Tiny Buddha is about reflecting on simple wisdom and learning new ways to apply it to our complex lives complete with responsibilities, struggles, dreams, and relationships. You’ll find posts about happiness, motivation, inspiration, love, relationships, meaning, possibilities, mindfulness, yoga, spirituality, simplicity, minimalism, and letting go.
“Pain changes your life forever. But so does healing from it.” ~Kayil York
In 2012 my mum got diagnosed with cancer. After an operation, she was cancer-free for some time when in March 2017 it was discovered that the cancer had returned and had spread everywhere, notably to her lungs.
She was adamant that she did not want further treatment, which would have been palliative at best anyway and would have had significant side effects. Nobody was able to make a prognosis regarding how much longer she had left. Being seventy, there was a chance that it would develop slowly.
Nothing much seemed to happen for a little while when suddenly from one day to the next, she couldn’t use her legs anymore, and a few weeks later in July 2017, she was able to move into a hospice, having her last wish fulfilled. After a further four weeks, she passed away.
Those four weeks were a rollercoaster. Her condition changed up and down. But mostly I could not get my head around how she could die. I simply couldn’t imagine how her body could go from functioning to shutting down.
I lived about 500km away and went up to see her for long weekends during that time. I experienced the hospice as a very peaceful place. Nevertheless, I often sat by her bed, holding her hand and feeling utterly overwhelmed and helpless and scared.
I was convinced that I should be doing something, saying something, but could not think of anything at all that might ease her final passage. The relationship with my mum had always been difficult, thus this also felt like the last chance to make my peace with her, with us.
Seeing her in pain was horrific. She quickly advanced to a stage where she was no longer able to ring for the nurses. Wrinkling her forehead became the indicator for her pain. It was terrible to know that this was probably happening when nobody else was in the room and who knows how long it could take for anyone to notice.
Once the nurse came to administer more painkillers, it took another ten to fifteen minutes until you could see them work and my mum’s face slowly relaxing. The ten longest minutes.
After three weeks, swallowing became an issue. Even just taking a sip of water became a massive struggle and ended in coughing fits. The doctors said there was nothing they could do to make it easier. With all the medical advances, it seemed crazy that she had to endure any pain at all.
Her last four weeks were the toughest in my life so far and the first time I experienced the death of somebody close, and from such close quarters. At the same time it also turned out to be the most rewarding time.
One of the things that struck me was that almost everyone has or will experience the death of a loved one. It had such a monumental impact on me, and I can only assume that it does for a lot of people, too, and so I would like to share my story.
Here are some of the lessons I learned, which arose from a very specific situation but which I feel are equally applicable to other challenging situations in life.
1. You are alone.
Dying is personal. Watching somebody die is personal. Your whole life is personal.
There is simply no manual or set of guidelines to refer to. Not to how we live, not to how we die, and not to how we grieve.
Sometimes we might confuse our personal life lessons with universal laws. A number of people were giving me advice (I didn’t ask for). Advice about having to be there for her final breath (in the end my mum decided to slip away with no one else in the room). Advice about the importance of the funeral or on the appropriate length and ways of grieving.
Some of the forcefulness behind the messages were overwhelming at the time and had me doubting my own feelings and decisions. While I fully appreciate they meant well, I had to remind myself that only I can decide for myself what to do and how to do it. There is no right or wrong. What feels right to someone, might feel very wrong to you.
Listen to your inner voice! Tune in, and your heart will tell you what to do. We all have an inner compass; it’s just a matter of learning to access and trust it. Equally, when the tables are turned, be conscious of how you talk to people. Offer support and share your experiences by all means but give room for the other person to go their own way.
2. You are not alone.
In other ways I was not alone. One of the most important lessons for me was to accept help. Yes, bloody ask for help! I tend to be a control-freak, proud of my independence, always having been able to deal with things by myself. Suddenly I felt frighteningly helpless. I felt like everyone else had it figured out and I was failing miserably.
Everyone in the hospice was amazing, whether it was talking to me, listening to me, letting me cry, offering me a cup of tea, providing me with food, or holding my hand. It meant the world and I stopped regarding accepting help as a weakness. There is no merit in going it alone, whatever it may be. You want to help those you love—allow them to be there for you, too.
3. The power of a good cry.
In line with my wish to be independent, I hate crying in front of people. I worried it would upset my mum. I worried I made other people uncomfortable. I worried the tears would never stop.
Then somebody told me that it’s physiologically impossible to cry continuously. I can’t remember the time, but it’s something like twenty minutes after which the crying will automatically cease. That thought comforted me: The worst that could happen would be to cry for twenty minutes. That seemed manageable. Besides, there didn’t seem to be much I could do to stop the tears from coming anyway.
Once I relaxed about crying, I discovered how transformative tears could be. They offered and still offer a release of tension that would otherwise keep building up inside. They have a message that is worth listening to. They are part of life. Don’t feel ashamed. Don’t worry on other people’s behalf, because it’s not for you to figure out how they deal with your tears.
4. Feel it all.
I used to strive for a life made up of only happy moments. People would tell me that without the crap, we wouldn’t appreciate the good. But I’ll be honest: I was not convinced.
When feeling ‘negative’ emotions, in addition to feeling them, I was annoyed that I felt them, adding another layer of frustration. I engaged in an internal fight against those emotions, and as you may guess this only made things worse.
Here I was dealing with feelings that were new to me, also in an intensity that was new to me and which felt uncomfortable as hell. I quickly worked out though that I couldn’t push them away. I couldn’t distract myself. Eventually I came to accept them as part of me and part of the experience. And the thing is that everything passes—the “good” as well as the “bad.”
Don’t judge your feelings. Allow them to flow through you. Fighting them will only make them linger longer. Feel them and seek to learn from them. Everything we feel can teach us a lesson.
5. Some things you cannot prepare for.
Since my mum’s initial diagnosis, I had been mentally preparing for her death. Or so I thought. Grief took on many different forms for me. I hadn’t expected any of them and had nevertheless been going through various scenarios beforehand. It turned out to have been a waste of time to even attempt preparing for any of it. And this applies to most things in life.
It will be whatever it will be. But most importantly you will be okay!
It sucks at times. It still comes over me at random times. The realization that she is no longer around hits me again and again, as if it’s news. I often dream of her. Things happen, and I want to tell her about it and then realize that I can’t talk to her ever again. I have no idea where else my grief will take me so I have given up spending time of trying to anticipate it but I have faith that I will manage.
6. Carpe diem.
We know we will die one day, yet we still generally live our lives as if we will be around forever.
Okay, I'm not saying that I've seized every minute of every day since my mum passed away. I forget. But I also remember. I remember that life is short. Death puts things into perspective in many ways. Is it worth getting upset or stressed over certain things? Do I really want to hold a grudge? Is this really worth my time? Is this who I want to spend my time with? How will I feel looking back on my life when my time comes?
I ask myself these questions more often nowadays, and it has changed my life for the better. I am overall more relaxed and I stress less. I am more precious over how I spend my time and who with. I am less willing to put up with things that don’t feel good to me (this is where your inner voice plays a crucial role, too). It is liberating to say the least.
7. Gratitude rocks.
Almost a decade ago, I started a daily gratitude diary. I found it tough in the beginning. After a crappy day, I just didn’t think anything good had happened. But practice changed my mindset with lasting effects.
It’s not about forcing yourself to be happy all the time; it’s about changing your perspective and focusing on the “good” without denying the “bad.” It helps me not to take things for granted in everyday life.
Even during my mum’s last weeks, I found many things on a daily basis that I felt grateful for: I was grateful that even on her deathbed we were able to share a laugh. I was grateful to witness through her friends and family how she had touched other people’s lives. I was grateful how it brought me back closer to some people. I was also grateful for little things like sitting on her balcony in the sun or listening to music together.
Above all I was and am grateful for having been given the opportunity to witness her dying. Especially given our difficult relationship, I am grateful I was able to say goodbye – I am aware not everyone gets the chance.
8. Resilience is a superpower.
If I got through this, I will get through other stuff, too. Death is outside your control. You have no choice but to deal with it when it comes your way. You do have a choice how to deal with it though.
You can find the lesson in whatever life serves you. You can combine all of the above and be safe in the knowledge that you will be okay. I feel more resilient and I am confident that it will help me master other situations in the future. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be pain. But you are able to handle it and bounce back.
I sense that my list of lessons learned will continue to grow. One of the keys I believe is to be open-minded, drop the pre-judgment and expectations. I never would have imagined that all or any of this would come from my mum’s death.
Whether it’s grief you are dealing with or other challenging circumstances, I hope you will find the cathartic power in your experience that can lead to incredible personal growth. Whatever this may look like for you.
After a career in event management, Karen started her life coaching business. She supports people in activating their strengths, identifying their goals, working toward them, and generally moving through life with more ease, happiness, and fun. After eight years in London she moved to Bavaria and is offering coaching online and in person in English and German. karenschlaegel.com / instagram.com/karen_schlaegel.
“There’s no such thing as what you ‘should’ be doing with your life.” –Lori Deschene
How often have you thought about what success means to you?
If you’re anything like my younger self, that would be almost never. It’s not that I didn’t want to be successful. It’s just that it wasn’t something I’d given much thought to. No one ever asked me about it or even encouraged me to think about success. I’d just absorbed it from the people and culture around me, watching how they lived and what was important to them.
From what I saw around me, I internalized a vague idea of success as looking like a decent job and a house with a dining room and a tidy green lawn. So that’s what I was going to do. I was going to follow that plan for success and live happily ever after. How could there be anything wrong with this plan? Who wouldn’t want these things?
I was going to make this dream happen. I went to college, got a good corporate job, and waited for happiness to rain down on me. It didn’t. I was miserable in that job and left it to try a different position. And then another different position.
Along the way, I became a homeowner with a dining room and a tidy green lawn. Okay, happiness—I’m ready for you! But it turned out that I hated the upkeep of a lawn, and the dining room gathered dust because it was hardly used.
This was not going as I’d planned. I was confused. I’d done all the “right” things, so why wasn’t I feeling better about my life?
Because I wasn’t really living my life. I was living others’ ideas of how I should live my life.
That’s a big difference.
When we’re young, our understanding of who we are and the how the world works comes from what we see around us. For the most part, you don’t question it because it’s your normal. What your normal looks like is defined by your family, friends, community, and culture. Whether it’s told to you explicitly or it’s how you see people behaving, you learn the rules and expectations of your world.
As a child, your job is to follow the rules, like go to school, finish your homework, do your chores, be good, and do what you’re told. And by following the rules and meeting these expectations, you’re rewarded. You get good grades, praise, maybe a trophy or an allowance.
It’s expected that you’ll stay on track, hit the education goals you’ve been training for, and make your way in the world as a bona fide adult. Even though the people who steered you on this path meant well, it’s a one-size-fits-all path toward an accepted idea of success that wasn’t questioned.
And that’s the problem. Because one size does not fit all. That path may be perfect for some people, and that’s great for them. They’re able to take the rules and expectations and run with them.
But for everyone else, it’s a different story. Does this sound familiar? You did everything just like you were expected, you followed the rules… and yet, you wonder why you’re not happy. You worked hard to get here. Your life looks good on paper, but it doesn’t feel like it looks. Is this what success is supposed to feel like?
It’s important to understand that you haven’t done anything wrong. You followed the obvious path that was set before you when you didn’t know any other way. But following someone else’s idea of success is like wearing a toddler’s outfit as an adult: it never fits and it feels really uncomfortable.
But even at that point, when we’re squirming in the toddler clothing version of our life, sometimes we still go all in on the idea of success we’ve been given. Because what else do you have? You weren’t taught any other way.
It’s like driving a car into a ditch and stepping on the gas pedal. You put more effort into the thing that isn’t working, pushing yourself further into a rut that seems inescapable. You end up stretched thin, exhausted, working too much, and frustrated that you can’t make this better.
When the old way isn’t working for you and you’re ready for a change, it’s time to create your own definition of success.
This means you determine what success looks like for you, on your terms. You stop trudging dutifully along the path that’s not right for you. You uncover what’s important to you and live your life in a way that aligns with your values.
This is very different from following someone else’s plan for your life. It’s about deliberately and authentically choosing how you want to live and focusing on what means the most to you.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you turn your entire life upside down and inside out (though it can). Sometimes small shifts can make a big difference. There’s no right or wrong way—it’s distinctly personal and specific to each of us because we’re crafting our own unique definition. (Like the unused dining room in my house—you may love having a formal space in your home for people to gather.)
Have you ever asked yourself what you really want? This is a big question. Answering it might take some patience and time.
And, this might sound a little crazy but you don’t want to think too hard about it. Your mind will likely start yammering about you “should” do (which will probably look a lot like the old ways you want to change).
Your deeper wisdom will provide the answers you seek. You’ll feel it in your body—a spark, a sense of freedom, a burst of joy or enthusiasm—as you uncover what’s most important to you.
Look at the old idea of success you’ve been living. Was the whole idea wrong for you? Or were only parts of it problematic? What parts did you enjoy? Your answers will begin to illuminate your new definition of success.
Dig deeper into what you value and what you want more of in your life. How do you want to spend your time? Where and with whom? Consider all aspects of your life, not just work, including relationships, intellectual development, spiritual growth, hobbies and leisure, and health and wellness.
I wish I’d known how to think about success back when I was zigzagging through different careers and dusting the dining room table. But it’s okay, really, because we can always start right from where we are and make choices that move us in a different direction.
We each have our own journey of discovery. Where we are isn’t who we are; it’s just a step along our path. It’s so important to keep in mind that we’re never too late, too old, or too stuck to change the direction of our lives.
Sometimes it can feel like the life we want is unattainable, always out of reach, and we’ll never get out of the rut we’re mired in. This is a big fat lie and I urge you to shift “I can’t” to “I can” (or at least “maybe it’s possible”) because you can choose to start doing something different. Even small changes toward your vision of success will start to shift your entire trajectory. It’s a process and a practice. Keep going, one step at a time, in the direction that calls you.
I now live in a different state, in a house that’s dining room-free and doesn’t have a blade of grass in the yard. It’s a life that’s so right for me. And I know you can find your just-right life too, when you define success for you.
Pam helps people who feel bored and unsatisfied with their lives to change direction and create a life they feel good about living. With the right tools and guidance, you can authentically create a life you love. Get out of a rut and on to a new path with her free six day video series: Your DIY Guide To Rutbusting.
“To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven.” –Alan Cohen
Are you your own best friend, your own worst critic, or somewhere in between? Do you tend to focus on what you see as your flaws, mistakes, and imperfections, comparing yourself to others you think are better than you? Sometimes, do you even wish you were someone else?
It’s easy to get trapped in that way of thinking, especially in today’s consumer culture. From magazine ads to TV commercials, we are trained to compare ourselves to others and are subtly told we are not enough—not attractive enough, smart enough, popular enough, etc.
While I try to practice mindfulness and not fall into this trap, living in this culture, I am not immune to that way of thinking. I was reminded of this just the other day, when I met a young couple who came to stay in a suite my husband and I rent out in our house.
Having been doing housework and, not realizing the time, I opened the door with no make-up, in faded jeans, an old tee shirt, and sneakers. On the other side of the doorway, the young woman stood with perfectly applied make-up, perfectly styled hair, a cute dress, and heels, looking like she had just left a fashion magazine shoot.
Meanwhile, the young man stared at me with a blank expression, which I took to mean he did not like me. I felt intimidated and inferior.
A few days later, my husband saw the couple and had a short conversation with them. In it, he later told me, they actually raved about me!
They said they were deeply impressed with a calm, “Zen” quality they sensed I had and instantly felt comfortable and relaxed around me. Considering what I had thought of the encounter, I was astonished to hear that. This taught me an important lesson.
While we might worry about what we see as one of our flaws, others might not even notice it and instead be dazzled by one of our virtues.
If others can see us in this positive light, so can we. But how?
After studying several personal growth books, articles, and online classes, I gathered some key points about self-appreciation and wove them into a powerful practice. It helped me tremendously and I share it here in hopes it will do the same for you.
Through it, you might experience for the first time in your whole life a real sense of self-appreciation and self-love. It’s something you can do any time you feel self-doubt or self-judgement or inferiority. It can help you relax into the knowingness that you are a unique, wonderful being.
Embracing Yourself Practice
Sadly, we often overlook the miracle that’s closest to us. It’s available to us from the moment we’re born to the moment we die. It’s ourselves.
This practice is designed to help you connect with your own miraculous nature and appreciate how wonderful you really are.
1. Centering yourself
To get the most from this experience, feel free to turn off distractions like the TV, the ringer on your phone, and any kind of message alerts. Put your mental to-do list aside, just for now. It will still be there after this experience.
Create some quiet, uninterrupted time to step back and nourish yourself. Give yourself permission to pause and receive the gift of this time. Make yourself comfortable, either sitting or laying down, preferably laying down.
Gather your thoughts and energy from all the different directions they’ve been going. Bring them in and let them rest for these few moments, while you turn your attention to being here now.
Take one slow, calming breath and release it. Take another deep breath and release it.
2. Appreciating your body
When you’re ready, rest your hands over your heart. Can you feel your heart beating?
Breathing in, feel your lungs expand with air. Breathing out, feel your lungs relax. Again, feel them expanding in and relaxing out.
Leave your hands over your heart or wrap them around your torso in a hug. Breathing in, feel your lungs expand. Breathing out, feel your lungs relax.
Breathing normally, think about the amazing processes happening in your body right now, this very moment—the blood being circulated, the oxygen being exchanged, the cells absorbing nutrients, the nerves and neurons allowing you to hear the sounds around you.
Feel the sensation of sitting or lying down where you are.
Reflect on how a thought sends an impulse from your brain to your spinal cord, to your nerves, to your muscles, allowing you to move. Feel appreciation for your body for allowing you to experience life in this way.
3. Appreciating your essence
Now, reflect on your uniqueness. Of the billions of people on this planet, there is only one you.
Think about the spark of life that animates your body, your essence that makes you, you. You might think of it as your personality or your spirit.
Can you sense it? Do you feel or see anything related to it? Feel awe and appreciation for it.
Think of the special qualities that make you a unique individual.
Think of one quality you are grateful for about yourself. Maybe that quality is the fact that you are trying your best or something else. Whatever quality comes to mind, appreciate that about yourself.
Feel grateful for another thing about yourself, maybe your intelligence or something else. Then feel grateful for another thing about yourself, maybe your kind heart or something else.
Reflect on this idea: Life has good reason for expressing itself through you.
4. Sending yourself love
Feel the warmth of your hands on your heart or your torso. Feel appreciation for the unique individual you are.
Think to yourself or say out loud, “I love myself.” Pause.
Think or say again, “I love myself.” Pause.
Think or say again, “I love myself.” Notice how that feels. Let that love sink in.
Add anything else positive you’d like to say to yourself. What do you need to hear right now?
Appreciate yourself for doing this practice. Rest your mind, taking a few more deep breaths. Look out and around you from this place of connection with yourself.
Feel free to do this practice as often as you like, maybe a few times a week before getting up in the morning or before going to sleep at night—any time you’d like to feel a greater appreciation for yourself, any time you’d like to remind yourself that you are a miracle…because you are!
Heather Chase is creator of Fall in Love with Life, an online retreat designed to help people embrace the hidden wonders of life and find more joy every day (free lesson here). She is also co-author of Great Peacemakers, winner of more than 30 awards and endorsed by three presidents and three Nobel Peace Prize winners (free chapter here).
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
The day I was told that the man I loved was going to die from cancer, I did two things: I made a pact with myself never to have more than one bottle of wine in the house. I knew the risks of numbing pain and I knew that it didn’t work. Then I went to a stationary shop and bought a supply of fine moleskin journals.
My journey through grief started the day the pea-sized lump behind my husband’s ear was given a name. Metastatic melanoma. Over the course of two years it spread to his lungs, then his brain. A brain tumor the size of a golf ball is what killed him.
Four weeks after his death, a tightly sealed plastic box containing a dozen diaries was the first thing I grabbed when I had to evacuate my home ahead of a monster cyclone. Seven years after those events, the plastic container, which by now contains several dozen moleskins, is still the first thing I’ll grab at the next cyclone warning.
Why? Because those journals were my lifesaver at a time when no therapist could help me. Grieving is a very long and lonely journey, and those journals were my most intimate, trusted friends during the most difficult time in my life.
Grief comes in many forms. Divorce, being made redundant, a stillborn child, the list is long. We all have access to the world’s oldest and cheapest self-help tool.
Here is how it helped me.
1. Your journal is your best friend during the lonely process of grief.
Grief turned me into a depressed mess, which made me feel like an outsider. It’s a common experience. As anybody who has been there will know, one of the most surprising things about grief is how alone it makes you feel. Only those who have grieved will be able to understand what you are going through.
Your friends and loved ones will offer as much comfort as they can give, but they’ve got their own lives to live and nobody wants to hear your sad story over and over again.
Writing provided comfort and relief at a time when nothing else did. I lived remotely and didn’t have access to a therapist. My journal became my lifesaver and my best friend. It was the only place where I could speak my truth and where I could safely express all of my emotions.
My journal was always there for me to listen to the same story, over and over again, without judgment, until I was finally ready to let it go.
2. Journaling allowed me to tell the story nobody wanted to hear.
We live in a culture that is averse to grief. In the absence of proper grief rituals, people struggle for words and end up offering platitudes that diminish your grief. Before my bereavement, I too was ignorant about what to say to a grieving person.
How many times did well-meaning friends, lost for words, offer meaningless platitudes? “He’ll be okay,” some would say, when it was clear that he was never going to be okay again.
“You’ll be okay,” was just as hurtful. Of course I would be okay. I hadn’t died, even if it felt like part of me had. But I needed people to acknowledge my grief, not diminish it. Writing was a way of giving voice to the story nobody wanted to hear.
I needed to say the things that I couldn’t say, that even the doctors wouldn’t say, as we desperately clung to hope.
It was only in the pages of my journal that I could safely and without judgment write this messy story in the raw voice of pain. It helped me understand it and slowly craft a new narrative.
I knew instinctively that my writing would lead me there, not my well-meaning friends who assumed to know what the appropriate timeframe for grief might be.
3. Writing allowed me to hold on to memories.
Journaling was also an effective way to hold on to the memory of him. I recorded the story as it was unfolding. The way he reacted to radiation treatment. The words he said when the word palliative care entered our conversation. The way he looked before and after each operation. The words he whispered into my ear, holding on to my hand as his strength faded during his last days.
4. Journaling helped me find redemption after loss.
For several years after my bereavement, the story I told about myself focused on the events that had burnt my life down. It was what defined me at that moment and I didn’t want it taken away from me.
Writing about my pain allowed me to eventually gain a new perspective. Reading over my words, I became a detached witness of my story and I was able to see how my story is related to the universal narrative pattern of what Joseph Campbell calls “the hero’s journey.”
Today I am able to tell my story as a narrative of redemption. I stumbled into the dark woods of grief and I came out of it transformed, stronger, and more aware of the preciousness of life. It’s a story I share with those who accept grief as an opportunity for deep transformation.
5. Journal writing gave me the courage to venture into creative writing, which was healing in unexpected ways.
Two years after my husband’s death, for my fiftieth birthday, I gave myself the gift of a year-long online creative writing course. I’d planned to write up my story as a memoir. But revisiting my pain in the pages of my journals felt like peeling the scab off a wound. It was still too raw.
Writing creative fiction on the other hand, turned out to be incredibly liberating. I no longer had to write the story of how my life had exploded. I was free to write anything I wanted. I could create characters with red hair and freckles, I could make them Olympic swimmers or war correspondents. But deep down, the emotions I wrote into my characters were my own.
By sorting the core of my personal grief story into a narrative arch, I could see how personal growth results from conflict and suffering. I could see how this is fundamental to the character’s journey and I could finally see redemption and envision a new ending for my story.
I don’t know how I would have coped without my writing, it’s what guided me through my pain and showed me the way forward.
Here are five suggestions on how to use journal writing during times of grief:
1. Have your journal always with you.
I found it incredibly comforting to have my journal always by my side. Sadness catches up with you in the back of a taxi or in the hospital waiting room. Being able to scribble in my journal provided relief.
2. Do a brain and pain dump.
On most days I’d do a simple brain and pain dump. I’d free write without editing or worrying about grammar for as long as it took to feel better. I found it helpful to record what was happening in detail and to name my emotions and reactions.
By writing everything down, I felt like I was sharing my pain. It was liberating, even if it didn’t make the pain go away. It allowed me to see patterns in my thinking and to focus on the positive.
3. Write a gratitude list.
A gratitude list is a powerful way to focus on what is positive during a time when it seems that you will never find happiness again. By listing the things I was grateful for, I was able to momentarily reverse the feeling of overwhelming negativity.
There was the bad test result, sure, but there was also the friend who brought a casserole around. It was always surprising and refreshing to acknowledge the things that made me feel grateful. It put my pain into perspective.
4. Do timed writing exercises.
If you are not naturally inclined to writing, you might find it useful to make journaling part of a routine and to set a timer. Timed writing exercises are surprisingly effective. Start small. Ten minutes of free writing every morning is a good start.
5. Use writing prompts,
Journal therapists will often use writing prompts. I personally feel too restricted by prompts, since my writing will naturally lead me towards the story that needs to be told. But when I am stuck, I find it helpful to pause and write “How I really feel is …” or “What I really want to say is …”.
I also found great relief in writing unsent letters to my husband, both during his illness and after his death.
Here are some writing prompts for you to try:
I remember when …
The first time we …
My happiest memory of you is …
What was good about today is …
What I treasure is this …
Today my grief feels like …
Back when I went through my grief, I didn’t know that expressive writing and journal therapy are recognized modalities for healing, widely used by psychologists and therapists, especially with trauma victims.
I’ve always used reflective and personal writing as a way to make sense of the world and my place in it. Faced with my husband’s progressive illness, I’d instinctively reached for my journal to process what was happening. By naming the emotions I felt, I could make sense of what seemed ungraspable and find healing.
Journal writing really is the cheapest form of self-care there is. I hope you’ll try it, using some of the suggestions above. Or maybe you already have a journal writing practice and have your own favorite prompts. Feel free to share in the comments.
“I used to dislike being sensitive. I thought it made me weak. But take away that single trait, and you take away the very essence of who I am. You take away my conscience, my ability to empathize, my intuition, my creativity, my deep appreciation of the little things, my vivid inner life, my keen awareness of others pain and my passion for it all. ~Unknown
My phone rang and it was my boyfriend. I slipped out into the hall. “Hey you,” I answered. We’d been texting about getting together that night.
“Why don’t you just come over to my place and I’ll cook?”
“Hey there,” he replied. “I’d really rather go out. What about the Swan? I can meet you there at 7pm.”
“Okay…” I hesitated, “That will work. I should probably get back to work, but see you tonight.”
I didn’t really want to meet at the Swan, a pub near my house. I just wanted a quiet evening at home, but it felt stupid to argue about it.
I arrived at 7:03 pm and he was already there. We found a table in a quiet-ish area and sat down.
The music was loud and there were what seemed like 100 different conversations happening at once. I was having a hard time concentrating on what my boyfriend was saying.
He got up to go to the washroom.
“My boyfriend’s taking me out for a nice meal,” I thought. “I should be grateful.”
But the chair felt hard and my back felt sore.
“Seriously, what’s wrong with me??” I thought. “I somehow find a way to complain about everything. Why can’t I just have a good time? Why can’t I focus on my boyfriend and the yummy food and enjoy myself? I really am spoiled…”
My boyfriend returned and I ordered a second drink to numb the overwhelm I was feeling and the voices in my head.
Whether to go out or stay in was a constant point of tension between us. He ran his own law office and so worked from home most days. He wanted to get out of the house in the evenings. I worked in an office and was introverted and sensitive, so at the end of the day I really just wanted a quiet evening at home.
It wasn’t until months later when I found a Facebook group for highly sensitive people (HSPs) that I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt like this.
As I scrolled through the posts I found a whole community of people who get overwhelmed by loud noises, fluorescent lighting, and more than one conversation happening at once.
I realized that I wasn’t the only one who felt things deeply and who gets overwhelmed by cocktail parties and grocery stores.
As I read through the posts I felt relief flood through my body. I finally understood that I wasn’t stupid or ungrateful or spoiled. I was just built differently. I was just highly sensitive, and so my needs are different than other people’s need.
Like most HSPs, I like quiet. I like warm and soft lighting. I like hiding under the covers. I often can’t wait to get home to the quiet oasis that is my house at the end of the day.
Now with the help of the HSP community and my therapist I’m learning to stop trying to get rid of my sensitivity and how to embrace it.
If you think you might be highly sensitive, here are a few things you can do that might help:
1. Take the HSP test.
Taking the test and getting confirmation that I was highly sensitive helped me accept my sensitivity. If you’re highly sensitive that’s simply a fact and there’s nothing wrong with you.
Joining the Highly Sensitive People FB group was a real turning point for me in accepting my sensitivity. I didn’t post in the group for over a year but reading other people’s posts gave me confirmation that I wasn’t crazy.
There’s nothing like knowing you’re not alone and others share the same struggles. Joining this group or another HSP community will bring you a sense of peace and acceptance of who you are.
3. Embrace your sensitivity and protect yourself.
I live alone in a quiet neighborhood. I only invite a couple of people over to my house at a time. I politely decline invitations to loud or overwhelming parties.
If you’re highly sensitive you have to be insanely protective of your energy. HSPs are often amazing creatives or healers, but if you’re drained because you aren’t protecting your energy you won’t have much to give back.
I know it can sometimes feel stupid to walk around the city with giant headphones playing white noise or declining an invitation to a friend’s party, but I guarantee you’ll be happier and healthier if you protect yourself.
That boyfriend and I ended up breaking up for a number of reasons, but one of them was that he couldn’t accept my sensitivities.
4. Ask for help from the people you trust.
This might be the hardest one to do. Well, this and protecting yourself are both really difficult!!
I sometimes dissociate if there’s loud music or even something as simple as a very intellectual conversation. The hardest but also best thing to do if this is starting is to tell the person I’m with what’s happening to me.
I might say something like, “I want to stay in this conversation, but I’m starting to feel overwhelmed and am having a hard time connecting. Can we slow things down for a minute?”
The more you can explain to the people you’re close to what’s happening, the more they can help you. I’m learning that most people actually want to help me when I’m overwhelmed but just don’t understand what it’s like or what they can do.
The more you can say things like “I’m feeling overwhelmed. Can we just walk in silence for a minute?” or “Will you just hold my hand for a minute?” or “Can we just turn off the music for a little while?” the more the people who care about you can help.
You’d be surprised, your non-HSP friends want to help you; they just have no idea what it’s like or how they can help.
5. Do things that make you feel happy, safe, and protected.
Figure out what you love and what makes you feel safe and prioritize those activities.
This might include:
baths with candle light
hiding under the covers for as long as possible
walks alone in nature
canceling a coffee date and staying in
telling a friend you trust what it’s like to be highly sensitive
hanging out with other HSPs who totally get it!
I’ve come along way from the days when I would say yes to invitations just to fit in, and my life has transformed into something more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
I quit my office job with bright lights and lots of other people’s emotions swirling around and went out on my own. I designed my business where I walk outside in nature while helping people out on the phone.
Just yesterday I was out beside Lake Ontario watching a flock of swallows dip and dive and play. And I had this moment where I thought, “Is this really my life? Is this really what I get to do?”
I’ve realized that the more I protect my energy, the more I can really give to the people I work with, and so I am more protective than ever.
As a highly sensitive person, you have a special gift to share. As you learn to accept your sensitivity and protect your energy your life will change. You’ll become happier and healthier and have more to contribute.
By protecting yourself you’re not being selfish or greedy or difficult; you’re actually being generous. The world needs your gifts and when you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to give more and make the impact on the world you were meant to make.
“People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you figure out which it is, you will know exactly what to do.” ~Anonymous
About five years ago, I learned the biggest lesson of my life about self-love and losing oneself in a relationship, through a breakup that almost killed me.
After going through another night of three hours of sleep, I drove myself to the ER to save my own life. I hadn’t eaten or slept much in three weeks, and the scale pointed to ninety-seven pounds. I felt weak, malnourished, and unloved.
Three weeks prior to that morning, I had found out that the love of my life, whom I had to break up with in March 2013, had started dating the girl we’d had the most painful fights over.
He’d met her at a party when I was visiting family and continued flirting with her, despite saying he chose me. Though he would have been happy to stay in a relationship with me, I knew I couldn't be with someone who openly flirted other women.
When I learned he was now dating her, I heard a thump on my heart. Literally. It ached sharply as if there was a chestnut-sized rock sitting in the middle of it, vibrating strongly in response to a transmitter signal far, far away. I half-died that day.
As I climbed back up from that point, I discovered truths about love, forgiveness, and healing.
Maybe you are in the middle of such a painful breakup, or maybe you are in the aftermath of a breakup that left you shattered and undone. You are sitting on a ball of emotions you don’t know how to unravel.
Although I can’t give you a personalized plan to heal and grow from your experience, I can share some pointers, as someone who is on the other side of it all, looking back over the five years of her recovery. These ideas may help you fine-tune your own healing process.
1. Don’t make an event your whole life story.
What I learned about letting go is that the pain starts changing form into wisdom when we make a decision to not make one specific event from the past our whole story.
Instead of thinking your life is over because you’ve lost this one relationship, gain a broader perspective and try to see the breakup as valuable to your personal growth.
The purpose of the pain was to reveal what needed healing and to gain the wisdom you will need further along your path. A relationship that taught you something about how to love and to be loved is a win. A relationship full of mistakes but expanded by wisdom and forgiveness is a successful one.
We are story-making machines. It is natural to make a recent event the focus of our current experience. But your story is not over. You are still writing your story with the choices you make today.
2. To heal, you have to be an active participant in your life.
People often say, “Just let it go. Let the past stay in the past,” but this is misleading. Letting go isn’t as easy as turning off a switch or erasing words off a whiteboard.
I didn’t know what letting go meant. As far as I was concerned, that part of my life was still alive in me, balled up and tangled. Every time I heard those words, I pictured removing an organ out of my body. That didn’t make sense. I wondered how other people let go and why I couldn’t just let go and live happily ever after.
Here is what I discovered: You are never going to forget those relationships with deep soul connections. You just won’t be dwelling on them daily when you are busy exploring life and the depths of your own inner being.
You don’t need to have forgiven or be completely healed to participate in life around you. I spent a year and a half in isolation. Nothing healed. Not even a feather moved during that time. My healing didn’t start till I started living.—by volunteering, going on lunch dates with friends, and going to events to meet new people. Sometimes letting go means simply living a full life, without the other person.
3. Allow for forgiveness to unfold in its own time.
I must admit, making the choice to forgive was not easy, but being patient while the process took place was even harder. Letting go, forgiving, and healing from a relationship is not like hitting a reset button. It takes time to build up the courage to face that buried pain and allow it to leave you. And sometimes, before we can forgive, we need time to experience enough joy and connection with others to dilute the pain of how were hurt.
Forgiveness is about digesting pain into wisdom. Into acceptance. Into compassion. Into an expanded heart that can hold space for it all. It is not about living like nothing painful happened, because life does not stop for us to heal. Flowers still bloom and the sun comes out every day. We heal while we take in more of life. The death-rebirth cycle in nature that exists in life also exists within us. It is a never-ending cycle.
As I started opening up to new experiences and actually living, I allowed new insights to come in. My heart had time to breathe. I put myself in his shoes. I asked myself, “What would I do if the person I loved but kept hurting unintentionally left me when I didn’t want the relationship to end?”
When I eventually developed enough courage to admit that I would have gone onto the next best thing (the other girl) to ease the pain, compassion came. It took me nearly two years to register the depth of his loss and how he must have felt left out in the cold. We all do what we can to find relief from pain, and that was his way. I didn’t need to judge it or to see it as a transgression against me.
When you want to increase the temperature of water in a bath tub, you don’t take out the cold but add hot water until it reaches your desired temperature. That is how grief, healing, and forgiveness work. Trust your body and soul to hold you through the processing of a whole chapter in your life.
4. Update your perception on relationships.
I loved my ex deeply. I can carry that in my heart’s memory and still know that we were teachers to each other who were not destined to be together for a lifetime. I am no longer hurting because of not being with him. I have done my releasing ceremonies and let memories run through my mind, bringing up various emotions—anger, resentment, grief, jealousy, and lots of tears, too. I sat through them. Some of it hasn’t been pretty.
We are taught that a ‘good relationship’ is one that lasts a lifetime. If it didn’t last, we believe that it was a failure. If we have several ‘failed relationships‘ behind us, we assume that it is because we are just unlovable. Success seems to be the most prized value in our modern society. But wisdom through experience can be even more valuable.
I realized that the way I had been viewing relationships was outdated. What if relationships were intensive training programs for our souls to learn about love? What if they were the perfect set up to practice being loving, kind, understanding, forgiving, and accepting both toward ourselves and the other person?
If you learned the lessons you needed to, the relationship was a success, whether it lasted three months, three years, or for decades. Take your wins and carry them forward with pride. You are a survivor. No one can take that away from you.
I am now in a relationship that is continuously growing and teaching me more about love than any book on the planet could. I am in love and enjoying practicing new ways of doing relationships.
I have spent time and energy recognizing how I put up walls, respond from a place of immaturity when I feel hurt, or disregard my partner’s needs because my inner child was triggered into her pain.
I’ve learned to give him space, to do things that make me happy, to recognize and own my projections, and to practice self-love so I don’t expect it all to come from him. These were some of my mistakes in past relationships. I had to get honest with myself, own them, and work on them.
Our love is not fickle; it is resilient because we both are. I found out that two people who have walked through fire and excavated their soul truths with their bare hands create a relationship that can stand the test of time and the tricks of their own egos. I can’t know for certain this relationship will last forever, but I now know all relationships are valuable and there there is life after a breakup.
Banu is an intuitive coach and a healer. Her passion is removing emotional, mental, and energetic splinters that create blocks to joy. You can connect with her on her website and her budding Facebook group Heart Alchemy Crusaders.
When I was twenty-three, I lost my job through chronic illness. I thought my life had ended, and I spent the next few years an anxious, panicky mess—often hysterical. Eventually, I took off to scour the globe for well-being techniques, and searched far and wide for the meaning of life and how to become well again.
If you’re chronically ill, like I was, whether physically or emotionally, you've probably experienced the same misunderstanding, the same crazy-making “well, you look okay to me” comments, the same isolation, depression, and frustration that I felt.
You’ve probably been on a bit of a quest for self-recovery. And so, you’ve probably also felt the same exasperation when trying to figure out which self-help theories actually work. It can be overwhelming, right? I thought so, too, but I came to find it was actually really simple!
Searching the Globe for Self-Help Techniques
So many people are full of advice: “Try CBT/ tai chi/ astrology/ vitamins/ rest more/ exercise more/ zap yourself with electricity/ eat better/ stop being lazy (always helpful!)/ do affirmations/ yoga/ meditation/ wear purple socks…” Okay, so no one ever actually recommended trying purple socks, but there were so many weird and wonderful recommendations that I found myself lost, which might explain why I went away to find myself!
I traveled far and wide with my illness, training in every holistic therapy there was (which I loved; I’m curious, and well-being is my passion). But I was always searching for a ‘cure’ for my brokenness. I connected with yoga, meditation, and mindfulness on my journey, and I heard the very familiar Rumi quote: “Everything in the universe is within you.” This served only to confuse me even more as I struggled to analyze what it meant!
In Bali, though, I felt I had found home in yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. I felt connected to myself. I felt like I understood that all I needed was within. My anxiety had gone, my panic had gone—and my chronic illness had gone, too! Then, I came home to the UK, and it immediately returned.
I was disheartened. I still lived yoga and mindfulness—I loved it and I taught it at home—but the joy had gone from what I had once thought of as the answer. So, how was I absolutely okay in Bali and not at home? Was I a fraud? What was going on? There was so much thinking…
What I Learned About Being Human
It wasn’t until a year later that I discovered why, when I heard something differently. A colleague introduced me to a mentor who shared some profound insights about how the world really works.
She explained the basic underlying reality of humanity: that underneath all of our thinking about “how to be happier” is a healthy wholeness and perfection that is already innate—without having to do anything. You see, the reason that I had felt any anxiety or panic at all was because I had just forgotten the truth of what it is to be human.
The Power of Thought: All You Need Really Is Within
Our human reality operates entirely through thought in the moment. Everything we feel is a result of our thinking. If we feel anxious, it’s because we are experiencing anxious thinking. If we feel happy, it’s because we are experiencing happy thinking. Our entire reality, therefore, really does come from within! It is an inside-out world.
When we were born, we were perfect and whole, and not anxious. Then, when we gained the beautiful power of thought, we learned that the external comfort blanket was super comforting, because “it made us feel better,” right? Wrong. The blanket is an object, with no capacity to make us feel anything. One hundred percent of the comforted feeling came from our own thinking about the blanket. It’s the same with all of life.
So, when I was in Bali, I thought I was okay because I was enjoying yoga and meditation, which I loved with all my heart. Thinking that the external could impact me, I felt 100 percent whole. I returned from Bali and my thinking about the external changed; it felt like I wasn’t happy, because I thought that I needed to be back in Bali. But the thinking came from me: the happiness or unhappiness was all dependent on my thinking in each moment.
I didn’t remember this, so I attributed my happiness to the external. But it wasn’t, because we are always living in the feeling of our thinking in any moment. Everything comes from within.
The Innate Wisdom Under Our Thinking
The funny thing is that as much as this seemed profound to me when I heard it, it was also as if I already knew. It is innate wisdom that we just forget to tap into as we bustle through what feels a hectic pace of life.
As I began to remember this wisdom, I found that I would start to notice my thinking; I’d become an observer of it, almost in a mindful, meditative kind of way, but I no longer needed to sit and meditate to be happy.
New insights would come up as I stayed in the conversation about life, and more and more would drop away: the absolute reliance on meditation and affirmations in particular (though the joy returned for meditation when I realized there was less pressure to love it and just followed it because it was in my heart). Because under my thinking—under your thinking—is an innate wholeness that is always accessible to you in any moment, if you just see that your reality is entirely experienced through thought in each moment.
We spend hours of our lives analyzing how to be happy, how to stop being negative, how to meditate, how to be less attached, how to be more empowered, how to be more creative, how to be more whole. Don’t get me wrong, this can be interesting, if (like me) you have your own small self-help library! But it’s more important to drop out of your head and into your heart—like I did in Bali, and like I did when I allowed my thinking to just flow and stopped analyzing it.
I still love yoga and meditation—I teach both and connect with them—but it's to follow my heart, and I don't need it. I’ve observed with clients, though, that sometimes it’s easy to misunderstand these concepts and get wrapped up in over-complication, analysis paralysis, denying true feelings, and forcing, trying to be ‘positive.’ This is why I ditched affirmations completely.
Don’t Miss the Point: Clarity Through Trusting and Flowing, Not Forcing
Some people miss the truthful essence of this beautiful wisdom. I’m a believer that we often try and force happiness and positivity through techniques like affirmations—and even in some meditation practices that suggest people need to “let go of thinking.”
We can’t let go of thinking; it’s part of being human. And affirmations serve only to suppress our true feelings, which is dangerous. When we allow our thoughts, instead, to just flow through, dancing with them through life, we allow space where we would once have analyzed how to solve them; and it is in this space where clarity can arise and we can see the truth.
The truth is, we humans are a vessel of energy, and, I believe, part of something greater that has a plan for us—and through this human life, we are blessed with the amazingly abundant, creative power of thought. All we really need to do is let go and flow.
All we really need to do is allow the feelings that arise from our thinking, conscious of the fact that our reality is constructed through thought. We just have to observe what comes up, embracing pleasant feelings and allowing the darkness without paying it much attention. Like an uninvited guest, it will eventually pass through, without you needing to do anything to get rid of it.
These days, I laugh at the thoughts that come up and watch them with curiosity, marvelling at the creative capacity of beautiful brain, and knowing that underneath all of my thinking is the real truth: that I am entirely whole, perfect, and complete. Just like you. And you know what? I’ve not been anxious, panicked, or chronically ill ever since I remembered this truth of being a human living life through thought.
I'm not suggesting that our illnesses are “all in our head” and that we can think (or stop thinking) our way to health. Everyone is different, and there are many different causes for the illnesses we experience, chronic or otherwise. But for me, everything changed when I allowed my thoughts to just flow.
Nicole is a passionate Well-being Ambassador, adoring all things holistic and natural, with a particular passion for the innovative field of inspirational thought. Nicole shares her insights through Wellbeing Mentoring, helping people make sense of life and support themselves back to balance, from the inside-out. She loves the authenticity of helping people feel reconnected to life. Visit her at wellbeingwriter.co.uk.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.” ~George Bernard Shaw
Like most people, I’ve tried to control many aspects of my life, and this hasn’t always worked in my favor. Just when I thought I had it all under control, life has inconveniently shown me many, many times that I was getting a little too cocky.
You name it, I’ve tried to control it—from my schedule and time (hello, Type A personality) to forgoing random opportunities because my mind was made up on going a certain direction. I even tried calorie counting at the height of my exercising routine because I wanted ultimate control of what I put in my body.
Now, none of these are necessarily bad. Planning your time leads to efficiency, forgoing things because you are on a mission means you might be on the path to your purpose, and calorie counting could help you get the body you’ve always dreamed of. But when you do these things day in and day out, all at the same time… well, let’s just say the process can be stressful.
But I tried anyway because I figured I might as well try to control what I could since life was going to be random no matter what. It also gave me satisfaction, almost a somewhat false sense of accomplishment, that I was shaping my own destiny.
I think most of us fall into this way of thinking, because we all want to foresee things before they can potentially happen in order to feel safe. But ironically, when try to control life, we end up missing out on possibilities that may have come our way if only we’d let go and allowed life to happen.
It’s hard to say what exactly I’ve missed out on because of my former desire to control most aspects of my life. I won’t worry myself too much about it, because it’s a pointless exercise. But I can think of a couple big areas, one of them being a complete career shift that could have happened much earlier on in my life had I not resisted so much.
Instead, I was rigid and decided that I wanted to stick to a career that I didn’t enjoy because it was my college degree and I was making great money. I did end up switching careers eventually, just not in the area I had a unique opportunity in at that time.
The Three Golden Rules
Try as we may, we can’t always control life, and sometimes painful things happen that we couldn’t possibly predict or prevent.
Recently I lost a job that I was excelling at and actually enjoyed. My performance was on fire, I got along great with all my coworkers, and then one day, out of the blue, I got called into the CEO’s office and told that, due to ongoing strategy changes at the company, my time was up.
Talk about knocking the wind out of my sails. I had just gotten back from a work conference and was slated to lead a new project before receiving the bad news.
Has this been easy since it happened? No way. I still struggle with it daily. But somewhere, deep down, I know that life happens for me, not to me. And that this has created an opportunity for something bigger and better.
What is that something? If I could predict the future, then I’d probably be playing the lottery knowing I’m picking the right numbers. But I can’t foresee what’s coming down the road. I can only choose my attitude when I hit roadblocks along the journey, which ultimately shapes my choices.
What helps me maintain an optimistic attitude and cope when thing go wrong? Three very important ideas:
Life happens for you, not to you.
This too shall pass.
Be with what is.
When life doesn’t go to plan, we must embrace the change and realize that our lives are comprised of chapters; one has ended, and another one is about to begin. But we can’t move on to the next chapter if we continually re-read old ones. We have to willingly accept that life goes on, and that we have a chance to create something bigger and better.
I lost my job, but I don’t want to play the victim card. Yes, life has forced my hand, but that doesn’t mean I need to feel sorry for myself. This just means I have a better opportunity coming my way, whatever that may be.
I also realize that time plays a crucial factor in our lives. Our time is limited, and it consistently passes at the same speed, with no bias. This means that, with time, the inner turmoil I am currently dealing with will, without a doubt, pass.
Last but not least, I know that I must be with what is. In other words, stop resisting. Fighting the fact I lost a job won’t suddenly bring it back. Fighting the fact your relationship ended won’t necessarily have them running back into your arms.
Before we can move on, we must accept what is happening in the present moment. Then and only then can we proceed forward with calmness and clarity.
But There Is No Golden Formula
I understand this may not be easy to digest when you’re hurting, especially in situations that involve a loved one. Grieving is a natural part of this process, and I am not discrediting it in the least. It's part of the human experience, and it's okay to take as long as you need as you internalize.
I lost my father over five years ago. The death of a loved one is probably the hardest loss to deal with. How are you supposed to see the space that has been created from such a tragic event? I understand if you don’t, because I fully admit it’s been hard, even five years later.
But at the same time, I trust that life is working for me somehow. I just have to stop resisting. I have to understand that the feelings of loneliness, desperation, fear, and loss will pass. I have to stay in the moment and fully accept all that is happening to me.
No, it will not be easy, and it isn’t meant to be.
Trust The Process
You’ve probably heard the proverb “If live gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
Our lives are a lot happier when we strive to make the most of what life gives us, but the step before it is equally important: trust the process and embrace the change, whatever it is. Only then, once you stop fighting it, can you go about making your lemonade.
We've all been faced with situations in our lives that force our hand. And we likely will be faced with these kinds of situations again in the future. In these moments, it’s important to hold onto the notion that life could be creating space for you to do something differently.
If you lost your job and didn’t enjoy the work, life is potentially giving you a hint to pursue something further aligned with your passions and purpose. If you went through a breakup, life is potentially giving you a hint that you deserve and can do better.
When I look back on my past, I realize that every loss has taught my beautiful, valuable lessons that now help me in the present. The same is likely true for you. In these moments of inner turmoil, or let’s just call it life turmoil, you are taking mental notes. Mental notes that will help you grow and help you in the future when dealing with whatever else life throws your way.
You’ve made it through loss and hardship before, what makes you think you can’t now? You can. You just need to remember three things: life happens for your benefit not against it, everything heals with enough time, and it’s pointless to keep resisting.
With these ideas in mind, it should be exciting to think about the potential you have in your life.
The next chapter could be even more amazing than the previous one. And you may even have chosen to start that chapter eventually. Your schedule just got moved up a bit.
“Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.” ~Albert Einstein
In our culture, it’s pretty common to think of rock ‘n’ roll hedonism a little wistfully. From Keith Richards to Hunter S. Thompson, the wild nights and strung-out days of the world’s most iconic party animals are seen as integral to their sparkling creativity, rebellious nature, and untouchable glamour.
So many people, especially if they want to make it in the creative industries, idealize and inevitably attempt to mimic these lifestyles. Whether they want to be a “work hard, play hard” music producer, channel Hemingway as a bar-frequenting writer, or fulfill the image of free-spirited artist, artificial highs come with the territory.
When I was in my twenties, I fell for this concept hook, line, and sinker. I was working in the music industry and quickly cemented my image as the consummate party boy. Up for any new experience and the person you came to for a good night out, to an outside observer, it would seem that I was having the time of my life.
However, after the months turned into years of living this way, it became clear that all those hard-drinking, pill-popping creatives have produced their canon of work in spite of their lifestyles, not because of them.
When you hear the amazing tales of fun and debauchery, you don’t see the crashing hangover the next day, or the sense of hopelessness and despair that comes with being trapped in yet another comedown, while life refuses to move forward.
I was relying on various kinds of chemical highs to hide the fact that in every other part of my life, I was stressed and strained to breaking point.
Plagued by chronic insomnia, I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep for years. But within my industry, this pleasure-seeking and self-destructive behavior felt normalized, because that’s how most people behaved.
Instead of living the dream, I felt trapped in an endless cycle of stress and anxiety. Letting my hair down one too many times a week was a shortcut to feeling okay—at least for one evening.
The fact is that this kind of hedonism doesn’t make us feel better in any meaningful long term sense. It’s a distraction. It’s a way for us to temporarily feel good, and potentially open us up to interesting experiences—but the highs never last. In fact, I spent much of my twenties feeling utterly drained, with no time or inclination to nurture anything truly worthwhile.
There’s an idea that all this “stay up all night, work all day” overindulgence is fine, or even laudable. That’s until the day when we step over the shadowy and undefined line into addiction, and our behavior is suddenly viewed as embarrassing and shameful.
I never came close to this point; in fact, to some of my peers and colleagues, it would have been far weirder and more uncomfortable socially if I were teetotal. But my lifestyle was still undeniably self-destructive.
My own health and well-being fell behind every other consideration, especially my career. Whether it was taking a second job and running myself into the ground in order to keep it all going, or staying up all night at events before getting up for another day of work, it simply didn’t end.
It was when I found myself completely exhausted, yet entirely unable to sleep at 2am on my ex-girlfriend’s couch—thinking of nothing but how my life was going nowhere, and convinced that there was no point left—that I realized things had to change.
Moving Away from Hedonism
I walked for hours that night, feeling like I was at the bottom of a pit full of regret, fear, and bitterness. But the simple action of getting up, getting out, and allowing myself to feel these emotions rather than mask them with my busy non-stop lifestyle was one of the first positive actions I’d taken for months.
It was a dark time, and I still used partying to numb myself to the realities of my life, but a chink of light had been let in. My friends could see I was in trouble, and after they whisked me away for the week, I decided to remove myself from the life I’d created and go to South America for a few months.
I got lucky in the fact that a big record deal finally paid me enough to extricate myself from the music business, but it was a shift in thinking that made me want to do this in the first place.
I learned that when something isn’t working, we can’t be afraid to let it go. Being a success in the music industry was my dream, but I had to acknowledge that this wasn’t a healthy or enjoyable part of my life anymore.
The realization had landed that we need something more meaningful and fulfilling to enjoy our lives than a series of fleeting and artificial highs.
It became ever clearer that success didn’t equate to working all hours and pursuing a unsustainable lifestyle in order to make a broken and inadequate “Plan A” work. I had to figure out why exactly I had chosen to pursue such self-destructive behaviours, and get to the root cause.
Seeing Clearly and Moving Forward
With far less hedonism and hard work to hide my issues, solving my anxiety-induced chronic insomnia became a priority. However, like many people I found myself focusing on the symptoms of my problems, completely unaware of and failing to tackle their hidden source.
I tried herbal sleeping tablets, but was instinctively reluctant to try anything pharmaceutical (which was interesting, considering I’d been so willing to take any number of illegal substances in order to have a good time).
Ear plugs and eye masks made no difference, and it was apparent that, as with my hedonistic life choices, I was simply skimming along the surface of things rather than looking deeper. It was as if there was a patch missing from the roof of my house, and instead of going up and fixing it, I was putting up a leaky umbrella each time it rained.
It was only the chance recommendation from a friend of a friend that led me to Vedic meditation—the technique that changed my life. After my first lesson I slept soundly for the first time in years, and within a few weeks my insomnia had eased entirely.
It was through meditation that I learned about a different kind of hedonism. Years later, I have left my partying days far behind, but live a far more vibrant, creative, and enjoyable life. By swapping late nights for bird song and record deals for teaching, I moved away from self-destruction, and toward self-growth.
Of course, this took a long road of self-discovery (which isn’t over yet!). But I feel there are some pointers which can help people if they’ve found themselves trapped into a similar situation to mine.
Here are three ways to move on from self-destructive behavior.
1. Allow yourself to learn from the lows.
It’s all too easy, after enduring the depths of a hangover all through Sunday and a drawn-out week at work, to get to Friday night and think the answer to all that sadness and frustration is another night of overindulgence.
I’m not saying this is easy, but instead of relying on your usual route to a good time, make yourself sit with your feelings. Without the (ultimately counterproductive) balm of alcohol and other such substances, you will start to see things as they really are, and work out if there’s anything that needs to change.
2. Switch up your routine and break the cycle.
Getting away from my life in London was a key part of breaking the bad habits that had me repeatedly making bad choices, which did nothing but make me feel worse (as the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result).
It could be something as simple as suggesting to your usual drinking buddies that you try a different, sober activity on a Sunday night, or catching up with friends you haven’t seen in a while rather than sticking with the same crowd.
The important thing is to show yourself the possibility of a different kind of lifestyle, and to build confidence in the fact that you can manage without your usual self-destructive coping mechanisms.
3. Think about what’s driving your behavior and address the root cause.
Hopefully, by taking a step back, you’ll be able to see what compels you to work too hard, party too hard, or indulge in your particular vice (for some people, this could even be over-exercising and obsessing about health).
Perhaps you are a high achiever and have worried yourself into chronic stress and anxiety. Maybe you have low self-esteem, and don’t believe you are worth looking after. Whatever it is, once you are aware of your motivations it is much easier to address them.
For me, the key to becoming a much happier person was meditation, and I thoroughly recommend it in all its various forms. But you may find that it is therapy which helps you most, or simply practicing gratitude. Even the most basic act of keeping a journal each day could make the difference.
Whichever proves to be the most beneficial thing for you, the important thing is dedicating some time to your own self-care. By acknowledging your problems, you give yourself the best chance to fix them.
Will is a meditation teacher and the founder of London meditation center Will Williams Meditation, committed to helping people live happier lives through the benefits of meditation. His first book, The Effortless Mind, is now available and explores the difficulties of modern life, the inspiring stories of my students and how we can be at our best through life’s challenges.
“The ability to apologize sincerely and express regret for the unskillful things we say or do is an art. A true apology can relieve a great deal of suffering in the other person.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
My life has been full of apologies. I’ve been on both the receiving and giving end of the good, the bad, and the ugly apology.
Just recently a dear friend who I hadn’t connected with in a long time reached out and asked if we could meet for coffee. I sort of backhandedly blew her off and told her I would try to meet her later that same day. I had already made plans to run with another friend, but I chose not to share this.
After my run, I invited my running buddy to coffee and ran into my other friend. It was awkward. We hung out and all had coffee together, but there was an uncomfortable vibe between us the entire time.
Later that day I texted my friend, apologized, and told her I should’ve been honest about my reason for rejecting her invitation. Yes, you read that correctly—I texted my apology! Owning our mistakes is hard, and I’m working on getting better in this area.
On the other hand, I’m learning there’s a difference between apologizing for a mistake and apologizing for being human.
Recently there has been a social media meme outlining the power of shifting our word choice from “I’m sorry” to “thank you.” For example, instead of saying “I’m sorry for being such a mess,” say “Thank you for loving me unconditionally.” This type of apology suggests that our word choice is powerful and that we can choose words that empower rather than degrade.
Apologies are hard.
By definition an apology is an acknowledgement of an offense, failure, or disappointment. Anytime we are faced with having to apologize we either must acknowledge our own offense or step into holding space for another person’s disappointment. In our culture, we aren’t taught to do either of those very well.
On the other hand, apologies can be incredibly powerful healing tool connecting us to our own human experience, as well as other people.
An apology gives us the opportunity to practice humility and step into vulnerability and out of shame. So, the question becomes: How can we master the art of the apology in an effort to heal ourselves, our relationships, and the global community? Below I offer simple, actionable ways we can embrace this art.
The “It’s Not Me, It’s You” Apology
No one wants to feel like they’ve been a schmuck, and as a result, we often try to turn the fault or blame back on to someone else so that we don’t feel the shame often associated with owning our mistake.
Recently I had an exchange with a friend after we had awkward conversation between us. My friend seemed upset and distant, but I didn’t know what had happened. After asking her what was up, she replied that yes, she was upset. She went on to explain what had happened to upset her and apologized for her bad behavior.
After hearing this I felt genuinely saddened about what she was feeling and began to understand why she had taken such a caustic tone with me.
Unfortunately, as quickly as she apologized she tossed it back onto me and said that it was my fault she had acted that way, and if it weren’t for me she wouldn’t have been so mean.
She used the “I’m sorry, but you…” apology style. Rather than create a space of mutual understanding and an opportunity for healing, she continued with the same caustic tone and pushed the responsibility for the situation back on to me. Naturally, I felt awful that, in her view, I was 100 percent responsible for her angst.
This posturing left very little room for any reconciliation without getting into a back and forth exchange of grievances. Not liking the options of taking full responsibility or continuing to engage in a ping-pong of blame, I thanked her for letting me know how she felt and moved on.
We are not required to engage in or accept a blame-based apology. We can simply, and in love, move on. On the other hand, if you find yourself using the “But, you… apology,” realize that you could be damaging a relationship by staying stuck in your own ego's need to be blameless.
When an apology is followed by a “but” and an explanation it negates the apology and doesn’t feel genuine or as if the individual is invested in seeing the opportunity to resolve, Rather, it seems they’re trying to shun any responsibility they have in the situation.
Eliminate the Explanation
The “explanation apology” is similar to the “it’s you, not me apology,” but rather than shifting the blame to another person, we offer excuses or try to explain all the reasons our apology is good enough. It often comes from a place of feeling ashamed of our humanness.
For example, I think most of us can relate to saying things we don’t mean when we’ve been drinking. Many years ago, when my husband and I were just dating, we got into a booze-infused argument, and I called him a nasty name I typically reserve for my ex-husband. Even in my tipsy state I could see the hurt in his eyes. I felt so ashamed, but at the moment couldn’t bring myself to apologize.
The next day I apologized and let him know that’s not how I felt about him. It would have been easy to explain why I had said something hurtful by blaming the booze or a variety of other things that would take the spotlight off my own careless words. I decided instead to own my bad behavior, and it was humbling, but owning it planted the seed for a healthy relationship to grow.
Mistakes are part of the human condition. Noticing when we are defaulting to feelings of shame for our humanness by either excusing or avoiding saying sorry can help us grow into more compassionate people. It can become a beautiful opportunity to reclaim our right to be human and make slipups.
If you do feel compelled to add something to your apology, perhaps a statement that affirms the other person would be a kinder choice.
When It's Not Necessary to Say Sorry
Earlier I mentioned the popular social media meme going around suggesting we trade our “sorry’s” for “thank you’s.” This enables us to shift from guilt to gratitude in situations where we’ve done nothing wrong.
I have been a yoga teacher for many years, and it’s industry practice to reach out to another teacher and ask them to sub your class. One time a fellow teacher called to ask if I could sub for her. Unfortunately, I wasn’t available, so I apologized and began listing off all the reasons I couldn’t help. I felt guilty and thought I needed to defend my answer.
In retrospect, I realize I could have simply said, “Thank you for thinking of me. I’m flattered! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to teach for you this time, but hopefully I’ll be able to next time!”
Noticing what you’re apologizing for and when is a beautiful way to bring mindfulness to our everyday conversations. It also helps us keep apologies for the things we do that genuinely require regret.
At the same time, it gives us permission to give ourselves a break. It can be easy to get in the habit of beating yourself up and apologizing for everything. Intentionally setting the tone of a situation to be one of grace and kindness can elevate the consciousness of the individuals and allow both parties a breath of relief in acknowledging the imperfect perfection of any moment.
I was having this discussion with the female inmates I teach yoga to once a week, and they recognized how empowering it felt not to own things that result in them immediately feeling dis-empowered, the victim, or bad person of a situation. They could see how insignificant apologies were keeping them oppressed.
Keep It Simple – I’m Sorry. Period.
When we find ourselves in the position where an apology is the best choice, there is no replacement for the two simple words: I’m sorry.
Stopping at these two simple words prevents us from coming from a place of pride and ego, and it gives the other person permission to simply feel whatever it is they are feeling without us trying to soothe it or fix it.
Instead of being shamed by apologies or letting your ego get in the way of an opportunity for growth, I encourage you to see these as sacred opportunities to embrace the human condition and help heal yourself and others.
Paula Stephens, M.A. is a speaker, author, yogi and the founder of Crazy Good Grief. She is studying to become endorsed as a Buddhist Chaplain and currently works as a volunteer chaplain and yoga teacher at a jail near her home in Denver, Colorado. She is also a hospice chaplain, wellness coach, and ERYT Yoga Instructor.