I often find the best way to communicate a message or a meaning is through the poetic words of someone who already said it best. I thought it would be fun to compile many of my favorite quotations (from many of my favorite books) read over the years, which I often strategically weave into therapy sessions, supervision meetings, and lectures in the classroom.
The beginning line in Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled reads, “Life is difficult”, which I often compare to the First of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism, “Life is suffering.” I start with these seemingly dark descriptions of life because I think it is important to acknowledge and eventually accept that no one was ever promised an easy, fair, pain-free existence. When we consistently hold the belief “it’s not fair” or “I don’t deserve this”, we stay in the role of victim and experience a defeat of life. To this point, Harold Kushner wrote a touching book entitled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Kushner speaks to the experience of tragedy and what it looks like to stay connected even when the unthinkable occurs. Pema Chodron asserted, “There is no pleasure without pain.” And Kahlil Gibran said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain.” And so, our adversity allows an opportunity to be more awake, conscious, connected and present. In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks describes the traits of individuals who possess a deeper morality with, “They have moments of pain and suffering but they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding.” While we cannot completely avoid difficultly in life, we can use our traumas to transform ourselves and hopefully access more gratitude for the moments when life gives us a break and all is well.
Anais Nin wrote, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Or, change occurs when we are willing to venture into the discomfort of the unknown because we can no longer tolerate the constriction of living an inauthentic life. But how do we get there? In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In the space there is a power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” I consider therapy a “space” between stimulus and response. A process aimed towards awareness of the choice and empowerment that was there all along but needed to be nurtured into being. As Glinda the Good Witch said in The Wizard of Oz, “You’ve always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.” William Ernest Henley illustrated this concept beautifully in the last two lines of his poem Invictus, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
Perhaps the most valuable words instruct us to just be – to do nothing but witness non-judgmentally. Rumi, the great Sufi poet, wrote, “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all.” Our thoughts, feelings and sensations give us information about our minds and bodies. The more negative the experience the more we want to avoid, suppress, check out or distance. But if we can increase observation of those experiences, we can use the information to make changes. John Milton wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Sometimes we need the inspiration of another’s words to connect to what we already knew to be true. And I will leave you with a portion of one of my favorite Rumi poems, “A Great Wagon”:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.