Often, when things in our life seem to go wrong, we feel as if it’s the end of the world because we can’t see further than what’s right in front of us. It is only when we look back, after we’ve survived the storm, that we realize that those “broken” parts are actually pieces that make up the beautiful picture that is our destiny.
Five years ago, I lost my job. No, I did not quit, I was made redundant (which is just a pretty word for ‘fired’) from a job for which I worked so hard it almost broke me. Immediately, I tried to get back on the racehorse, so to speak, but in all the job interviews that I’ve had, I would always land at the top two and not get it in the end. In fact, there was one time that I was the only one left standing and still did not land that elusive employment contract. Going through rejection after rejection, my ego was hurt by others’ blatant disregard of my self-worth and value. But it was not so much the losing the job that I mourned but the career I built; and interestingly enough, when I managed to turn off my churning mind and listen to my heart instead--for reasons I could not understand then—I felt a little flutter of something I could only describe as joy.
But. The Universe wasn’t done with me yet. A few months after I lost my job, I lost my beloved dog. We loved that dog like she was our own child. In the words of my husband, “It hurt more when we lost her that when I lost my mother.” Some people find that shocking but those who love their pets the way we did will understand. I fell apart at the seams. I lost all sense of direction. I felt like someone needed to put me in a box with the label: This Side Up. Where do I go from here? Where, never mind how, do I begin to start picking up the broken pieces of my life? Somehow, I knew that if I could only find the where, the Universe will take care of the how for me. I don’t have to figure it all out. If I just show the Universe that I am making the effort to dig myself out of the hole, it will reach out a hand to me in various ways.
When we lose something or someone we hold dear in our heart, it feels as if our life is falling apart. Whatever it is—death of loved one, relationship breakup, losing our home, etc.—we feel beaten down on the ground and picking ourselves back up does not happen automatically because heck, if life kicks you down again, you might as well stay down so it doesn’t hurt as much. Regardless of what it is, the question is almost always the same: Why? Why did this happen to me?
Why did this happen to me? is synonymous to What did I do to deserve this?
In a commencement speech he delivered to Stanford graduates in 2005, the late Steve Jobs said, “We cannot connect the dots looking forward. We can only connect the dots looking backward.” Being fired from Apple—his brainchild—in 1985 was a humiliating blow for him. But he did not allow it to stop him from moving forward. Had he not been fired from Apple, his life wouldn’t have turned out the way it did. He started two companies—NeXT and Pixar (hello, Toy Story!), met his wife and started a family. We all know the rest of that history.
The point is, sometimes, we get so focused on our own conscious, egoic direction that we need a little nudge from the Universe to steer us towards the things that make up the bigger picture of our lives. Sometimes we go toward the things that we think we want and where we want to be, only to get disappointed when we get there. We did all the right things and we feel, rightfully so, that we did not deserve whatever it is that went “wrong” in our life.
But here’s the thing. The things that go wrong or fall apart in our lives aren’t there to punish us or make us suffer. When we’re in the midst of it, feeling all the raw, intense, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking emotions that suck us into a vortex of pain and nothingness, it is hard to see it that way. We can’t see clearly through the fog of emotions. Things falling apart gives us pain. And pain is a way the Universe tells us something. And to find out what that is, we need to go through the pain—not around it, not away from it, but through it. Learning what it is telling us is the way out of it.
It’s rather like going through a maze. Each person does it differently. Some of us really pay attention and remember each wrong turn and dead end to systematically find the exit. Some would go through each path randomly, believing that at some point, they will find their way out. Either way, when we finally find it and leave the maze, there’s that sense of triumph and jubilation that is simply priceless. There is a sense of pride when we get to say, “Yes! I did it.” It’s an accomplishment on its own right.
Imagine what we could have missed if we didn’t even want to try. We could miss out on the people we’d encounter along the way. There might be people who could make the process easier, more enjoyable, or even loving. Perhaps they could even help us find the way out by pointing us in the right direction or accompanying us in that journey. Most importantly, we would miss that all-important opportunity that the Universe has set out to get us one step closer to our own growth.
What is your pain telling you? Pain could be saying to us that we’re not grateful enough because often, we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. It could also be the Universe’s way of conveying the message that there is more to life than what we’ve lost. Or perhaps it is a way for us to learn how to go through the pain itself. If we have a tendency to run away from or circumvent pain, it will present itself over and over again until we finally get the message it came to deliver—if not in this lifetime, perhaps in the next. The only way out of the labyrinth is through it. How that translates for us in life’s lessons—gratitude, forgiveness, surrender, love, compassion¾we need to learn it to get past the pain.
For me, the message of my pain was: “Turn around. You’re going the wrong way.” It felt like the Universe was telling me that they’ve humored me far enough to do things my way but it wasn’t working. I reached the end of the road in that phase of my life. They showed me all the signs to turn around along the way but I chose to ignore them. And so, to get my attention finally, I was brought to a bigger pain. Now—years after the turmoil—I could finally say, Message received. Thank you, Universe. Did I say those words when it was all happening to me? Heck, no. It hurt like hell. I was in a maze and I needed to find my way out and so I did. Is it over? That one is. Will there be another? You bet.
There will be more mazes in life—some big, some small; some easy, some difficult—and there will be times (perhaps even all of the time) that we will resist kicking and screaming before we allow ourselves to be put through another pain again. We can run away from it, use alcohol, drugs or other pain-numbing “methods” but it’s not going away until we stand face-to-face with it and stare it right in the eyes. Then we will see eventually that it is not an enemy but a friend—a teacher. If we keep on resisting, we are just prolonging the pain. But if we sat down and have many heart-to-heart conversations with it and say, “Tell me everything that I need to know and learn from this pain,” the pain will start to ease gradually with time. So, what do you choose? The easy way or the hard way?
Somewhere down the line, when we’ve been through many mazes in our life, we are able to connect the dots and realize (and appreciate!) the value of those painful moments. We begin to see that the pieces that “fell apart” are actually pieces of the beautiful puzzle that is our life. We begin to see how all the pieces fit perfectly and we begin to see parts of the bigger picture. We begin to see that Teacher Pain wasn’t there to tear our life apart, it was there to give way to something far greater than what we could see in front of us at that time.