A happy person is not happy because everything in their life is right. They are happy because their attitude to everything in their life is right.
If there is one thing I have learned on my journey to a simpler and more soulful life, it’s this: life doesn’t always go to plan.
We all have times where things are going smoothly and we feel prosperous, full of life and happy with the general flow of things. When things are going well, our mindset is generally positive also. We feel alive, energised, and ready to embrace new things. We have a glass half full view of the world, and where things keep going our way, we begin to feel strong and victorious – that we can handle anything that comes our way.
Then there are challenging times where we find ourselves asking why certain things are happening, wishing we were in a different place, wanting things to go more in our favour.
There are times when life just sucks.
When times are really tough, we can experience feelings of overwhelm, anger, unhappiness, frustration, and sadness. Our mindset is often affected. We tend to become more pessimistic, seeing the glass half empty instead of half full. Our defences rise and we lose our confidence and agility – we struggle to adapt and bend with the changing circumstances around us.
Prolonged hardship and stress can lead to some serious wellness concerns such as physical illness, anxiety and depression. These are very real issues faced by millions of people everyday. Stress is highly ranked as one of the world’s biggest killers of humanity. We all know the serious risks of stress on our health.
At the risk of sounding cliche, this journey of life – and all its wonderful turbulence – can make it a pretty bumpy ride.
A few years ago when I was seeing a therapist, I came to the realisation that no matter how much we hate to admit it – we have more control over the journey than we think. We may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to what happens to us.
And I use the word respond purposefully.
In the midst of a dark hole I found myself in a few years ago, I started wondering why. Being a naturally happy, thankful and positive person I was at a loss with how the black hole came to be, but more so I was angry because I didn’t know why it was happening, and I didn’t know how I didn’t see it ahead of me.
I wanted to completely reframe the situation. Make it something else. Become someone else. Anything but continue to feel stuck in that black hole. I felt like I was living in a void. At a deeper level I felt physically, emotionally and spiritually dehydrated and malnourished. Unable to prosper or grow. Unable to see the light.
During a session with a therapist, there was one conversation that would change everything for me.
Me: “I just wish I could pick myself up and move to greener pastures. Water myself and nourish myself so I can grow. I feel like I’m slowly shrivelling up and there’s nobody there to water me or take care of me. I need uprooting”
Therapist: “So you feel you need to be somewhere or someplace else so you can grow?”
Me: “I guess so. I just feel like I have been planted into this black hole and there’s no way I can grow in the dark”
We kept talking along the lines of this plant analogy for a while, and then the therapist stopped, considered her thoughts for a moment and said:
“You know, looking at the world around us, there are all forms of life that thrive in dark places. New life forms in some of the darkest places on earth. Seeds are planted – buried in darkness. The dark soil they are planted in has all the nutrients that seed needs to grow and thrive. There is a whole other world of beauty and life in some of the deepest, darkest parts of our oceans. Caterpillars build a cocoon around themselves – I guess you could say they put themselves in a black hole – but the greatest transformation takes place in there. There are all forms of life thriving in caves, and places underground that to us, may seem dark and scary, and yet they survive”.
Me: “yeah, I guess”
“So, instead of looking for somewhere else to grow, all of these life forms grow where they are planted”.
Me: “so what are you saying?”
“What I’m saying is, you have the exact same opportunity to grow in some of the darkest places as you do when you are showered in light. In fact, maybe you need some darkness to help you truly find the nourishment you are seeking, so you can truly grow and reach your potential. Thrive.”.
What this conversation helped me realise was this: I had spent my entire life celebrating the good times, and underestimating the darkness.
All the challenges and tough times I had been through had been ignored, pushed aside. I didn’t realise they were there to provide me with the nourishment and growth I needed to continue to thrive and grow to my full potential.
I had spent my life running away, hiding from and pushing aside some of the greatest moments of my life. Negativity was never an option.
Once this realisation came to fruition, I worked really closely with my therapist to develop gratitude for the hard stuff.
Together we wrote a list of all the tough times, the challenges, the hard decisions, the anger, the frustration, the setbacks, the rejections, the desperation, the suppressed emotions, the unmet needs and desires. Everything I had ever ignored, or refused to face.
And I repeatedly thanked all of them.
I literally sat there and repeated out loud to myself “thank you life, for …….”
I did this for every item on my list.
Over and over again. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. It was hard at first, and there were plenty of tears and tantrums. I felt stupid at times speaking out loud to things that I had previously refused to acknowledge.
But slowly I felt myself climbing out of the darkness.
My final session with my therapist wasn’t actually a therapy session. It was a gratitude session. I thanked her for helping me realise that it wasn’t the black hole that was the problem after all. It was my attitude to the black hole.
In the beginning, I saw the black hole as a bad place. A negative force. A hopeless void. I was a fair weather friend to myself. Only celebrating the good times. And ultimately punishing myself when things weren’t going my way. Fighting it with every core of my being. Draining myself of energy.
Now, I see it for its opportunities and for the immeasurable amount of perspective, resilience and strength I would gain from being there.
For me the black hole was diagnosed as depression. For others it may be anxiety, sadness, PTSD, illness or disease, or simply just the uncomfortable parts of our lives that we don’t like, or that don’t meet up to our expectations. Disappointments, losses, grief, rejection.
I still carry the black hole with me. But now I hold its hands and embrace it as a friend, a teacher, a wise elder, a part of my soul that sees beyond what I see. I see it as a reminder that I have an opportunity to become more. I give myself the gift of time – to explore and learn and retreat, slowly allowing the nutrients to stream in, so a transformation can take place.
And it always does.
Like a tiny seed, I just settle myself into the darkness of the soil, knowing that it has everything I need to help me become the person I need to be. I trust it. I believe in it.
Now, I grow where I am planted.
I appreciate the contribution that each season of my life brings.
I have learned to love winter.
And when Spring comes, the harvest is always more prosperous than anything I could have created in my own light.