J.K. Rowling made this statement. She was at a point in her life where she had lost her beloved mother and had survived a gruelling divorce. She was living in a government subsidised house with her daughter and was barely meeting the rent. Yet in this space of desperation with her back against the wall, J.K. found her freedom. She felt she had nothing left to lose, and so she finally began to write the stories that she’d long dreamt about.
Her boy wizard, Harry Potter, was born from her place of rock bottom.
Sooner or later in this wildly fickle and wondrous journey called life, we all meet rock bottom.
Failing a university subject, for the third time. Being made redundant. Separating from the person you thought was the love of your life. Feeling trapped by all-consuming debt. Losing a dear friend over a stupid misunderstanding. Dealing with the earth erupting grief of death. Feeling like you’re on the outside looking in, wondering where the years went.
How do you find yourself when you feel completely lost, like your purpose for life has been ripped from your chest? How do you assuage the weight of nostalgia, or the overwhelming vice of grief?
There’s no one-size fits all formula for scraping ourselves off the rocky bottom, but there are always ways we can help ourselves climb out of the hole. I’ve cooked up a little formula that is one part born of my own experience, one part research based, and one part derived by osmosis from the collective wisdom that is an inherent part of our humanity.
1) Weather the storm.
When the shit really hits the fan you can feel strong temptation to fun the frick away. You may want to mask the pain and push it to the back of your consciousness. If that’s where you’re at, and it feels right, hey, roll with it. However, my own practice of mindfulness has taught me that a ripper way to process emotional grenades, is to stand in the midst of the storm. Observe, sit and make space for each and every emotion that tugs at your consciousness. Deep sadness. Enduring anger. Unforgiving remorse. Notice the feelings, their intent, their frequency in visiting, their tone and colour. Hold firm to the mindfulness pillar of non-judgement. I shouldn’t be feeling like this by now. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get over this? I thought I was better than this by now. These kinds of thoughts do you no favours. When you notice judgement tramping it’s heavy self through your mind, acknowledge it. I notice that I’m thinking I shouldn’t be feeling like this by now. Your thoughts are merely thoughts, not a gospel truth.
2) Trust in yourself.
A happy, little bird sat her chirpy self on the branch of an old tree. The bird felt sublimely contented on this branch. She was raised to life in this tree, born out of a bowl of torn leaves and twigs as a mere hatchling, and still, to this day, the tree remained her home. One day, while she was sitting there chirping about the morning, a fierce storm blew up. The wind was terrible and started wildly shaking the tree’s branches. The bird was whipped back and forth on her perch and it seemed that her beloved tree was going to topple. The funky thing about this bird though, was that she wasn’t in the least bit worried. You see, she held the knowledge of two enduring truths. One was that, even without her familiar tree and branch, the bird still had her wings and, by-damn she knew how to fly. Secondly, the bird also knew that there were many more trees with safe branches out there upon which she could rest if need be.
I think this beautiful old fable communicates a stunning truth. We have everything we need inside of us to to persist, to love, and to continue to grow in wisdom. After all, if you’re reading these words right now, you’ve already survived 100% of your bad, would-rather-forget days.
3) Recover your clarity.
When all seems lost, you can feel completely and utterly directionless. A moment ago, you may have known where you were headed and how you were getting there, but in the blink of an eye, your world has completely transformed; you remain standing like a lone survivor out to sea. A simple method to help fill your mast back up with a powerful hit of wind, is to get in touch with the core values that drive you in life. As morbid as it might sound, one of the keenest ways to take tangible hold of your values, is to imagine what your funeral day might look like. In a society obsessed with eternal youth and a deep denial and fear of death, this kind of question can really shave your existence down to a bare truth. Imagine now, the tone of the gathering that comes together to celebrate your life. What kind of people will be in attendance? What one sentence would be inscribed on your tombstone that describes your shining essence? What three words would people use to describe you at your best? What would your eulogy say was most important to you in life? The words and sentences that come out of this exercise will help reveal to you your own deep core values. These are the values that form the guide posts in your world, and they are the touchstones to help you regain clarity, and step boldly back into your life.
4) Choose your response.
You may have been hurt emotionally, physically or financially, but this sorrow does not mean your basic character and identity has to suffer the same pain. Our greatest trials in life are often the ones that are catalyst to the strengthening of our character. Out of the pits of raging fires, we can develop the resources to handle the hard stuff in the future and to inspire people around us as well. The remarkable story of Victor Frankl, survivor of the Jewish concentration camps during WWII, is an exemplar of this truth. Victor realised that in the space between what happened to him, and his reaction to that stimulus, was an expansive place of freedom where he was able to choose how he responded. Don’t confuse your response with your emotions. Emotions come and go like clouds in the sky. Your response to your situation is how you act in the aftermath. One of the greatest powers you can wield is deciding within yourself how your circumstances will affect you. While you’re choosing, why don’t you get to channeling your inner wizardry like Ms Rowling herself, and get acting on that one thing you’ve always longed to dapple in?
5) Get grateful.
Feeling grateful can be dog-gone difficult when you’re in the crux of pain. But there’s a whole lot of reason to start filling your gratitude diary. Numerous studies have shown that people who write a daily list of ‘I’m grateful for..’ measure 25% higher for their sense of life satisfaction (that is, in comparison to the ungratefuls). The trick is to start small. Is the day full of warm sunshine? Write that down. Is the day cold? Get to listing all of the reasons you love cold weather. Enjoyed a lovely glass of quality red? Add that to your list. Feel special when your dog greets you when you arrive home, or when your cat comes over for a cuddle? Yep – you guessed it, write it down. When you start to see your list mounting, something magical happens. You get to feeling this unquenchable feeling of hope and contentment again. The kind of feel-good we would bottle if we could.
Tamara provides coaching to help people get through to the other side and find their clarity again. Contact her to get the conversation started.
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