Every now and then, when we want to grow in our ability to value and appreciate ourselves, we have to pause and reflect on all that’s gotten us here.
Moments like this are a time to not only be grateful and connect the dots of the amazing and unique story that is your life, but to extract the gold from your experience.
Just as gold is collected in streams, it’s also mined in deep places in the Earth and extracting the gold from our life experiences is just the same.
It’s easy (usually) to see the gifts and learning you’ve received in moments of expansion, generosity, giving, beauty, opening, release, love, and joy. You opened up. You realized you’re more than you thought. You found out the world’s a friendlier place than you believed. You woke up to the depth of beauty that’s in every person, in every moment. These nuggets of learning are easy to extract because they feel so good to reflect on.
But life offers each of us a wide range of experiences to learn from. Some feel great, some are challenging, and lots are mixes of something in-between.
So what about the moments on the other side of the spectrum – the ones that go a bit deeper and may not feel quite as easy to look at?
I don’t know about you, but my psyche wants to bundle up difficult and painful moments, stuff them in a box labeled things like “I didn’t like that,” “That hurt and makes me feel helpless,” or “I see nothing good here.”
It then wants to lock these boxes away in a dungeon to be forgotten about. It does this to protect me because those boxes hold difficult emotions it wants to protect me from feeling. But just like the depths of a gold mine, these boxes – these experiences – are filled with treasures of learning and empowerment that I’ll completely miss if I don’t open them up to extract their gifts.
Easy? No. Empowering? Yes.
I’ll give you two examples. One, a relationship. The other, a difficult experience from childhood. I think you’ll relate.
I was once in a relationship I had a really hard time ending. It was so passionate and opening, I couldn’t imagine letting it go. But it was also destroying me so I knew I needed to.
In a moment of trying to figure out what to do, my counselor asked me, “What are you learning about yourself through this that you didn’t clearly know until now?” Hm. I paused, listened within, and suddenly knew clear-as-day:
That I will abandon myself for love, or what I think is love but that isn’t really love. I see what I want to see in him, make him into who I want him to be, “fall in love” with that, and then lose myself again and again.
You can’t change a pattern until you SEE IT. This was the first time I saw it. Saw the young part of me who’s so afraid of not getting what she wants that she does this. Saw how much she takes the reigns in my relationships. Saw that I need to step in and help her. Saw that, despite feeling helpless and trapped in this pattern for so long, I absolutely had the power to do this… and with this insight that’s exactly what I started to do.
Suddenly this relationship – and all the ones before it where I lived out a similar pattern – was no longer a burden but a huge gift. It showed me exactly what I needed to see about myself to help myself grow, mature, and become more empowered. What a great learning experience.
Being a kid is vulnerable and all of us experience things we feel hurt and challenged by.
In my case, there was a three-year period in elementary school when I was regularly bullied by the boys in my neighborhood. Verbal and physical abuse. Taunting. Following. Heckling. Teasing. Name calling. Lots of people, kids and adults, knew it was happening but there was seemingly nothing that would truly stop it as it usually happened when nobody else was around.
For years I felt victimized by this experience. It was a ball of anger, helplessness, and shame inside me.
Then, 2+ decades later, Facebook happened. I reconnected with some people from that time in my life and I learned a different story about the king-bully. About how really awful he had it at home. That he bullied the sidekick bullies into doing his bidding. I learned that many kids in the neighborhood lived in fear and were being bullied by someone else. I also learned that most of them, including the king-bully, all grew up to be pretty cool people.
This information rocked my world! It opened my eyes to a broader perspective of what happened and this understanding helped me to forgive – something I’d been wanting to do but was struggling with because I felt so hurt. In forgiving the bullies, I learned to more fully love and forgive the part of me that went through this because somewhere through the years, I’d internalized the anger and blamed myself for having had the experience. Slowly, as I was able to understand more, accept the full picture and my experience in it, and forgive, I began to reclaim some of the power I had given away through believing myself to be a victim. What a weight off!
Now this experience, which I had seen as nothing but a burden for 2+ decades, was filled with gifts. Of empowerment. Of forgiveness. Of healing. Of understanding.
Can you imagine taking the less easy to be with experiences you’ve been through and extracting the gifts of learning in them?
My guess is the deeper you go into this process, the better you’ll feel about yourself and your life.
Go for the gold!
Photo by Brenda Clarke on Flickr