We bend more often than we break—but usually bending feels like breaking.
We are designed, as humans, for resilience. We adapt and find a way through the hardest of things, but our capacity to bend is developed first in the little things. We face disappointments and futility with the normal course of each day. Coffee creamer has run out. It rains on a picnic. A friend can't make it to a fun meeting we were looking forward to.
When we face those small-disappointment times, we can "power through" (and suck it up—not my favourite term) or we can pay attention and let our sadness come up through our feelings and thoughts and choices. When we pay attention to our sadness, we are learning to reel disappointment into a healthy place of first being sad, and then letting go of our hopes. Part of good mental health is the capacity for recognizing there are things we can change and things we can't change—and allowing ourselves to be sad about some of those things that are futile.
But then the big losses hit us. Things that shake us to the core, sometimes leaving us knocked down for a week, or a year—or more. These are the losses that can leave us feeling like we are breaking.
But probably we are bending—finding the resilience to get through the hardship. And it is just plain hard. Hard to feel anything. Hard to grieve, hard to let go, hard to hold onto hope.
For me, it helps to know that sadness is the part of this journey that we should not avoid. Sadness takes a tender heart—it means we allow our vulnerabilities to come up inside of us. It feels like danger to our soul, but it is only dangerous if we don't have the refuge of safe relationships where we can freely grieve. Honest sadness paired with genuine compassion creates room for healing.
If we can let ourselves bend under the weight of grief toward the sea of tears we harbour inside of us, we will not break. We may never fully "recover"—if we have lost someone we love, we cannot recover that person. We may never again grow in a standing-straight-and-tall position. But we will continue to grow.
And somehow, part of the growth takes place in our capacity to live with intentional values—to show love and compassion to others in hard times, to give love freely to those who need it, to see opportunities for relationship as more valuable than anything else.
There is a great deal of beauty even in the bent over tree that continues to reach for the light.
I write on how humans develop and grow through challenges we face. I've divided this into three categories--Growing Love is about relationships and how we create conditions for growth despite the inevitable challenges. Cloudburst is about grief, specifically—which is a tricky topic. We need to keep growing but pushing is the opposite of helpful. And in Dancing on Hot Sand I talk about personal inner growth in hard places—spiritual growth, without sounding religious, I hope.