If I could pinpoint one experience which sticks in mind as a pivotal turning point, it would have to be an event that took place during a period of deep and intense suffering.   This significant point of transition occurred one fateful night on a plane trip back to Australia from Canada.

But first, some brief background.  I had experienced the first of my heart attacks only a few weeks earlier.  Shortly after I had returned home from the Canadian hospital, I received an email from my then partner.  Her message requested me, in a most stringent manner, to pack my bags and go back to Australia.  After overcoming the initial shock of her request, I came to the realization that as far as the relationship went, it was over.  A significant betrayal in the form of an affair had occurred a few months earlier.  Her request to break up and return home was the straw which broke the camel’s back in my mind.

It is prudent to note that it was an unconscious way of taking control of a situation that I had no control over.  The practicality of the situation was that she had ended the relationship.  The mind being a trickster in nature attempts to form the illusion of control where there is none.  It is a good lesson for to bear in mind.

A few weeks later, I found myself staring out into the gloom of night from a plane’s window.  I was returning to Australia with barely a few hundred dollars to my name.  I was ashamed of myself – ashamed that my life had once again boiled down to this perceived failure on my part.

It is difficult to convey the extent or depth of the emotions that were being lived through at the time – such was their intensity.  Perhaps the closest I can come to describing it is standing on the edge of a breaking point.  My emotional status was, among other things, a mixture of self-pity, self-loathing, anger, and frustration.  I distinctly recall a pervasive feeling of wanting to cry and scream – I wanted to punch the seat in front of me.  What stopped me was my fear of what people would think if they saw me breakdown in such a manner.  This only compounded the emotional drama that was going on because it was exacerbating a sense of helplessness which was enveloping consciousness.   And while I did not quite understand it at the time, the point of what had transpired was to feel helpless and hopeless.  That was the underlying glue which held a dysfunctional pattern intact.

Thoughts were racing in and out of consciousness at the rate of what seemed like a million miles per hour.  These thoughts were centered on a couple of main themes.  To start with, there was the continual replaying of the events of the past few months, along with past incidents that occurred many years earlier – ones which, contextually, were in a similar vein.

Another was this examination, one which I would conceptualize as “the punishment did not seem to fit the crime”.  There was something disproportional about the situation I was experiencing.  This had also been the case on a few occasions in the past.  In my mind, I was telling myself, “I know I have faults and shortcomings and could have acted in more constructive ways, but I am nowhere near an axe chopping murderer of babies”.  If I were the latter, perhaps this would have been more understandable.

Within this context began a series of ruminations, ones which were primarily focused upon what had gone wrong.  At the time, there was the recognition that I was a psychologist.  One whom had undergone years of therapy, and had overseen the counselling of many others, as well.

A counsellor (whom my partner and I had been seeing in the previous months) noted that I was very in tune with my feelings and thoughts, along with what was occurring internally – and had an excellent ability when it came to expressing my internal states.  Intelligence did not seem to be a problem; I was blessed or cursed with an abundance of it, depending on which way you look at it.  Laziness also did not seem to be a factor.  Sensitivity to my partner’s needs, the ability to communicate and listen also seemed to be of a high standard.  I was extremely well read on topics relating to personal growth, relationships, communication etc.  A lack of knowledge did not seem to be the problem.

It is not my intention to build a picture of a perfect guy, for I was far from that.  In my own way, I contributed too many of the troubles that the relationship experienced.  Nonetheless, it would be fair to state that in my mind things just did not seem to add up.

“Change is painful, but nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.” ~ Mandy Hale

There is one more crucial factor that pertains to my state of being at the time.  I was in a state of fear – an intense fear, at that.  The thing that scared me the most was that I did not want to be caught in another decade of perpetual suffering.  My history included ten years of pitifully pining after someone I loved.  At the time, there seemed to be a great potential for this facet of the past to repeat itself, and it scared the life out of me.

In this crucible of intense suffering, something rather remarkable transpired.  It was neither mystical nor an “A-Ha” moment.  It was closer in nature to a thing that vibrated through every aspect of self.  The thing was simply this:

“Everything I have been taught, everything I’ve believed in about how one should build a happy life, is wrong.  It simply does not work.  I am the living proof of this, and I need no more than that to see the truth of it”.

It rang true at every level of being as nothing else ever had – a genuine turning point.  A smoldering fire had been lit that would ultimately consume me.  Something had shifted.  There and then, I made up my mind to attempt to discover how life really works, or to die trying.  I would put this quest above all things: health, wealth, happiness, peace, joy, relationships etc.  I wanted to know the truth of life, even if in the end all I found was the devil himself.

This was purely a selfish thing.  It was ego wanting to be the master of its own destiny.  It had nothing to do with holiness, or divinity, or seeking enlightenment.  I just wanted to know how life really worked to have a measure of control over it.

It would be misleading to convey the notion that this singular event was more important than other previous experiences.  On reflection, it was like a clockwork pattern of incidents and events that led to this change in course.  If we focus on a single point as the sole contributor to change, it has the tendency to dismiss all other experiences that preceded this one.  A bit like the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree – and people forgetting all the prior seeking and searching that went on beforehand.  A practice was made of ‘sitting with eyes closed’; thinking that the practice of sitting with closed eyes was the path to enlightenment.  A turning point is always a cluster; one composed from a series of interrelated events that cultivate a climate most conducive to change.

What occurred on the plane trip could best be thought of as an intense symbolic representation of a problematic pattern. The pattern had reached a crescendo which made it difficult to ignore. The unconscious with its tendency for repetition compulsion (A Freudian concept which has a lot of merit) put suffering firmly on the agenda.  But as I have alluded to, this was not the first time, nor would it be the last time I experienced suffering.  In terms of pure suffering, I had experienced worse in a prior relationship.  What perhaps was more intensified is the feeling of “not again”!

It is often forgotten that the opportunity for change is greatest amid suffering because it often creates a groundswell of energy which causes us to move.  Consider the differences between love and suffering. Love often is about wanting to keep things the same – not always but mostly.  Love is often a desire to prolong positive feelings for as long as possible.  The energy of love mostly is about keeping a good thing going.  Which does not mean that love cannot motivate to change only that most of the time its about keeping things as they are.

Suffering on the other hand is messy and destructive because it often entails agitation and frustration.  Often suffering creates a paradigm of tearing things apart to rebuild something new.  Most suffering is about wanting things to be different. It is a signal that something is not working well in life and this signal often carries with it an abundance of energy which is conducive to stimulating change.  It should be noted that seeking suffering or suffering for the sake of suffering is a bad idea.  Live life long enough and sooner or later some degree of suffering will occur and hence an opportunity for a shift in the tides.

A problem with suffering is that it is often based on an unconscious underlying pattern.  Once a pattern has been formed, we become neurologically wired to repeat it.  Try though we might, we frequently repeat the pattern even though our intention and will may be set to not repeat it.  For instance, consider the example of divorces.  If a person has been divorced once, their chances of a second divorce increase.  If they have been divorced twice then their chances of a third divorce increases.  The more divorces a person has the greater the chance of a further divorce occurring.  They might have the best intentions in the world of not repeating the mistakes of the past, yet their unconscious minds seem to have other ideas.

The truth is that the unconscious is not really the bad guy in all of this.  It is regularly the case that we do not delve inward enough to really understand what is going on.  A person divorces their partner because they are alcoholics.  Determined to not repeat the past, they marry again to a teetotaler.  But the teetotaler is married to their work (another addiction) and in a few years’ time this relationship also begins to falter.  The person gets a divorce and this time sees the pattern of addiction and decides to stay clear of people who have addictions.  Much to their horror they become dissatisfied in their third marriage.  The issue being not being heard or seen in the relationship which was also a prevalent factor in the other two marriages.

Does this mean it is an endless loop of “issues”?  Not at all.  What it means is there must be enough discernment applied to see what the fundamental issue or issues (its often-multiple issues) is getting in the way of a successful relationship.

Suffering is not necessarily a turning point.  Too many people become mired in suffering for that to be true.  But it is an opportunity to look, it is a chance to change, it can be a calling towards investing into a better way of being in the world.  That fate filled night on the plane returning to Australia was one of many chances to look and change.