How to Transform Suffering into an Opportunity for Growth

Here we have more words of wisdom from Robert Emmons. This lesson is on how to transform suffering into an opportunity for growth. He quotes Abraham Maslow, who we heard from recently in The Creative Spirit Of The Self-Actualizer last month.

It continues on the gratitude theme from A Gratitude Practice to Increase Happiness from a couple of days ago and

It is relatively easy to feel grateful when good things are happening, and life is going the way we want it to. A much greater challenge is to be grateful when things are not going so well, and are not going the way we think they should. Anger, bitterness, and resentment seem to be so much easier, so much more a natural reaction in times like these…

The religious traditions encourage us to do more than react with passivity and resignation to loss and crisis; they advise us to change our perspective, so that our suffering is transformed into an opportunity for growth. Not only does the experience of tragedy give us an exceptional opportunity for growth, but some sort of suffering is also necessary for a person to achieve maximal psychological growth. In his study of self-actualizers, the paragons of mental wellness, the famed humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow noted that “the most important learning lessons… were tragedies, deaths, and trauma… which forced change in the life-outlook of the person and consequently in everything that he did.
~ Robert A. Emmons from Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier

Six Root Teachers

Six Root Teachers – Drawing by Jerome Freedman, © 1997 Created in Anna Halprin’s Cancer Support Group

Prior to the onset of cancer in 1997, I was a so-called solo practitioner. People knew that I was a Buddhist, but that was as far as it went. I wasn’t involved an a sangha or directly with any other Buddhists. During my cancer treatment I found the support groups led by Anna Halprin (see above drawing), at the Center for Attitudinal Healing, and others to be very nourishing. I began to think about joining a group of Buddhists called a sangha.

The opportunity came in 2001 two days after 9/11 when I saw a friend at Thich Nhat Hanh‘s public talk in Berkeley on 9/13. Patricia invited me to join with her in forming a sangha in the Plum Village tradition which became known as Mountain Sangha. This opportunity for growth led me to become an aspirant in the Order of Interbeing and I learned enough to take over Mountain Sangha when Patricia stepped down. Just about the time when attendance at Mountains Sangha was fading, I had the idea to begin the Mindfulness in Healing Sangha, which was formed on this day in 2009.

Does this story motivate you to consider transforming your suffering into an opportunity? What experiences in your life taught you how to transform suffering into an opportunity for growth?

Books by Robert A. Emmons

Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier

Robert Emmons

The first major study of gratitude that shows how “wanting what we have” can measurably change people’s lives.

Did you know that there is a crucial component of happiness that is often overlooked? Robert Emmons—editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology[Read More…]

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