When I was 29 years old I got on a bus and travelled to Land’s End, in Cornwall, England, to end my life. I stood on a cliff, buffeted by the wind of winter’s end, and looked down into the broiling water far below, imagining my body breaking open as it hit the rocks, my essence finally escaping, bringing freedom from the agony of acute mental distress.
But I didn’t jump. In that pivotal moment, that penultimate dark instant of pre-suicide, I suddenly, viscerally, glimpsed what I knew to be the meaning of life. I have spent the subsequent 29 years learning to articulate it, in the hope that others may understand something of what I saw that day, and find an alternative to pain, or at least an accompaniment that makes it worthwhile.
Because if we can bring meaning to our pain, we can transcend it, even though we may never totally escape it. We can render it a mostly-benign companion that brings us the gifts that, in place of pain, come to define us and our lives, and we can fully experience the joy of living.
For me, the meaning of life is the ability to transcend darkness when it threatens to limit or annihilate. To find the light of hope within it, even when it’s at its darkest. It is the remarkable capacity of the human spirit to triumph over adversity and to find, at the heart of that adversity, a treasure that not only heals and enriches our own lives, but takes us beyond ourselves, to share our treasure and enrich the lives of others, our communities, and the world, with an empathic communication that unites us all so powerfully that nothing can threaten to divide us.
When I first developed the AccepTTranscend Model for Transformation, I didn’t know it was a gift from pain that would bring my life, and the lives of others, joy and meaning.
I had long recognised that, for certain individuals, adversity became the springboard to a life of greater richness and effectiveness than it might have held without that adversity. Now this had become my lived experience and, as I worked with groups of others in pain, sharing what I had learned on the cliff’s edge, and before and since, I saw the hope my story of transcendence could instil in them, and glimpsed again the meaning of life in this transmutation of individual suffering into a resource for collective healing.
In developing the model I’d felt called to understand how, and whether, those who did not identify the springboard for themselves could be guided by another to transcend their suffering. I talked with a diverse range of transcenders, from survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, and the Rwandan genocide, to refugees settling in my homeland, bereaved parents, combat veterans with PTSD, people living with chronic illness, brain injury and mental distress, and many more. I identified six common criteria experienced by all of them as part of their profound recovery, and developed a creative journey, in the form of a short course (The AccepTTranscend Model), which I piloted with groups of people seeking positive change. It worked well. Participants reported that the workshops gave to them a sense of purpose, and their lives new meaning.
The six criteria fall into the following categories:
The AccepTTranscend model has been my attempt to condense my understanding of the meaning of life, as I and other survivors have experienced it, into something tangible that can be practiced and absorbed, to sustainably change the lives of those in need of transformation. It is as close as I can get to the insight I had in that brief moment on the cliff’s edge, made manifest, a living symbol, and proof, that adversity transcended brings the meaning of life into full, glorious focus. It is the treasure I found at the heart of my deepest pain, that transported me from the goal of violently dying to the reality of vibrantly living. It is a living talisman that reminds me, every day, of the incredible resilience of the human spirit, the pure delight of uniting with like-spirited others, and the beautiful, humbling, ordinary, extraordinary, joyful radiance of life.
~Tam Martin Fowles is a writer, workshop designer and facilitator, wife, mother and grandmother living in Plymouth, UK. She is founder of Hope in the Heart cic, Woman Undiluted and The AccepTTranscend Model for Transformation.
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