This summer I was surprised by an unexpected bit of nature pushing through a crack in the driveway in the front of our office building. One lone petunia had planted itself and had found enough water and nutrients to burst out in a lovely bright purple bloom. It caught my attention and I smiled to myself, struck by the irony that at the other side of the building there is a flower bed that someone had, at one time, spent considerable time on developing, however, at that moment, there was nothing in bloom. As the next few weeks unfolded, that one lone bloom continued to develop and grew to over-fill that small fissure in the pavement and presented a lovely bouquet of flowers. This caused me to reflect on a familiar pattern that is evident in people when they have experienced trauma. Due to the fact that people are born as helpless infants, all people have experienced trauma to one degree or another. When people experience pain, disappointment, abuse and all manner of hardships, it has disturbing and harmful results, and, at the same time, the amazing inherent human nature remains incredibly resourceful to also make changes that enable people to manage the challenges they face by discovering a new perspective in their situation.
This is so evident in the story of Viktor Frankl my all-time favourite psychotherapist. During the Second World War, Viktor survived three years of life in a concentration camp. Viktor shared a story about his struggles in the camp and the enlightenment he experienced. During a long trek on foot through freezing temperatures he was forced onward by cruel prison guards, Viktor remembers being weary and had resolved to surrender and allow himself to fall to the ground, whereby his impending fate would be to be shot and killed. This urge was very inviting to him. “I can go no further”, he thought. Conversely, at that moment in time while experiencing incredible despair Viktor had a profound revelation. He saw a vision of himself in the future speaking to a large crowd of people about how he had survived life in a concentration camp. In an instant, his whole demeanour changed. He became flooded with hope and love. Viktor suddenly had new meaning in his life. The pain that nearly led to his demise became a catalyst for a powerful triumphant recovery. He pressed on in the icy march spurred on by the new purpose he had found. His life had new meaning. Viktor Frankl lived to fulfill that vision and went on to become one of the world’s great psychotherapists and his life gave so much hope and positive vitality to the global community.
In contrast to Viktor’s story, we see also see this survival pattern in examples in society where a person follows a dream and everything turns out as planned, and, perceived “success” is reached. None the less, the person feels surprisingly empty, unsatisfied and unfulfilled. In instances like this, an individual’s revelation might be to surrender the dream that they once thought would bring satisfaction; to let go and change directions and discover new meaning in the moment. Like the stories where we hear of a prominent figure in society who turns away from his/her riches and fame to lead a more humble and satisfying existence; like the small flower bed void of flowers, in spite of human effort to provide good soil, water etc. The place of strength in this case becomes when the individual surrenders the perceived “dream” and makes new meaning of his life by rediscovering his true values, hopes and desires.
When we take the time to “notice” aspects of our life that have been disregarded or overlooked, we can discover powerful new meaning and purpose in our lives. We can open the door in our lives to an infinite number of new possibilities. In my work as a Marriage and Family Counsellor I welcome being surprised by the unexpected. There is always a remnant of good to every bad situation. Every situation is an opportunity to both grieve the losses from challenging situations, as well as, to celebrate the triumphs that enabled us to endure and survive. Whatever the life situation, when we look for it, we will always find that there is beauty in unexpected places. People are beautiful expressions of nature, bursting forth in magnificence in unexpected places.