“ Life is messy, tragic, terrifying, but also unbelievably breathtaking. There are deep gifts hidden in the most demanding challenges that life throws at us. In a time of crisis, gratitude is the key to opening your heart and unlocking the magic contained in these truly profound gifts.”
In the ring stands a boxer. He is clearly exhausted. In the early rounds of the match, he was a fighter. Then, there was a hope of winning. That hope now seems long gone. Now, the boxer is simply trying to survive. Cut and bleeding, he attempts to defend himself. Taking one body blow after another, he endures the punishment, waiting for the sound of the bell.
Does life sometimes leave you feeling like this boxer? Are you dazed and exhausted, struggling to navigate your way through whatever challenge or crisis you are facing? Do the overwhelming negative emotions that you are experiencing feel like crushing blows? Are you barely enduring, waiting for some relief, believing that you may never find your footing again? If so...come sit next to me!
Life can seem like a brutal and overwhelming opponent. Believe me, I know this feeling firsthand. One doesn’t make it into their sixth decade without experiencing a multitude of potential knock-outs. Death. Divorce. Illness. Infertility. Depression. Addiction. Really, any kind of loss is like an unexpected sucker-punch. You don’t see it coming and, when it hits, you are overwhelmed by the crushing unfairness that sends you reeling into the darkness.
Let me share my toughest fights with you. Let me be completely transparent about how I’ve felt during these insurmountable times. Let me show you how I’ve made it through to the other side. My prayer is that, in doing so, you will no longer feel completely alone. In fact, I hope you recognize my words as those of a dear friend who is reaching out a hand in recognition, comfort, love and inspiration.
It all begins by feeling your emotion. When you are flat on the mat, overwhelmed by the latest blow, stay down! Don’t get up and pretend that you’re fine. Stay where you are, dizzy, bleeding and beaten. Roll into a fetal position. Cry until your eyes swell. Scream and rage against the indignity. Do anything that helps you to fully feel the emotion that comes with what you are experiencing. Do not pretend that it’s not happening. Do not rush to move through the moment. Feel it. Examine it. Experience it.
Fourteen years ago, my husband left me. I stopped showering for a week at a time. My hair was twisted into a greasy, messy pony at the top of my head. I lived and slept in a raggy pair of cutoffs and the same filthy t-shirt. I spent all of my waking hours in my garden. For six weeks, I was on my knees, pulling up every plant, bush and small tree, attempting to reorient them to a new inner landscape only I could see. My nails were broken and grimy, packed hard with the wet rich loam from my handiwork. My face was filthy with runnels of tear stains down each of my cheeks.
The me that I was then, at my worst, scared the hell out of people. They whispered behind my back, “she’s lost it.” And it was true. I had lost myself to the full emotional depth of the experience I was going through. Yet, these months at rock bottom allowed me to come closer to my most authentic self. Yes, I was shattered. Yes, I was vulnerable. But, I was also becoming open to a greater plan.
When life delivers a shattering blow, many of us rob ourselves of this foundational step in an effort to be strong to the world. We try to quickly move on, putting the wretched experience behind us. We pretend that it didn’t happen. We put on some lipstick and mascara, as if slapping on a happy face for the world to see. Yet, all the while this repressed, unexpressed and, most importantly, unexperienced, emotion is backing up in our system, causing all kinds of long-term physical, mental and spiritual damage.
Any emotion you refuse to feel through to its completion will rise up again and again, often in distorted ways, demanding to be experienced. So, end the denial. Instead, have at it. Cry for the loss. Feel the fear that comes from the realization that your life will forever be different. Mourn the death of the possibilities that you believed were set in stone, but in truth are no longer in alignment with what the universe has in store for you. Then listen for my whisper. Right now, you have within you everything it takes to make it through this challenge. EVERYTHING. Embrace this absolute truth, and hold it close to your heart.
You are stronger than you ever imagined. This experience will be the proving ground where you will begin to experience a new chapter of your life - a chapter filled with greater compassion, deeper understanding and bathed with unconditional love. Realize that on the other side of the devastating heartache lie possibilities that you can’t imagine. As you journey beyond the hurt, you will marvel at how this seemingly insurmountable challenge has created an opening for you to evolve into your highest light.
To support you in this evolution, during the days, weeks and months to come, I offer you this rich and active practice in gratitude. What I have learned has allowed me to fully shift my attitude from victimhood to victor. It has supported my transition from the unconscious to the conscious. Most importantly, it has changed me from being an exhausted fighter, desperately trying to survive, into someone one who is gracefully able to move away from the pummeling caused by fear, depression and rage.
I know that finding gratitude under crisis conditions sounds crazy. Yet, for me, it is precisely when I am at rock bottom, that I find I have the most to gain by reflecting on what I have to be grateful for in my life. You see, gratitude gently introduces perspective even in the most harrowing of times. In my brokenness, it has helped me heal. In my unrest, it has helped me find peace. In my despair, it has delivered hope.
Let me be clear. Finding gratitude in the midst of heightened crisis is unrealistic as it relates to the event. Gratitude won’t arrive easily or naturally. However, being grateful for the simple things you find among the wreckage keeps your heart open. This, in turn, gives you the grace that allows you to keep moving forward through whatever life is throwing your way.
So let’s go back 14 years. At the time it was impossible for me to be grateful for my husband leaving. The joy I saw in my ex’s eyes at finally being out from under the weight of my bitter anger and frustration with him and our life only increased my rage and bitterness. Yet, at the end of each exhausting, lonely day, I did begin to find deep gratitude for the smallest of things. I was grateful for being forced into a universal 24/7 time out that allowed me the opportunity to fully examine my life. I was grateful for the friends who pounded on my front door and wouldn’t leave until I finally crawled on my hands and knees choking on my own tears to allow them in. I was grateful for Josh Groban and the music that sustained me through my deepest fears.
With time comes perspective. Today it’s an entirely different story. I am now grateful that my ex had the courage to finally pull the plug on a marriage that was in the throes of certain death. He started a process that allowed me to find independence and self-love. My long months of messy self-help, cathartic therapy, an ever-evolving spiritual practice and deep faith laid the foundation for the most profound miracle of all. True love at the age of 50 and finally a shot at the life of my dreams.
I love it when life goes smoothly, but the best of times do not give rise to the cathartic moments of deepest growth and profound evolving. It’s when I’m deep in the trenches, flat on my back, engulfed in another desperate fight that my life is most awe-inspiring. I’ve done this long enough that I can now feel the stretch into something greater. As deeply challenging as these times can be, remaining still and open in order to experience the heartbreak and fear while, at the same time, remaining ever-present and ever grateful for the mini-miracles that are all around each of us, has allowed me to be the woman I am becoming.
My brokenness means that there is nothing you can say that will shock me. My experiences allow me to relate to the pain you are experiencing and see the growth that will result. Any shame you feel is matched by the same shame that I have felt in my own life. My hardships have given birth to wisdom and compassion, courage and determination. I am grateful for the strong and ever evolving woman that I am. I owe all of it to The Best-Worst Things To Ever Have Happened To Me.