Henry Holt and Company LLC ISBN: 0-8050-6435-4
Perhaps Lev Tolstoy erred when he said that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Kathleen A. Brehony’s new book After the Darkest Hour offers the differing view that behind all suffering and misfortune looms one common cause—the 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.
         Using examples 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.
         The distinction between authentic and neurotic suffering, according to Carl Jung’s 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 it’s 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 Hero’s 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 don’t 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.