"Sometimes it takes great suffering to pierce the soul and open it up to greatness." Jocelyn Murray
Often we think of pain as something that has been inflicted on us, a stroke of very bad luck, the result of an unfair world, or bad fate in some way. An immense obstacle that propels us into primitive survival mode.
It's ugly, uncomfortable and lonely.
I'm going to throw caution to the wind here and say, I believe it is a gift to feel discomfort, and that when we avoid, ignore or try to hide from it, we are missing one of the greatest lessons that life has to offer.
Every person wanting to find true peace and happiness should know this:-
Suffering is not a punishment; it's a wise teacher.
It is a tool that helps us deepen our awareness and consciousness, find deeper joy and happiness and see the true beauty of the present moment.
It's ultimately how we come to the realization that life is not just about the good stuff, it's also about the bad stuff and only when we can honestly and openly give equal energy and interest to both, can we find peace.
I'm guessing this might sound over the top and optimistic.
If you're observing your thoughts or emotions right now, you might be feeling slightly skeptical about what I am saying. And you know what?
I hope you are.
Because bringing a skeptical open mind to this is extremely important.
"I think that we are like stars. Something happens to burst us open; but when we burst open and think we are dying; we're actually turning into a supernova. And then when we look at ourselves again, we see that we're suddenly more beautiful than we ever were before." C.JoyBell C.
Shortly after I was diagnosed with breast cancer I began my mindfulness training and not long after that I experienced a transformation I like to describe as an awakening.
There were several aspects to my awakening, one was being more present in my day and less on autopilot; another was experiencing moments of deep joy, despite being in extreme pain.
It didn't happen all of sudden, it was more like a series of key moments, visions and realizations over a period of time.
While I'm barely scratching the surface of my own spiritual journey, I can say, without any doubt that it is possible to find immense joy and happiness, even in the midst of overwhelm, trauma and catastrophe. And, there is a path and way to discover it.
One time I experienced it while I was on my treadmill. I remember going into the store to purchase my treadmill and observing my husband almost cough up a lung, when they told us the price. I think his exact words were; "that treadmill costs more than my first car!". Thankfully I've got a ton of mileage out of it, by running on it almost every single day for 5 years.
I started running 3 weeks after diagnosis because I had read how important it was for breast cancer survivors. After several months of running, something unexpected happened. I suddenly felt there was a more important reason I was running, beyond improving my prognosis! I was becoming a better version of myself; a better mum; a better leader; a better wife; daughter; sister and friend. I realized the better I felt, the happier I felt.
It created a ripple effect and halo, which spread from me to those around me.
Another time I had a realization, a sudden awareness of how much of my life before cancer and mindfulness was spent on autopilot. I used to come home every night from work, usually late, and one of the first things I used to do was wipe down the kitchen and make the school lunches, before saying a quick goodnight to my children. I had it all backwards of course!
I wasn't living my life, I was executing it.
And I made a commitment to be aware of this and began living my life with more intention and purpose; more time with my family and more time doing things in business that I was passionate about.
But what I really want to share with you is the story behind the picture you see here. Not just because it happens to be on the front cover of a book for caregivers recently published by my husband, but because it also captures the transformation I was experiencing during this very difficult time in my life. It's a picture of myself and my two children. I've shared this photo with thousands of people at speaking engagements I've carried out in the last year and I've asked one question;
What words would you use to describe this photo?
Here are the most common words people have shared back; joy, happiness, love, pleasure, excitement, wonder and beauty. Not once, in over 40 speaking engagements have I ever heard anyone say; anger, sadness, pain, discomfort, anguish, hopelessness or fear. You may be wondering why I would even share this?
What I'm going to tell you next may surprise you.
This photo was taken while I was receiving a very aggressive high dose treatment of chemotherapy. At this point, I had lost 40 pounds (in addition to a breast), I had no hair, a drainage tube sticking out of me and was experiencing extreme nausea and bone pain. It was also taken approximately 6 weeks into my first training program in MBSR, an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program.
There were times, during chemotherapy when I wanted life to be over. The experience for me was akin to poison entering my body and slowly but surely killing me. I experienced what it felt like for the body to decay, something that happens as part of the aging process, but not when you're 36 years old.
Now here's the surprising part to this story.
There were times, during chemotherapy where I'd never felt better physically, spiritually or emotionally in my whole life. My experience of facing death as well as training in mindfulness, led to an awakening and a discovery of a very different kind of joy and happiness than I had known before.
Powerful stuff right?
When you face death, it's hard not to wake up to what really matters in life. For some, death is dark and morbid, for me it has become one of the most powerful ways I know to remind myself what a gift life is, and to live as many moments as I can to the full.
To finish thE blog today, I thought I would share with you 10 of the most powerful lessons I've learned over the last 5 years; about awakening, transformation and finding beauty in the wreckage.
1. Suffering is pain we are holding on to, exploited by our thoughts and fears
2. Sometimes we have to go through hardships to discover we're not who we thought we were
3. Focusing on the present moment can reduce our suffering
4. You have to turn towards adversity to find a way through it
5. It's not stress that's the problem, it's our physiological response to it that matters
6. Knowing defeat, struggle and loss may be the greatest gifts we will ever receive
7. What matters most is what's inside you, not behind you or ahead of you
8. Curiosity and pain cannot co-exist together; learn how to cultivate a beginners mindset
9. Reminding ourselves of how fleeting life is is a powerful way to live a life without regret
10. The depth of your struggle will ultimately determine the height of your success
May these lessons serve you on your own journey and bring you new happiness, health and peace. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments box below, as I learn as much from you as you do from me.
Keep smiling, Kate