For a lot of my life, I believed that my joy was at the whim of just about every circumstance, person, or situation outside of me. When it arrived, I both clung to it and resisted it. I desperately wanted it, but I was so stricken with fear, convinced it was only a matter of time before the “other shoe would drop.” Joy was fleeting, and when it left, it left behind a trail of disappointment and loss.
By my mid 20s, I can remember having a firm “talking to” with the Universe: “If having means it’s just gonna disappear or be taken away, then I don’t want anything from you!” I told the Universe to shove it. If no joy meant no pain, then sign me up. I was done living this way.
As time went on, I experienced emptiness, lack, and isolation as constant companions. I struggled with depression and anxiety. I also began to feel burdened by immense physical pain. In short, I was miserable. My bargain with the Universe wasn’t working out the way I had imagined. It certainly wasn’t helping me develop the ability to better navigate the day-to-day, in fact, it brought forth even more pain and suffering.
I thought I was being punished and that I deserved it. I was convinced there was something wrong with me. In my rigid thinking, I expected perfection from myself and others, to have all the answers figured out in advance, that I had one chance to “get it right.” When things didn’t go that way, I would find ample reasons to make myself (and others) wrong. I oscillated between self-loathing and raging at the Universe with more, blaming, attacking, and projecting.
It got to the point where I noticed myself laying in bed at night, wishing I would not wake up the next day. My thoughts scared me. It was one thing to think that weeks after my dad dropped dead several years earlier, but I didn’t have a good “excuse” this time. I knew things had to change, that my life depended on it. It had to go up from here. My stubbornness came to the rescue, and it summoned my will, my knowingness that I had a purpose in this life, my tenacity, and my faith. Hour by hour, day by day, I started taking responsibility for my life.
I had been so accustomed to either projecting blame outward or placing infinite blame on myself, that I couldn’t see that I was the one who needed to change. My mindset didn’t allow me to be alive and human, a perfectly fallible being in a world where the only constant is change.
I realized that I didn’t have all the answers. I got a therapist. I found a doctor who finally figured out the source of my excruciating pain: a small benign growth in my femur, and I got it removed. I put more structure in place by getting an office job with set hours and a dependable pay check, but that still allowed me to run my yoga business on the side. I even went to a bereavement group for the first time, all these years later. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone. I needed to accept that my dad died, I didn’t, no matter how dead I felt inside.
I gave myself permission to accept a new mindset. I chose a growth mindset that embraces my humanity and my divinity simultaneously. One that helps me to be more fully alive by being allowed to fail, to navigate change even when I don’t want to, to accept that grief is a natural part of life. One that said, yes, it is inevitable that my mom will die, too, and the best way to prepare myself is to make sure that I have a fulfilling life to turn to when she’s gone.
I got my life in order and then rode the momentum to take charge of it in a brand new way. I discovered a graduate program that sounded like it was made just for me, so I quit my job, sold my furniture, packed my car and drove from New Jersey to Colorado with a dear friend. I allowed my intuition, intellect, sensitivity, and trust to be my guiding stars. I didn’t need to have all the answers this time.
This new mindset has been a continual process of transformation over the past 8 years, sometimes smooth, sometimes turbulent. I now see both joy and pain as expressions of my aliveness. This aliveness inspires, brings hope, connects, allows pain to have its seat at the table, embraces wholeness and truth. I understand that I can’t control the world around me, and I don’t actually want to. I can control my thoughts, actions, and reactions though. I can choose joy, regardless of the circumstances. I can let it anchor me to my essence, so that no matter what life or death throws my way, I’ve got support.
As I sit here, reflecting on my journey, I’m in absolute awe of how my life has transformed. I live in one of the most beautiful places in the country, lead my own organization doing the work of my soul, am in a committed partnership with a man who cherishes me, have a community of treasured friends who truly accept me as I am, am healthy and vibrant, and perhaps most importantly, I love and accept me-and my journey-in a way that I never imagined possible.
Joy does not mean the absence of pain, but rather, the acceptance of it. I created the fulfilling life for myself that I set out to do several years ago, and my mom did die.
What I’ve learned through all of this is that the hardest of times are also the greatest opportunities for growth. It’s all a matter of mindset (hindsight helps, too :-). Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t have the depth of meaning and appreciation for life and the respect for death that I have. I would not have the capacity to metaphorically “hold” others’ hearts with such gentleness, tenderness, and empathy. I wouldn’t be so comfortable sitting with people in their most painful or darkest moments.
My joy and my pain are interrelated. Without pain, I wouldn’t know the value of joy, and without joy, I would be less resilient to cope with pain.
While it’s true that I still sometimes exchange “words” with the Universe about this whole “being human” thing, these days it sounds something more like this: “Universe, I surrender.”