Transforming Pain into Ecstatic Beauty

Recently, a bad experience reminded me of my deepest fears. I started reliving my worst thoughts, and I had a hard time keeping my spirits up.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time in my life that I had felt this way, and I know it won’t be the last — far from it. I expect to feel this way many times in the future.

The good news is that each time forces me to think deeply about ways to come alive again. In my mind, I have this list that slowly gets longer: a list of remedies for “When I Lose My Spirit.” The list, as of now, goes like this: Breath deeply. Listen to music. Take a long walk outside. Go to the gym and get on the elliptical.

While on the elliptical a few days ago, I remembered this quote, and it was extremely invigorating. The quote was from a Doctor Who episode where, at one point, the Eleventh Doctor asks an art curator where he would rank van Gogh in the history of artists and why. The curator responds with the following:

“… to me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all … He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before ….”

Everyone in this world will experience deep emotional pain at some point, and it is so, so hard sometimes to make something out of it and not just feel it. Why do something that is so difficult, so painful, so unthinkable?

In 1962, John F. Kennedy was faced with the same question for a different monumental challenge: going to the moon. His answer, part of the speech he gave at Rice Stadium, is reprinted below.

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

When I put these two quotes together, everything cleared in my mind. Turning emotional pain into ecstatic beauty is not easy. It is hard. VERY hard. But doing this will help me grow in a way that I want to grow. This choice will make me a more resilient, thoughtful, and productive person. It will force me to use the best of my energies and skills to transform what I am feeling into something tangible, hopeful, and beautiful. It will keep me from the pits of despair. It is a challenge by choice, and I choose to be challenged.

Accompaniments to this post

The Doctor Who clip, Vincent van Gogh Visits the Gallery

The song, “Chances” by Athlete

The short story, When I’m Gone by Rafael Zoehler

The quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” — Ian MacLaren