thing she inherited from her father: The Glad Game, which her father taught her in order to summon her resilience and negotiate episodes of painful deprivation and despair. She becomes an inadvertent teacher to her new community, most of whom have experienced significant loss, illness, or traumas of their own, as she demonstrates how she uses her father’s game to help her make sense of the tragedies she has survived. The town’s people adopt Pollyanna’s methods and make them their own – so much so that when she is struck by a new-fangled automobile and paralyzed they are able to share all the gladness and gratitude that her father’s game has given them, and support Pollyanna in finding hope and motivation to push herself toward recovery and rehabilitation.
Ms. Porter’s book was so successful – that it was followed by Pollyanna Grows Up, which Porter wrote herself, and spawned an entire series of “glad books” about Pollyanna written by other authors as well as stage plays, board games, and even “glad clubs.”

And without realizing it Ms. Porter had uncovered a national and generational archetype, a freckled sprite that seemed to embody the cultural myth of enduring American optimism.

But as Jung would remind us, an archetype’s power is drawn from its bivalence – every archetype has two faces: The Great Mother is both nurturing and devouring. The Healer is also a Charlatan, And God as an archetype is both loving and wrathful.

Like God, then, the unconscious has two aspects; one good, favorable, beneficent, the other evil, malevolent, disastrous.

~ C. G. Jung, Psychology and Religion,

 And, as an archetype, Pollyanna has her own destructive aspects, and came to be known only for her cloying denial, her negating and saccharine naive cheer.

If you look up Pollyanna in the Oxford Dictionary here is the definition that you will find:

Noun: An excessively cheerful or optimistic person.

But the dictionary’s sample sentences reveal Pollyanna’s destructive shadow far more clearly:

  • ‘what I am saying makes me sound like some ageing Pollyanna who just wants to pretend that all is sweetness and light’
  • ‘Does this mean that we all should be brainless Pollyannas, cheerfully accepting whatever comes down the line?’
  • ‘But that definition blunts the refreshing insight – that Pollyannas are often ludicrous opportunists – of George DuMaurier’s classic cartoon.’
  • ‘Insofar as this is self-delusion rather than outright deceit, he is a Pollyanna.’
  • ‘The Pollyannas and ostriches who advocate open borders want Congress to believe three things about their pending Social Security agreement with Mexico-all of which are false.’
  • ‘Those whose cup is half full are the world’s optimists, the Pollyannas and the kind of people to be avoided at all costs, particularly at parties.’
  • ‘I’m a terrible Pollyanna and have had bad things happen that I always seem able to put a good spin on – it gets almost tedious for some people around me.’ 

This is Pollyanna in her destructive aspect: A tedious, excessive, brainless, masochistically accepting, deluded, ludicrous opportunistic, ostrich to be avoided at all costs. An archetype which, when it is in possession of an individual personality, is experienced by others as oppressive, reality-denying, aggressively positive, dismissive of pain and complexity, who relentlessly enjoins others to “just be glad” as if happy thoughts were a panacea for the intractable suffering of the world.

 

POSITIVE THINKING

And some of that shadow carries through into to present day “positive psychology” which can equate unrealistic optimism with happiness and success.

Members of our species who were realistic or pessimistic about their future and the inevitability of danger, illness and death were not motivated to do things necessary for their survival. Optimistic counterparts, in contrast, were motivate to struggle for survival because they believed things would work out well for them.

~ Alan Carr Positive Psychology; The Science of Happiness and Human Strengths,

 

In The Pollyanna Principle: Selectivity in Language, Memory, and Thought, published in 1978, M.W Matlin, and D.J. Stang assert that we are cognitively wired to perceive the world, and to misremember our own lives, through a positive bias. It is actually cognitively more difficult for us to make sense of negative events and realities.

We typically process pleasant items more accurately and efficiently than unpleasant or neutral items, and we tend to make positive judgments about a wide variety of people, events, situations, and objects. 

I’m not sure that I would agree that optimistic denial of hard reality is best way to survive or appreciate life, although it may be the easiest, quickest, most reflexive way for many. I (and I suggest that Jung and Frankl along with me) might advocate for a more laborious process that results in a distilled concoction of realism and meaning-making that empowers our survival, and makes real life, with all its sorrows, worth living.

Bias is a process that takes place in the unconscious – and it is interesting, that in the face of everyday miseries, that our psyche may work to compensate by shining a light on the more positive aspects in our memory. Jung might here refer to alchemical processes extracting the gold, the lapis the philospher’s stone from the blackness, the nigredo, burned away in the alchemical fires of the unconscious, our memories washed and baptized, and meaning extracted.

“Most generally it doesn’t take so long” sighed Pollyanna; “and lots of time now I just think of them without thinking, you know.”

The Pollyanna Principle is an established cognitive and unconscious bias that suggests that “the glad game” plays itself (for those who are not clinically depressed) in the back of our brains, outside of our awareness.

Viktor Frankl, neurologist, psychiatrist, founder of existential analysis (which he also calls logotherapy) and holocaust survivor, asserts in his book Will to Meaning that:

Life…remains meaningful, under any conditions. As logotherapy teaches, even the tragic and negative aspects of life, such as unavoidable suffering, can be turned into a human achievement by the attitude which a man adopts toward his predicament.

~ Viktor Frankl Will to Meaning

 

So perhaps Pollyanna was not only engaged in optimistic denial. Perhaps she is engaged in youthful attempts to extract meaning from tragic experience, fully in acceptance of the devastating and depressing vicissitudes of life and yet still, reaching for the “tension of the opposites” as Jung would call it.

Experience of the opposites has nothing whatever to do with intellectual insight or with empathy. It is more what we would call fate…Without the experience of the opposites there is no experience of wholeness…

~ C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy 

Maybe Pollyanna wasn’t merely advocating that everyone “just be glad” for gladness sake – but that they search out and claim the wisdom that woundedness can bring with it, in a world that was defined by ubiquitous illness and compound loss, and early death.

Maybe Pollyanna is a logotherapist.

Or perhaps she is an alchemist.

Or maybe, they are the same thing.

 

LOGOTHERAPY

Frankl acknowledges the optimistic bent of his theory and therapeutic practice – that it is inherently “optimistic” to imagine that meaning may be found even in the most horrific events. But he asserts that his is a stance based on realism and acceptance of what he calls the “tragic triad of human existence: pain, death and guilt.”

The world of Pollyanna is saturated with pain, death, guilt, suffering and loss.

Pollyanna’s mother estranged from her two sisters and her parents when she chose to marry her husband. Pollyanna, named after her mother’s two lost sisters, was the only child from the marriage to survive: “the other babies had all died.” Her mother dies “several” years after Pollyanna’s birth. Her father, who has buried all the other babies, as well as his wife, continues to minister to his community, and devises “the game” to help Pollyanna withstand their grief and penury. He then dies when Pollyanna is eleven. Aunt Polly, her guardian “was forty now, and quite alone in the world. Father, mother, and sisters were all dead.”

Every secondary character touched by Pollyanna’s game is in mourning from some traumatic loss or event: Mrs. Snow is both a widow and now a depressive bedridden “invalid.” Mr. Pendleton, the only surviving member of his family lives in near total isolation. Characters continue to present themselves: widows, widowers and bereaved parents, children orphaned and living in neglectful institutional care, families contending with poverty, infant mortality and domestic violence, and those who experience the vicarious traumatization and losses that ministers and doctors are regularly exposed to. Even tertiary characters – miscellaneous Ladies Aid members who we never meet except through reminiscence are widowed and bereaved.

“It would have been a good deal harder to be glad in all black”

“The game” is born from bereavement, illness and the visceral and collective experience of being in the continuous presence of suffering, grief and death. “The game” is an attempt to contend with the attendant existential, spiritual and psychological crises. What Frankl calls:

Noogenic neurosis which result from the frustration of will to meaning, from what I have called existential frustration, or the existential vacuum.” ~ Viktor Frankl, Will to Meaning

So perhaps Pollyanna’s shadow, the tediousness, the brainlessness actually emerged from the excesses and delusions of readers from a much later era with ready access to antibiotics. Perhaps the insufferable optimism belongs to the generations after Pollyanna’s that had forgotten what it was to be powerless in the face of common infectious disease and death. Maybe the real ostriches were those who imagined that they were forever free from becoming entrapped in the existential vacuum, and scoffed at the psychological mechanisms and processes required to survive traumatic and cumulative loss.

When surrounded by suffering, you do need find reasons to keep living. You do need to indentify reasons to “just be glad” momentarily, to find relief from anxiety and heartbreak and fear. You need to locate what you are grateful for, what gives your life purpose and keeps you here. You need to find reasons to stay attached to life itself. This is what Frankl calls meaning.

And “just be glad” doesn’t in anyway mean “easily or simply” be glad. It means to be glad momentarily, to appreciate a baseline of minimum normality so that you can feel alive again. “To merely be glad again” is an act that only appears simple, that was once taken for granted but can be taken for granted no longer.

“Yes – that father’s gone to heaven to be with mother and the rest of us, you know. He said I must be glad. But it’s been pretty hard to – to do it, even wearing red gingham, because I – I wanted him so; and I couldn’t help feeling I ought to have him, ‘specially as mother and the rest have God and all the angels, while I didn’t have anybody but the Ladies’ Aid. But now I’m sure it will be easier because I’ve got you Aunt Polly!”

Apathy, indifference, passive or active suicidality, despair, boredom, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, fear are expectable responses to existential despair. Struggling with such symptoms and “wrestling with the question of whether there is a meaning to life, is not in itself a pathological phenomenon” according to Frankl. He goes further and states that in such circumstances: 

The difference between existential despair and emotional disease disappears. Once cannot distinguish between spiritual distress and mental disease.  ~ Viktor Frankl, Will to Meaning

Frankl suggests we live by and for meaning: Creative values allow us to take pleasure in creative acts in any form that feel meaningful to us. Experiential values emerge from relationships that connect us to something larger – love, friendship, relationships to nature, beauty, pleasure and for some, religious experience. “Just being glad” is an example of what Frankl calls an “attitudinal value” which emerges when we have lost access to other values  and must facing unavoidable suffering.

…A stand he takes to his predicament in case he must face a fate which he cannot change. This is why life never ceases hold a meaning, for even a person who is deprived of creative and experiential values is still challenge by a meaning to fulfill, that is by the meaning inherent in an upright way of suffering

~ Viktor Frankl, Will to Meaning

When we can control nothing else, we may choose to “just be glad” or grateful or brave, or to protect others from our despair, or to seek to define our priorities as precisely as possible. Or we may try to draw something from the experience of powerlessness which might make us better, more appreciative, kinder, or wiser within whatever meager time and energies remain available.

“You see when you are hunting for the glad things, you sort of forget the other kind…”

Actualizing our values, living up to whatever attitudinal goal we may have set for ourselves, offers a small moment of relief and reassurance that whatever else has been stripped from us we can at least achieve that.

It was much later that I really understood the meaning of suffering. It can have meaning if it changes you for the better. ~ Viktor Frankl, Will to Meaning 

But the next question is how? Where does meaning-making occur? Presumably, Pollyanna (and the rest of us) can’t merely summon any trivial “glad” thing that may emerge from a painful loss or trauma. I imagine that a “glad thought” such as: “Now I never have to iron and starch father’s shirt collars ever again!” would do little to make her shattering loss feel meaningful. The “glad thought” must be the right one – the singular, personal thought that transforms a loss into something useful or meaning-filled, or points toward some positive transformation that makes one prouder of themselves or more connected to others, or the world, or to the Divine, in someway. So how do we “discover” the positive opposite, the meaningful good that may sometimes grow from our losses and injuries? From where does this answer appear from when we are bereft? What does the unconscious labor of the Pollyanna Principle look like? What are the rules and methods of the “game” that happens in the back of our brain and helps us to recontexualize our sufferings into something bearable, or maybe, even as Frankl states, “triumphant”?

 

ALCHEMY

It is the science that draws its master away from the suffering of this world and leads to the knowledge of future good. ~ C. G. Jung quoting Morienus, Psychology and Alchemy

Jung sees ancient alchemical texts and recipes, as an externalizing projection, a model, a template that can help us understand the stages and processes of meaning-making that take place in the unconscious. For Jung, ultimate meaning is found in “individuation” – which is the continuous pursuit of “wholeness” and the clarifying sense of purpose and place in the universe that attends it.

Ars totum requirit hominem!” exclaims an old alchemist. It is just this homo totus whom we seek. The labours of the doctor as well as the quest of the patient are directed towards that hidden and as yet unmanifest “whole” man, who is at once the greater and the future man. 

~ C. G. Jung, Development of Personality

And wholeness is only able to brought into awareness by considering that our unconscious is filled with content which is both the opposite and the compensation for our conscious awareness. Wholeness is brought into being by withstanding and integrating “the tension of the opposites.” Light is only a partial truth. Darkness is another. An integrated chiaroscuro of light and dark is the only way to depict a whole image. Alchemical recipes and the pursuit of the purified “lapis” or “philospher’s stone” are interpreted by Jung as a metaphor for the unconscious processes and the pursuit of wholeness:

Jung describes how the alchemical texts begin with “the horrible darknesses of our mind” –  corresponding  to the first alchemical ingredient:

The nigredo, or blackness is the initial state, either present from the beginning as a quality of the prima materia, the chaos, or massa confusa

~ C. G. Jung Psychology and Alchemy,

Or the “blackness” may also come out of states of separation, division, obligation, death, decay:

…or else produced by the separation (solutio, separatio, divisio, putrefactio) of the elements. If the separated condition is assumed at the start, as sometimes happens, then a union of opposites is performed.

~ C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy

The “union of opposites” – the fusion of paradoxical, contradictory, or split off states, is sometimes referred to as the “alchemical wedding” and takes place in the refining fires of the alchemist’s furnace.

All things are integrated in this element by the imagination of the fire

~ C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy

This is the process that Pollyanna’s game initiates: To make contact with joy in the midst of sorrow – to reach for the union of the opposites – to wed opposing states together into some inseparable, relieving wholenesss. But Jung reminds us that this is a long and laborious process – that requires many repetitious cycles of painful , purifying burning in the fiery crucible, followed by washing, cooling, rinsing, and whitening in the mercurial waters of the alchemical bath. These repetitive processes seem to mirror of the cyclic waves of hot searing pain, followed by cooling detachment that cycle through us after loss, or exposure to traumatic events.

If we can think of these waves and tides of human feeling as part of a larger process of purification, cleansing, and then as a kind of “baking” of disparate aspects of the self into a new, and more consolidated state of wholeness, perhaps they are easier to bear.

Perhaps then our suffering may then be experienced as purposeful, meaningful.

This labor is not for the impatient or faint of heart. Simple optimistic repression of painful reality may bring more immediate – if temporary – relief from distress, but a simplistic denial and adoption of a merely “positive” perspective works against the richer, “alchemical” processes of moving toward wholeness. Jung, and his alchemical sources caution that the Philosopher’s Stone will only be discovered “when the search lies heavy on the searcher.”

Or in Pollyanna’s words:

And the harder ‘tis the more fun ‘tis to get ‘em out: only – only sometimes it’s almost too hard –

But sometimes, when we have worked hard, and long, and with integrity (“with the true and not the fantastic imagination” as Jung’s alchemical sources point out) we see that we have successfully distilled the purest lapis, and are able to touch, for a moment,  clear meaning,  brief and relieving contact with our whole self,  a larger view which grants us, like the hand of grace, a glimpse of our place and purpose in the world.

Forthwith a flame of fire will come out of the crucible and spread itself over the whole chamber (fear no harm), and will light up the whole chamber more brightly than sun and moon, and over your heads you shall behold the whole firmament as it is in the starry heavens above, and the planets shall hold to their appointed courses as in the sky. Let it cease of itself, in a quarter of an hour everything will be in its own place.

~ C.G. Jung Psychology and Alchemy

 

PROJECTION and LOGOS 

Logos: noun

  1. Theology – The Word of God, or principle of divine reason and creative order, identified in the Gospel of John with the second person of the Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ.
  2. (in Jungian psychology) – the principle of reason and judgment, associated with the animus.

Origin: Greek, ‘word, reason’.

 

Both Frankl and Jung see experiences of meaning as subjective projections onto a objectively neutral world,  originating from an internal, individual and subjective space:

Projection is never made; it happens, it is simply there. In the darkness of anything external to me I find, without recognizing it as such, and interior and psychic life that is my own.  

~ C.G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy

Thus to all appearances, meaning is just something we are projecting into these things around ourselves, things which in themselves are neutral. And in the light of this neutrality, reality may well seem to be just a screen upon which we are projecting our own wishful thinking…

~Viktor Frankl, Will to Meaning

Although both men remain open to the notion that the discovery of meaning (it must always be found and never given) may be connected to divine sources – both strongly caution against the ego-inflating lure of any certainty or attempt to reign or universalize “meaning” for oneself or  others:

One never knows whether or not it is the true meaning to which he is committed. And he will not know it even on his deathbed.

~Viktor Frankl, Will to Meaning 

PARADOXICAL METHODS

Mrs. Snow had lived forty years, and for fifteen of those years she had been too busy wishing things were different to find much time to enjoy things as they were…”

Jump-starting the experience of meaning-making using “paradoxical intervention” in Frankl’s terms, or initiating the client into the “union of opposites” in Jungian terms, is the primary task of the psychotherapist working with clients who have found themselves floundering in the vacuum of meaninglessness.

And Mrs. Snow is an example of a client that doesn’t merely flounder – she commits to it.

A new task then arises to lift this still undeveloped mind step by step closer to a higher level and to increase the number of persons who have at least some inkling of the scope of paradoxical truth

~ C. G. Jung Psychology and Alchemy

 

“’Now I want you to see what I’ve brought you!’

The woman stirred restlessly.

‘Why, I don’t want anything as I know of…’

‘Guess! If you did want something, what would it be?’

The woman hesitated. She did not realize it herself, but she had so long been accustomed to wanting what she did not have, that to state offhand what she did want seemed impossible…

Paradoxical intervention is one of Frankl’s primary logotherapeutic methods:

What then is going on when paradoxical intention is applied? Encouraging the patient to do, or wish to happen, the very things he fears engenders an inversion of intention. The pathogenic fear is replaced by a paradoxical wish. By the same token, however, the wind is taken out of the sails of anticipatory anxiety ~ Viktor Frankl, Will to Meaning

Pollyanna, in her function as logotherapist extraordinaire, demonstrates.

‘Well, of course there is lambs broth.’

‘I’ve got it!’ crowed Pollyanna.


‘But that is what I
didn’t want,’ sighed the sick woman, sure now of what her stomach craved. ‘It was chicken that I wanted.’

‘Oh, I’ve got that too,’ chuckled Pollyanna… ‘and calf’s food jelly’ triumphed Pollyanna. ‘I was just bound you should have what you wanted for once.’

Pollyanna creates a paradoxical dialogue where Mrs. Snow’s resistance (her fear of daring to want anything ever again after surviving with a presumably traumatic loss and an unnamed debilitating illness) is no longer able to keep her out of contact with her repressed desires. Her “not wanting anything” is no longer a problematic opposition to “the game” but the pleasurable and playful focus of the game itself – kickstarting the psyche’s search for meaning. 

“There was no reply. The sick woman seemed to be trying mentally to find something she had lost.”

Jung attempts to kindle a curative alchemical “union of opposites” by prescribing a more contemplative, internal method. Jung’s prescription is for those who prefer to play “the game” quietly by themselves: 

The point of view described above is supported by the alchemist’s remarkable use of the terms meditatio and imaginatio . Ruland’s Lexicon alchemiae defines meditatio as follows: “The word meditatio is used when a man has an inner dialogue with someone unseen. It may be with God, when He is invoked, or with himself, or with his good angel.” … The psychologist is familiar with this “inner dialogue”; it is an essential part of the technique for coming to terms with the unconscious. When the alchemists speak of meditari they do not mean mere cogitation, but explicitly an inner dialogue and hence a living relationship to the answering voice of the “other” in ourselves, i.e., of the unconscious.

~ C.G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy

 

Both methods call our “other,” unknown, “opposite” aspects into our conscious awareness – resulting in a greater sense of wholeness, and perhaps, eventually, purpose. “To cause things hidden in the shadow to appear and to take away the shadow from them” is the pursuit of alchemy.

Do you see?

Pollyanna is an alchemist.

GLADNESS

I know what you mean, something plagues you. My father used to feel like that… but most always he said too that he wouldn’t stay a minister a minute if t’wasn’t for the rejoicing texts… Its all those that begin “Be glad in the Lord” or “Rejoice greatly” or “Shout for joy,” and all that you know – such a lot of them. Once when father felt especially bad he counted ‘em. There were eight hundred of ‘em… He said if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it – some

And it became clear to me that this book had not only offered comfort to me through a chaotic childhood, but that it had laid some trail of pebbles in my psyche. That it offered me a template to begin to negotiate this “tension of opposites” that not only became the basis of how I would cope with the great and small sufferings – existential voids – in my own life –but how I would come to think of my profession.

I do seek out the gifts that grow out of suffering. And I wonder about the vulnerabilities that lurk inside my strengths. When I am filled with self-righteous anger I contemplate how it is likely connected to a shame I hold within myself. And surfacing the opposites that reside in my unconscious serves to ground me, soothe me, and connect me more deeply to the human family.

You will regard yourself a member of an invisible community, the community of suffering humans, suffering from that abysmal experience of a basic meaninglessness of human existence, and at the same time struggling for a solution to the age-old problems of mankind. The same suffering and the same struggling unites you, in fact, with the best exemplars of humanity.

~ Viktor Frankl, Will to Meaning

And the paradox that I experienced was this: At the very moment that I began to apprehend my own death I simultaneously found myself on the receiving end of an extraordinary outpouring of love, of support, of well wishes, of frozen lasagnas, of financial assistance, of commiseration, of camaraderie, of gratitude, and appreciation, the greatest influx of collective kindness and generosity that I could ever imagine. Piles of notes and cards, gifts, poems, lucky charms, books, hospital-visits, letters, encouragements, care packages, fuzzy socks, prayers, and the extraordinary loving-kindness of my children.

The unfathomable terror was accompanied every moment by its opposite – extraordinary gratitude.

There is in our chemistry a certain noble substance, in the beginning whereof is wretchedness with vinegar, but in its ending joy with gladness. Therefore I have supposed that the same will happen to me, namely that I shall suffer difficulty, grief, and weariness at first, and in the end shall come to glimpse pleasanter and easier things.

~ C. G. Jung quoting Michael Maier, Psychology and Alchemy

  

It wasn’t an attitude.

It was an unconscious process. 

It was alchemy.

It was the momentary and transformative discovery of life’s true meaning.

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines: the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

May this be the lesson to learn from my book

~ Viktor Frankl, Will to Meaning