I once went to a two-day conference on the theme of “suffering”. Why would anyone want to spend two days focused on suffering? Well, it was one of the most inspiring conferences I have ever been to. There was a singer from Somalia who had found her singing voice and an ability to create uplifting songs, in the heart of massacre and war. She’d lost most of her own family. There was also a speaker who’d been a hostage in Beirut for several years and had found his “inner strength” when he was at his lowest point of desperation and hopelessness. One conclusion drawn during that conference was this: “Suffering gives birth to consciousness”.
That’s a very old idea, to be found in many religions of the world, that we become more conscious through suffering. I instinctively recoiled against such a though. I’ve struggled with the notion ever since that, even if suffering does makes us more conscious, there are also other ways to being conscious as well.
That said, in the years since, I’ve become friends with people who have experienced life-threatening illness and others who lost everything through hitting the rock bottom of drug and alcohol addiction. Not all of them, but many, have realised that, looking back, they grew from these experiences, learned their life lessons and are now more self-aware and certainly wiser. Not all would wish to repeat the experience but their stories can become vital warnings for others, and the humour and warmth in their wisdom can inspire and teach.
Rock bottom is a unique perspective, where the only two ways are down and out of life altogether, or up. The climb up can feel harder than the original fall, yet the insights gained are the seeds of a deeper, longer-term wisdom which can benefit the individual and, if shared well, can be a gift to us all.
We don’t need to seek rock bottom. But rock bottom is a place with its own potential. The way back, the climb back upwards, is a climb of will and effort. We accumulate allies, challenges and stories along the way. New skills can be learned and there can be profound renewal and healing.
Strangely, I’m glad I have friends in my life who have hit rock bottom.