Darkness connects us as humans
We have all experienced adversity in our lives. Even further, we have all experienced some form of trauma, as well – simply coming out of the womb is a traumatic experience. Call it "lower case t trauma" if that helps. But we all have deep wounds and dark memories – emotional bruises are inherent in being a human, and actually link us all together. I'd like to share some tools on how to embrace these parts of our story as gifts rather than limitations, because making friends with our broken places allows us to move about the world in a way that is clear, love-filled, and authentic.
adversity made me stronger
My parents began a pretty intense divorce when I was six, and the eight-year divorce defined my early life. While some vivid, traumatic memories are difficult for me to revisit, I've done some deep reflection on how to embrace these parts of me. Acknowledging how my experience has informed two of my strongest characteristic – my inspiring, positive spirit and my capacity for forgiveness – has allowed me to love my whole story. I will briefly expand on both learned traits.
As a coping mechanism as a child, I developed the habit of telling myself “it’s going to be okay” when a situation felt frightening. Since then, I’ve maintained the ability to stay positive and level-headed in stressful or threatening situations, so that I can problem-solve, remain action-oriented, and uplift personal and group morale. In the face of a challenge, I am conditioned to move forward rather than shrink in fear, handling issues at hand with equanimity. It's a pretty good skill to have.
The other learned quality that I acquired from my parents divorce is mercy, which is best articulated in one my favorite quotes:
The essence of this quote has been invaluable in preserving self-love and forgiving others as I have gone throughout my life. During my childhood, I never doubted that my parents loved, so I understood early on that the way that they hurt me had nothing to do with me at all, but rather their relationships with themselves and what they were going through in their own lives. As I’ve grown up and have been hurt by people, I've utilized the strength of mercy that was bestowed to me by my past to see that hurt people, hurt people, and forgiveness is usually a no-brainer for me.
Love your Shadows
To truly remove any shame around our darker places, we must go beyond simply seeing the bright side of our dark places. The challenge now is to look back on our adversity as if we’d chosen it.
What?! Opting for disappointment?! Sounds crazy, but consider the alternative: a life completely devoid of dis-ease. What kind of person would you be? For me, other than my parents divorce, my early life would have been a carousel; I would likely be shallow, flat, stagnant, ignorant, isolated, and ill-equipped to face life's experiences as I grew older, rather than compassionate, forgiving, deep and real. So, yes, after a lot of deep reflection and guidance from mentors, I can now confidently say that if given the chance at birth to choose the events of my life, I would have chosen my shadows.
Why? For what?
1. Joy and peace
Accepting your past experiences is extremely important because as we all know, old woulds get triggered very easily, and they can change your mood in an instant. When we hide from our wounds instead of embracing them, they can easily get triggered – that is to say, when you feel overwhelmingly disturbed by something. Owning our shadows fully frees us form the hold they have over us, and prevents them from spontaneously creeping up and shutting us down, leaving room for much more joy and peace in our lives.
2. Burning up Karma
The Hindu and Buddhist traditions would argue that we should celebrate our adversity, since these challenges are negative karma that we accrued in past lives, working themselves out in this life. In other words, our challenges are part of the purification of our soul. As long as we put out as much good karma as we can, through being positive members of society (e.g., holding doors for people, being truthful, giving out unconditional love, practicing non-judgement, etc.), we have less and less karma to work out in our next lives. So, when you're amidst an intense life challenge comes, hang tight, be patient, and remember that no feeling is final. Embrace what is happening to you as an opportunity to mature and gain clearer insight on the world.
3. self-Love Begets LOVE
Law of attraction. Whether we know it or not, our identities (thought-forms based on our experiences) guide us and how we interact with through world. After being hurt and disappointed, we may have subconsciously shut down in order to protect our hearts from future pain. Unfortunately, this also shuts us off from the potential to attract love as well. If we identify with our broken parts, we act from that place of brokenness, we attract more incomplete relationships and make foggy decisions. Instead, we must let the love that always hides behind our emotional barricades show its face. We truly must love ourselves first before we can expect any true love to flow around us (not necessarily romantic love, but the kind of love that is absolute and all around). Thus, by genuinely exploring the growth and beauty that comes from adversity, as if we'd chosen it, we learn to love all parts of ourselves equally. Dark, light, and everything in between. This, to me, is self-love, and honoring my complete nature has been one of the most powerful healing tools I’ve ever experienced.
When a wound is triggered, pause. Sit with it quietly in that moment or at the end of the day. Do your very best to focus, and trace the trigger back to the original wound. The first step to freeing ourselves from the wounds that lock us in prisons is getting to know them. Embrace it, feel it, let it flow, talk to it. Even if it hurts. If it feels too intense, get a coach or a therapist to support you. Or on your own, try free-journaling: What did I learn from this? How did I grow? What factors contributed to my resilience? Get to know the wound, love the wound, and you will ultimately see is that it's not so scary, and you no longer need to build walls around yourself. And as you accrue new wounds, big and small, you are better equipped to not label them as such. You will learn to allow challenging experiences to move through you, with impermanent feelings of behind pain and sorrow and permanent growth. Owning your shadow brings you closer to the truth of who you are and allows you to move about the world in a way that is authentic and full of limitless potential.
Further watching on how knowing your whole self allows you to know what your life's work is meant to be: Stephanie Snyder's Ted Talk: Learning How To Live