Holt and Company LLC ISBN: 0-8050-6435-4
Lev Tolstoy erred when he said that every unhappy family is unhappy
in its own way. Kathleen A. Brehonys new book After the
offers the differing view that behind all suffering
and misfortune looms one common causethe sense of loneliness
and separation. She compassionately and softly reminds us that in
every individual resides an ability to emerge transformed out of
any mishap and to count our blessings in the darkest times. We know
how to make the best out of the experience without lingering too
much in its gloomy shadow. We know how to savor each and every moment.
from history, religion, philosophy, and her practical experience
as psychotherapist, Ms. Kathleen Brehony posits that a great deal
of our anguish is our self-imposed roles as victims. Unless that
is clearly seen, it is impossible to change our response to an unfortunate
event. Striking examples of human resistance to circumstance, remarkable
episodes from her own life, peppered with myths and words of thinkers
of all ages and traditions hold the same message for us: the limits
we set for ourselves can be transcended. Our lives can be seen in
a different light. The search for meaning in our suffering brings
transformation and growth through pain. It inevitably boils down
to questioning our identities and purpose, the meaning of life,
and our relationship with God.
between authentic and neurotic suffering, according to Carl Jungs
classification, and "mastering the art of suffering," may lead out
of masochistic self-pity and circular reasoning to awakening. Such
a decision is always conscious and requires willingness and self-determination.
This inner strength is worth achieving, for it offers universal
triumph over personal tragedy.
Ms. Brehony lets
us make the first step from our illusory belief that life is fair
toward seeing negative emotions in the true light acceptance can
afford. She persuades the reader that even in our greatest suffering
we are not alone. Although she urges us to rely heavily on family
values and support or belonging/identification with a certain group
(which is by definition a way to further separation) her reasoning
might be helpful for a reader facing a dire situation. However,
the utter loneliness, when fully experienced, may become an end
to alienation and be a starting point to our discovery of knowing
ourselves as a part of "all that is."
She teaches us
how listen to our suffering and learn from it. Although, the sentiment
that "suffering finds its truest meaning when its shared"
may be too much of a blow to our egos, when we bathe in our grievance,
we are deafened to another voice altogether.
We want life to
be "predictable, clear and secure," but we impose our own narrow
understanding and conditions on what "secure" means. We resist all
changes (even desirable change may be seen as disturbing, as Ms.
Brehony evidences), assuming that they bring loss, and equating
loss with suffering. We identify our happiness with an external
event or person and childishly plunge into tantrums when change
occurs. On the other hand, our reality is defined by self-images
built by the unconscious, which, as Ms. Brehony emphasizes, "draws
conclusions from false premises just as effortlessly as it does
from those that are true." This wrong self-evaluation is a cause
of additional suffering for many people.
Ms. Brehony harnesses
a medieval alchemists metaphor of melting lead of sorrow into
gold of self-realization, which is deemed a "divine spark within
us, inner core, or higher Self, the knowledge that we are part of
greater reality," but she accentuates that "it is journey itself
that is destination." She compares the path out of grief to a found
"new normal state" with The Heros Journey, an archetype mythical
story, which in essence is the transformation of the self. Whatever
the journey of the Hero is, he comes home changed. We all repeat
the same road when we embark on our spiritual quest after experiencing
moments of grievance, but on our way we learn only when we are able
to let go of what is and embrace the new.
The late Roman
philosopher Boethius in his interpretation of the "Wheel of Life"
suggested that we should "stay close to the center" where the "things
dont change as the wheel spins." Not that a magic formula
on how to reach this center is found in this or any other book,
but the journey inward is worth starting even before it is triggered
by our darkest hours, and the book itself could be a solid rung
on the ladder of self-growth. Among her practical suggestions, Ms.
Brehony points out, "Believe that you can change." I would venture
to set these words on a billboard along every busy highway.