Updated: Jan 12, 2021
A close friend of mine called yesterday (we'll call him Adam for the purposes of anonymity). He recently lost his father to suicide and life it seems has cracked him open. It's the kind of crack that makes it impossible to go back to a former version of himself and yet the new version of him is still growing and becoming. And in this in-between place, he's asking big questions and developing new soil to grow in.
I didn't know Adam's dad personally, but the way Adam described him he sounds like he was the pillar of the family-the one they all leaned on when the world was falling apart. He was a man who found his purpose both as a police officer and dedicated family man. During the day, he fought for a just and safe world and at night he found solace in the four walls of his home and arms of his family. But as so many with PTSD can attest to, trauma can make living a sane and joyous life a near impossibility. The past bleeds into the present in a consistent loop making life feel unbearable and suicide seem like the only solution to constant torment. My twin sister experienced this and subsequently after her death I have too. Without the proper body-based trauma treatments, and a host of other resiliency tools, recovering from PTSD is implausible.
Understandably, Adam's father's death has gifted him with a lot of questions about life, the universe, himself and the purpose of it all. As we were chatting yesterday he asked me to tell him how he could find meaning. Where could he start in his spiritual journey? I paused for a moment. Who wouldn't pause? These are hard questions to answer! And I have a unique philosophy about life. So, I thought I'd share with you what I told Adam.
I believe that life is a school of sorts. First and foremost, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Each of us is here for a divinely unique purpose. Everything we experience is to help us along our path of spiritual evolution and I believe the first milestone in our spiritual development is body, mind and soul self-actualization. Some of the work we do in full body, mind, soul self activation includes:
Understanding our childhood wounds
Understanding and being able to observe our minds
Being able to access our intuition
Having empathy for others
Developing a positive relationship with our bodies (even when we're sick)
Developing a gratitude practice
Embracing reality as it shows up, but also maintaining a sense of curiosity
Transcending our ego
When we've reached this milestone, we can then step fully into being of service to humanity in an unconditional capacity. But, that can come much later on in life. I think it depends on your own unique journey and mission here in life.
Let's talk about negative emotions
Oftentimes, in our rush to fast forward through painful emotions or discomfort, we may offer platitudes or what I call premature silver linings. Take the recent storming of the Capitol. I've seen people posting on Twitter things like "It could have been so much worse and more than 4 people could have been killed." "Don't focus on the hate, there's so much love in the world too." And while these could be true, they can also foster a sense of shame around having and expressing what some might call "negative emotions." For the record, I don't believe in negative emotions. I believe all emotions are both valid and temporary. We can allow them to arise and to dissipate, but denying them or judging them can give rise to illness. If we skip to the silver lining of situations and don't allow for the full acknowledgment and expression of our emotions we cut off part of ourself. It's not healthy and I don't recommend it.
So what do I mean then about developing a gratitude practice?
Well, I mean that we can thank the divine for our entire experience without cutting ourselves off from the painful parts. If we can see this entire life thing as one big university we can see that the especially difficult parts are necessary for our own development. Sometimes we have to repeat classes because we're struggling. Sometimes, it's just part of our destiny and we might go through one class for what feels like an eternity. Either way, we can embrace the idea that life university is really hard and no one is getting out alive :) But we can also make room for the idea that life can also be really beautiful and filled with love and moments of bliss. We can take in things like fresh air, the feeling of warm water, the smell of freshly baked cookies, the way a hug makes our whole body relax, the color of the first bloom of a flower in spring. And then of course, there are things like silver linings when they are appropriate and we've authentically come clear with ourselves. All of it, the entire collage of our experience can be part of our gratitude practice, when we're ready.
Sending so much love.