What we need to ask ourselves in order to fully heal.
Find the common thread:
I went to see one of my favorite therapists to help my body unblock itself from something rather yucky.
She casually mentioned that her wife has decided to leave her. After seven years as a family, raising their 4 children together, including their youngest which is only 2 years old. I was so shocked – and actually, so was she. She did not see it coming. But her wife simply “did not love her anymore” and was not interested in trying to recover their relationship. Needless to say, my therapist was heartbroken.
One of my closest friends, a mother of 5 children, has only recently revealed to the world that her ex-partner was horribly abusive to them all. Physically and emotionally. To the extent that she was hospitalized a few times due to his violence. At times, she feared her own life and the life of their children. She was entangled with fear of how their lives might look if she was brave enough to leave, feeling powerless and preferring the devil she knew to a devil of an uncertain future. And she did not dare tell anyone of her situation, fearing it will make things worse.
A dear reader contacted me a little while ago, expressing guilt, disgust, and dismay. Looking back at his life, he constantly pursued instant gratification from sex and felt horrified to realize that his actions were driving his wife further away from him.
On a similar note, a few of my clients expressed their regret for wasting years having sex in a way that was not fulfilling, not knowing any better.
And although some of the cases I mentioned here sound extreme and others sound mundane – they all convey one aspect of life that is so undeniable, that Buddhists labeled it The First Noble Truth: suffering is an integral part of life.
Obviously, suffering comes in many shapes and forms – I use relationship as a common denominator because that’s what I like writing about. But it’s just an excuse for me to write about something much bigger, that engulfs our entire existence in this world. Suffering.
Why do we have to go through so much pain?
Different people have different explanations. Why do we need to suffer?
Some say that God works in mysterious ways. In other words: although you or I do not know or understand – there’s some reason behind it.
Other spiritual traditions have different approaches, such as “It’s Karma” or “It’s for your higher good” or “On some level, you attracted this into your life”.
All are valid in one way or another and have innate wisdom in them. They serve the purpose of showing us value in something that otherwise could be devastating.
But at the end of the day, I don’t buy it. We don’t have to find a reason or a meaning in each and every event in our lives. And you’re not going to convince me that a child that was born into extreme violence has somehow chosen his/her path or that they are paying some sort of karmic debt.
Does every cloud have a silver lining?
I don’t need to believe in God, or to follow any arbitrary spiritual understanding, in order to make a choice to look for a silver lining.
When we suffer, it is not due to some higher force teaching us a lesson or punishing us for previous mistakes. Nonetheless, we can always consciously decide to see the light in the darkness. To grow from our experiences, however debilitating they felt at the time.
It is so empowering to be able to say, “I went through this horrible ordeal and it propelled me to a better place” instead of feeling miserable that we had to go through that in the first place.
I mean, shit happens. It’s life. We all know and experience it. We can try to avoid it, or push it away when it happens, or bury our heads in the sand and pretend we lead a happy-ever-after sort of life 24/7/365.
But we don’t. We have joyful moments alongside painful ones. And many of us have suffered a great deal of hardship.
And the question “why has this happened” is hardly ever useful.
Instead of asking “why”, the questions that are much more beneficial to ask are:
“How can I improve my external conditions?”
“How do I internally process and deal with the scars that appear?”
“How can I learn and become a better human-being from this experience?”
It is not good enough to simply “wishful-think” your problems away.
If you are familiar with the serenity prayer, you might want to contemplate the second line:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,Reinhold Niebuhr
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
You identify what in your circumstances is avoidable (meaning, things you can change) and you find the strength to change those.
You do not stay in an abusive relationship.
You do not accept those things that you have the ability to change.
You do what it takes to change. And gather all your might, support, and resources you can muster in order to change these conditions.
Once you are in a safe place, it is now time to heal your wounds.
Or – if you have no capacity to change the external conditions – you go inwards to find peace.
Both of these choices are equally empowering and equally fulfilling.
And when done with integrity and humility, are sure to make you grow as a human being.