When I heard about Kate Spade’s suicide this week, I was surprised, saddened, and like so many of us, intrigued by the backstory that had driven her to the extreme point of choosing to end her life. And then to wake up to the news about Anthony Bourdain, hit like a thud. Also like so many of us…my husband and I sensed Bourdain’s endearing, authentic, and sensitive nature, and we connected with him through the screen allowing ourselves to live vicariously through his off-the-beaten path culinary adventures.
So this week, I did what I’ve learned to do with pain…and after 17 years of living in chronic physical pain, I’ve had to get good at it. I just let the pain, sadness, heaviness be there. I let myself feel it as an individual and feel it as part of a larger collective. Then today, I woke up, and implemented the process that allows me to move and shift with pain in my life. I call this process, “the pivot.” The pivot goes like this: whenever there is something that feels dark, scary, heavy, anxiety-provoking, sad, depressing—I notice it, honor it, allow myself to feel it—for it to just be there. And then, when I’m ready, I ask myself a few key questions:
- What is the gift in this experience?
- How can I use these emotions to propel me forward?
- How can I use what I’m experiencing to call forth something bigger inside me?
- How can I use this darkness as fuel to access more of my light?
The healthiest understanding that I have found to interpret the dark and painful forces in our lives is from book, “The Shadow Effect.” In it Deepak Chopra proposes that the purpose of the dark is to enhance the light. Let me say that again…the PURPOSE of the dark is to enhance the light. It’s a mantra that could use repeating for most of us, because like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, it’s so easy to go down the deep and dark rabbit hole when we find ourselves in depressed or hopeless feeling states. Each and every time I’m in one of those moods or emotional states, what stops me from the free fall into the thought abyss is that saying…”the purpose of the dark is to enhance the light.”
And here’s the thing…do we actually know that to be true? Not really. As humans, I’m not sure we’ll every fully understand the mysteries of life and death, dark and light, positive and negative. But here is what I know for sure. As humans, we have the capacity to control the MEANING that we associate to things. What differentiates us from the rest of the animals is that we have developed a prefrontal cortex that allows us the capacity to CHOOSE the meaning we give to things.
It is this capacity to be at CHOICE—also known as free will of thought—that is outside of the animalistic stimulus-response paradigm and can free us from the sensation of suffering. The ability to be mindful—to NOTICE a stimulus—let it be there—PAUSE—BREATHE and then choose how we want to interpret and use the information is what allows us to shape the destiny of our lives.
A friend of mine who is a mother of 3 and who’s husband committed suicide this past year shared with me that she was reading a book about grieving. In it, was this simple yet profound equation:
Suffering = Pain + Non-Acceptance
Exactly. Pain is inevitable as part of the life experience. To be alive is to ebb and flow through various types of pain—physcial—emotional-relational-monetary-spiritiual-psycholgical in different ways at different times. As is demonstrated over and over, not even the rich and famous are exempt from pain—and in fact, in many ways may be more susceptible to it given the pressures of the spotlights upon them.
What leads to the condition of suffering is when we go to either extreme of how we deal with that pain—either by denying it’s existence and shoving it under the rug, or by letting it consume us, immersing ourselves in it, and free falling down the rabbit hole heading straight into it–as we witnessed this past week with two of our beloveds.
But there is another way—a middle way—as all the great wisdom leaders have been teaching since the dawn of human consciousness. It is to allow the pain to be there. To accept that it’s always going to be there—and then to move WITH it– as a gift, as a fuel source, as an access point…to crack us open and call forth the light, the truth, the love of who we really are as spiritual beings having human experiences.