“Don’t worry, be happy,” they tell me. “If you think positive, positive will happen,” they tell me. There is a never-ending concoction of people and social media resources in the world trying to inject my mind with this idea that optimistic thinking is the answer to all of my problems. Let’s agree to disagree.
I am going to begin with the story of a lotus flower. (Go along with it.) The story of a lotus flower is one that closely mirrors my life experiences, and the beginning of its growth is not as beautiful as one might imagine. A lotus first makes its home under water, surrounded by mud and other dirty conditions. As the lotus continues to grow, it pushes through its murky surroundings making way towards a clearer surface. In time, the pod surfaces above the water, freeing itself from the filth and each petal slowly blooms to expose its beauty.
Notice how “pushes through” is emphasized? This brings me to the point of this piece: the value I find in suffering to attain happiness. Suffering is to mud, as happiness is to blossoming. I recently read a book that presented the idea of the “backwards law,” which explained how the ability to confront problems instead of avoiding them with a “stay positive” mindset, helps a person prioritize better values and understand happiness on a deeper level. Just like a lotus is confronted with harsh living conditions before it blooms, I am constantly presented with setbacks testing my growth. I firmly believe that having an authentic engagement with my problems is what motivates me to learn more about myself, therefore creating a strong feeling of contentment. Whether it is an internal or external block, how I choose to deal with issues ultimately defines specific values I hold, making these obstacles all more worthwhile.
This mindset takes time and discipline to master. Pain is a part of life’s process, and you have to be willing to orient your perspectives about it if you want to see and feel change. Most people do not want to deal with the negatives head on, so the quickest escape to happy land is the usual solution. Being someone with a history of extreme positivism about pretty much everything in life, I eventually questioned how raw and pure my happiness truly was. Was it coming from a healthy emotional state or from a place of avoidance? Confrontation never used to be my strong suit, but forcing myself to stay positive all the time became exhausting. No one ever wants to admit the uncertainties and fears ruminating in their mind, but I eventually hit my breaking point, and taking responsibility for my flaws had to be dealt with. I am always finding things about myself that I would like to improve on, and allowing myself to indulge in those imperfections to align some newfound values is how my happiness is now generated.
My struggles are what mold my brain into thinking so intuitively about my life and what I want for myself. Moments of sadness, heartbreak, grief, I can guarantee make lasting impressions more than my highs ever will. I have experienced depths of depression that have led me to an increased sense of awareness, of self, of character – my surfacing moments. These realizations allow me to have deeper connections and conversations with people, and how beautiful is it to be wrapped in the layers of someone else’s mind. These are the petals that bloom from my core. Without pushing through my mud, I can never be a lotus.
Whatever suffering comes your way, I advise you to not run away from it. Embrace your issues and do something about it. Ask yourself if your issues are substantial for your growth, which will help put things in perspective of what truly matters to you in your life. Jump into your mud is what I say.
(A special thank you Thich Nhat Hanh for coining the catchy title)