“Suffering and joy teach us, if we allow them, how to make the leap of empathy, which transports us into the soul and heart of another person. In those transparent moments we know other people’s joys and sorrows, and we care about their concerns as if they were our own.”
“Phoenix rising from the ashes.” This phrase popped into my head recently, and I wasn’t sure why until I did the research. As the story goes, the phoenix is a mythical bird with fiery plumage that lives up to 100 years. Near the end of its life, it settles in to its nest of twigs which then burns ferociously, reducing bird and nest to ashes. And from those ashes, a fledgling phoenix rises – renewed and reborn.
And now I get it. This is the story of my life in the past few months – especially the part about burning ferociously. Life presented me with some challenging circumstances that left me just hanging on. And now, sanity has returned. I look out with fresh eyes. The fog has lifted, and the dark clouds have moved on.
My experience is not unique – it happens to all of us at some point, it’s a part of the human journey. But this was my time, and I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned along the way.
Resistance is natural
When life threw me a curve, I longed for the turmoil to be over with. I wanted to pick myself up and move on. I tried hard to create a plan, to know what I didn’t know, to gain control. I was so busy trying to make things happen that I overlooked what was actually happening.
I ignored my feelings and resisted the present moment. Yes, me, the one who writes about welcoming all of our experience with a loving, open heart. I was doing everything but.
Finally, I realized my approach wasn’t working. I stopped trying. I let myself be frustrated and impatient. I admitted that there was so much I didn’t know, and I let go of figuring it all out. Life was messy, so I suspended my fruitless attempts to clean it up.
And this was the beginning of the fire, as there was space for feelings and reactions to surface.
Things happen in their own time
When I look back I see that I had very little control over what happened. The seasons of my experience had to run their course – severe winter storms, cold and darkness, then the seeds hidden from view beginning to sprout (very exciting!). The best I could do was ride the waves, which I did with varying degrees of success.
Forgetting and remembering joy
When darkness descends, joy is blotted out, buried, seemingly non-existent. Everything weighed like a heavy burden, all my activities felt like obligations. When I realized that I had forgotten joy, I created a “want-to-do” list. Every time I found myself wandering around in a fog, my job was to pull out the list and do something enjoyable or productive. I organized closets and took walks, finally starting to see the beauty around me.
And I focused on others – being a good friend, showing up for someone in need.
My self-care didn’t suffer. My diet stayed healthy, and I kept up with yoga. But some people going through hard times can benefit from paying special attention to the basics of daily living – good diet, exercise, limited alcohol.
Staying close to the bone
Things started to shift when I made the commitment to find direction in my moment-to moment experience. The big picture was way too nebulous, but I realized that in each moment there was a kernel of truth, a clarity, a “yes” that showed me my next step.
I recognized that this guidance had been there all along, but I was too caught up in trying to find solutions to see it. When I let go of paying so much attention to the stories running through my mind, of trying to control, of avoiding strong feelings, much to my surprise, I found the groundedness I was looking for – the truth in every moment.
Support was essential
At the beginning, I was going it alone, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Eventually, I reached out, allowing the vulnerability of asking for support. It came in so many beautiful, unexpected ways, but I had to let people know I needed it. And a few sessions with a therapist offered some very useful insights.
The clouds do part
“This too shall pass” were empty words to me. I looked into the future, and all I could see was confusion. My negative mind had taken over, and I couldn’t see my way out.
But the clouds do part in their own time. The human spirit is resilient and wants to find its way home to wholeness. I see this over and over in my work. I facilitate a bereavement group at a retirement community for people who have lost their spouses after sometimes 50+ years of marriage. You can just tell when someone walks through the door that they will announce they no longer need the group. They are renewed; they have gone into the darkness and found their way through.
One day I realized that I was happy, and soon after, I saw that I was thriving. I had been through the fire and emerged whole and clear, with doors opening in so many wonderful ways. The sad and frustrated stories in my mind had fallen away, and the emotions that had captured me softened. I can breathe freely again.
Eventually opening to the lessons
When people said I would look back and appreciate this time, all I could do was groan. When I was in the thick of it, it seemed like it would never end. And now, with the sun shining and flowers blooming, I can reflect on what I have learned.
- Let things happen.
- Give up trying to control.
- Don’t pretend you know what you don’t know.
- Stay close to what you know is true in the moment.
- Feeling bad isn’t wrong – it’s just how things are sometimes.
- Take good care of yourself.
- Engage with others.
- Reach out for support.
- When the time is right, feel the emotions.
- Get perspective – learn what not to do next time.
So there it is – my story. And now I turn it over to you. What have you learned about going through hard times? I’d love to hear…