Life can be painful.
Tragedy can strike from nowhere. Friends betray our trust. Illness can take a toll. Markets crash (our wealth wiped out.) Businesses fail. Jobs disappear or be outsourced elsewhere. Loved ones die or move away. Plans go awry. Life can hit us with one cruel blow after another.
This isn't being negative. It's being truthful.
However, having experienced my fair share of blows, I've learnt from the things that have caused the greatest pain is that much of our suffering comes from trying to avoid it. Something many are masterful at.
There are various means we employ to avoid feeling the pain that makes our heart ache and stomach sink. Shopping, drinking, eating and burying ourselves in our work. Gambling, sex, drugs and anti-depressants. The list goes on.
If any of these measures actually worked, all would be well. But the truth is that if we aren't willing to sit with the more painful emotions that arise throughout the course of our lives, and take a look at what lies beneath them that may be calling for our attention, they don't go away. They just bury deeper. Over time they resurface, but by then they have often taken a steeper toll on our psychological and physical wellbeing. Part of this can be seen with the rising rates of depression.
We are living with an epidemic of depression. But anti-depressants are not always the answer.
The World Health Organization considers depression the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide, and expects it to become the second leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020. It's data like this that inspired author and activist Marianne Williamson to write her latest book From Tears To Triumph - a call to arms for greater courage and compassion during our darker days when the circumstances of our lives give rise to sadness and other emotions we'd prefer to avoid. As Williamson shared with me during our recent interview (below),"We've made feeling sad wrong. But just as a broken leg requires resetting the bone; so too emotional pain requires resetting our thinking." Numbing the pain doesn't address the problem.
Williamson believes that psychological pain, like physical pain, exists for a reason - to direct us to something that needs our attention. She sees the rising wave of depression as a collective siren call for deep healing, for taking a long hard look at how we are living our lives and treating each other. As Marianne wrote in From Tears To Triumph, "The greatest opportunity for humanity in the twenty-first century is not in widening our external horizons, but in deepening our internal ones." This applies as much to each of us on a personal level as it does collectively.
"Just as a broken leg requires resetting the bone; so too emotional pain requires resetting our thinking." - Marianne Williamson
Our happiness obsessed culture has led people to buy into the myth of perpetual happiness; to believe that if they try hard enough, smile big enough, laugh often enough, or numb their pain well enough, they can live in an eternal state of bliss. But that's simply not reality. We are wired to experience the full spectrum of human emotions for a reason: because as human beings are need all the emotions in order to grow to the fullness of our own humanity. Not just a select smiley-faced few.
Cutting ourselves off from our own pain desensitizes us to that of others. When we sit with our own pain, we grow compassion for the suffering of others.
Sadness, jealousy, hurt, anxiety, grief and melancholy. These are all emotions that can point us to examining our lives more closely, to reconsidering how we might respond better to the environment (and people) around us. To ignore, suppress, deny or numb any of these emotions does us a profound disservice that negates their value. Likewise, cutting ourselves off from our own pain desensitizes us to that of others.
Life's most raw emotions are no less valuable than it's most pleasant. The pathway to a happier life doesn't seek to bypass all pain, but to confront it. By having the courage to sit with the uncomfortable and painful emotions we can navigate a better path forward and discover within ourselves far greater strength, resilience, compassion and courage than we ever would otherwise. As Marianne shared with me, sometimes our sleepless nights, as painful as they are, are necessary for our own healing and growth. "Our demons are defeated in the dark."
As I wrote in Brave, the walls we build to protect ourselves from pain also shut us out to joy, happiness and meaning. The only way to experience more of the joy, happiness and connection we all yearn for is when we are willing to brave their polar opposites - loss, sadness and grief - however painful or uncomfortable. This doesn't mean that pharmaceutical medications aren't helpful when people find themselves in a dark place from which they see no escape (I've witnessed their benefit for people suffering severe mental illness), however it does mean not labelling the normal emotions of life as a mental illness nor becoming dependent on a pill to fix problems that we alone must attend to.
I hope my interview with Marianne will inspire you to create time to sit with those uncomfortable emotions, such as sadness from a loss yet fully grieved, and to confront any aspects of your life that are calling for courage. If tears flow, let them. They connect us to what matters most. In doing so they can help us see where we're out of alignment with our deepest values and emerge from our challenges with a deepened appreciation for the gifts they hold.
Life doesn't happen to you; it happens for you. Our heartaches and hardships may shape us, but they can also lead us to a far richer experience of life and our own humanity.
Our adversities don't necessarily make us stronger. Too often they leave us angry, bitter and feeling like a victim to the ravages of life. But life doesn't happen to us, it happens for us. And so while life can sometimes be painful, within every adversity lies the opportunity to live more deeply; to nurture compassion and to discover that no matter how bad something may seem at the time, there is always reason for hope.
To order a copy of Marianne's latest book From Tears to Triumph, do so here.
Margie Warrell is a bestselling author and international speaker who is passionate about helping people to be overcome the fears that keep them from thriving in work, love and life. Learn more and sign up for her newsletter at www.margiewarrell.com