Pause for Thought
by Allan Hunter
The other day I reconnected with a friend I’d not heard from in years. It was a great pleasure to chat, and we began to compare notes on people we’d known and what they’d been up to.
Several acquaintances had moved on to impressive careers. Some were prominent in government, some in professional spheres. But, we said – think of the strain of that kind of life!
Some had written books. A couple had written books but, alas, not had them published. Well, it’s a tough world, being a writer.
One was a prolific poet. How wonderful – but there’s no money in that life.
One had thrown over a promising academic career to be a used car salesman. One had suffered a nervous collapse; one had given it all up in disgust, which could have been the same thing. Several had died in various ways that were unexpected and vaguely shocking. One claimed by drugs, one killed while reporting in Iraq. And so on.
And as we talked I began to see that we all, every single one of us, tend to have many conflicting needs as we think about our friends. We want them to have done well, but not so well that we feel diminished. We’d like them to excel, but are much happier if they do so in ways we expect, so we can say, “Yes, she was always going to do something good in that arena”. That way it feels as if we predicted it, and so we’re just as wise and important as they are, even if we’re not quite so much in the public eye. The ones who fell by the wayside we can pity – and yet that’s not the same as compassion. Pity lets us feel slightly superior as we survey the failings of others. So, some have no children (what a pity!) and some have too many (What a stress! What a difficulty! How do they manage?)
It allows us to feel that no one got it right – except perhaps ourselves.
And yet, that’s not a selfish thought. Perhaps we have, in fact, got it “right” or right enough for who we are. There’s no point in being a huge success if it leaves you feeling empty. And there’s no value in a life of privation if it doesn’t allow you whatever it is you need and are willing to sacrifice physical well-being to get.
Comparisons are never easy, and sometimes not helpful.
We don’t all have to be heroes, let alone Superheroes. We need to be who we are. And we need to love others, no matter how well or poorly we think they’re doing.
He is a full professor of Literature at Curry College, a counselor, and his doctoral degree in literature is from Oxford University. British by birth, he traveled extensively in Europe, India, Africa, and India before settling in Boston, Massachusetts.
Three of his books seek to show readers how to use writing as a therapeutic and life-enhancing tool. They are all based in workshops he has taught for over thirty years (The Sanity Manual, Life Passages, and Write Your Memoir). In each case the emphasis is on using writing and story to reach a place a deeper understanding and peace. His other books have explored the way six specific archetypes recur in the 3000 years of the western world’s great literature; Stories We Need to Know, The Six Archetypes of Love, and Princes, Frogs and Ugly Sisters: The Grimm Brothers’ Healing Tales. He concludes that these archetypes are ways for us to contact the deep structures of the psyche.
His tenth book, The Path of Synchronicity, asks us to consider what it is the universe seems to nudge us to do, rather than what we think will make us famous or wealthy. As such times we move into the flow of synchronicity.
He followed this with Spiritual Hunger in which he asks us to consider how we can feed our inner need for relevance in a mass culture, and how we can choose healthy possibilities rather than those sold to us by large corporations.
His most recent work is Gratitude and Beyond – an exploration of how gratitude is just the beginning to the journey of self-discovery. Following a brush with death I describe how I learned, the hard way, lessons I needed to know so that I could live more harmoniously in the world.