Good Grief: Pain as a tool for growth and evolution

Holidays and the New Year can be a difficult time for many people. For some, behind forced cheer, bright lights, and bold resolutions of improvement and progress lie great fear and sadness. Remembering loved ones who have passed, regretting choices made or experiencing fear of the future can dampen our spirits. Nature is dormant, days are darker, our bodies have less energy, yet culture pushes us forward, refusing to utilize these winter months for reflection and restoration by emphasizing cheer, merriment, lights, parties, and determined goals of betterment and growth.

These things are not inherently negative – quite the contrary (I’m a big believer in cheer!) – but there is a time and place for everything. In nature, a cycle of growth and progress is followed by harvest and rest. Plants and animals effortlessly exhibit these cycles due to their immersion in the natural environment. Humanity, ever moving “forward”, has chosen to ignore this aspect of rest and reflection for various reasons.

We are largely motivated towards pleasure and away from pain. Stopping and taking stock of our lives or fully experiencing a loss can be frightening and painful. Rather than face this, many have a tendency to flee to the next merriment, push down discomfort and work through grief, or otherwise ignore, minimize, and thwart a sensation that is intended to grab our attention because something is amiss!

Within grief and pain lie the seeds of true advancement and evolution. When we stop and examine loss, we have the opportunity to learn and experience life in new and profound ways. Allowing the magnitude of unexpected change to affect us allows our preconceived creations about ourselves and the world around us to fall away, bring in space for creating something more fitting and beautiful for ourselves. When we ignore, deny, or minimize this opportunity, we risk stunting growth and continue to live and engage in patterns which no longer suit us and will ultimately only bring us back to more pain.

It is said that nothing is brought to us which we cannot handle. In my own experience, I have found this to be true. Strength lies not in a bold face and carefree attitude, but in facing whatever comes our way, gracefully or not, and emerging on the other end with greater insight. Discomfort can be a powerful teacher to a willing student.

If your or someone you know is going through difficulties, it is important not to experience these feelings in solitude. While reflection and growth is largely a one-person journey, the support of one’s “tribe” – be it healthcare providers, family, or friends – allow priceless support and an anchoring to hope and clarity in the event of getting carried away in intense emotion or old habit patterns. I frequently tell my clients that human beings are pack animals; we need support! We have lived in community for all our existence and do not thrive in solitude. Reach out and welcome support in your life – for your grief, to support your New Year’s Resolutions, and to restore your own stores these dark winter months.

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