Making a Virtue of it

Most of us find there are things about us that have the potential to be problems – aspects of self that are antisocial, unacceptable, problematic. Some of these traits and tendencies can be medicated into non-existence. We can try and cope by suppressing them, but there is also the option of trying to use them. Rare is the regular negative trait that can’t be harnessed to good effect.

To offer an example, obsession can really harm lives. I had a friend at school who developed obsessive compulsive disorders, which made him desperately unhappy, left him feeling out of control and made it a lot slower to get things done. I’ve met folk who are obsessive about laundry, and other such details. It tends to create unhappiness. Fixating on small things, the obsession can become a trap.

However, I also know a fair few obsessive folk who use that trait to get things done. Able to channel the obsessive tendency into something productive stops it from grabbing a random part of your life, and enables all kinds of dramatic efforts to be made. I’ve long said I was an obsessive compulsion waiting to happen, but I can turn that to tackling drawn out, complex jobs, and it works. I recently cleared a chimney of twigs – a slow, messy job, but once I started, there was no way I could stop until I had finished. My obsessive nature allows me to get things done.

The same can be said of hard experiences. There are some folks who respond to difficulty by bemoaning their lot and focusing on how dreadful it has been for them. There are others who are motivated by the experience to become crusaders, trying to prevent other people suffering as they did. You’ll see it with medical charities – survivors and bereaved people are particularly active in these, turning their own devastating experience into something that helps.

In shamanic traditions, the near death, or death and return experience is a key part of becoming a traditional shaman. Such experiences change a person, affecting perspective and understanding, and marking a soul out as different. It is a way of using the experience to become something more, and better. The people I’ve encountered who have had the hardest times of it, have frequently developed humbling capacities for compassion and patience when faced with the comparatively minor woes of others.

Some people respond to bad experiences by thinking it gives them authority over those who they perceive as less experienced. I’ve encountered a small number of souls who have expressed opinions that they know how it really is, because they have been damaged. People clinging to the memory of abuse to define a sense of self. People aware that safety is at best a fragile, impermanent thing, and that no one can really be trusted. Jaded, troubled people, quick to claim moral and experiential authority because they have really been through it.

And then I compare those people to others… to the brave and brilliant nurse, traumatised by the violence she’s seen, but still doing her job, patching up soldiers. The broken hearted ones who have lost life partners, and who try and take care of the living and lessen the pain for others. The man pushed beyond breaking point, who always has time to listen to the troubles of others. I’ve seen so many people respond to hardship and challenge by stepping up and giving their all. It is so very clearly a choice, how we respond to the hard times, the injuries and wounds. I’ve been knocked down. I’m in the process of getting up. I do not want the blows to define me. I have some awe inspiring people to emulate, and I hope I can find a way to be a better sort of person, in response to what’s happened lately. I do not want to wind up jaded and cynical. So, I have to learn from things, and figure out how to recraft current feelings as something  can use.

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