We write to remember. We write to celebrate. We write to plan. We write to dream. We write to know ourselves better. We write to know others better. We write to understand the world around us, or try to understand it. Sometimes our reflections bring us some clarity, and other times they don’t. There is always a risk when we write. Either it’s going to take us nowhere, or it’s going to take us somewhere, and sometimes it’s somewhere we want to be. Other times, though, we find ourselves in the dark forest of thoughts, where scary, yellowed eyes peer at us from the ink-black fear. We struggle to find the light, to find our way.
I love that social media provides us with the opportunity to see so many beautiful representations of analogue creative, beautiful expressions on paper. Watercolor magic. Calligraphy dancing across vellum. Whimsical stickers and washi tape. A reminder that it’s good to play, to delight the eye, the fingers, and bring a smile to our lips. Pretty pages. But there is a certain beauty in the triumph of tragedy, a special glow that lights our path, so we can make our way out of the forest, isn’t there?
And it is by keeping this higher beauty in mind that my spirits lift when I am doing the work of writing through the darkness — writing about those difficult challenges in life, so that I can better understand, not grow bitter, and evolve into a better version of myself. Consider this, we cannot ascend to a higher level without overcoming some amount of hardship, and so there must be some appreciation, even awe for that which causes us to dig deeply and find something that we didn’t know that we had, some versions of ourselves that is bigger than that which we thought we possessed.
And even though I know that, I am often not ready or eager to venture into that dark forest. It’s not easy. People ask me how I write about that hard stuff and remain happy and upbeat. These are some of the things I do to stay anchored:
- Practice gratitude - Even in the darkest of times, I think it is possible to find something, no matter how small, for which we can be grateful. In doing this, we shift the mind’s eye away from that which we fear, that which we are challenged by, and the things that are hurting us. Life is a dance, a constant dance of the negative and the positive. We simply cannot know one without the other, and by acknowledging both we are able to recognize that all is as it should be. There is a balance. The universe is in balance.
- Practice self-compassion - Often, we expect so much of ourselves, so much more than we would ever expect from anyone else. We can hardly call ourselves “friend.” We would often be a better friend to someone we can barely tolerate than we are to ourselves, and there is simply no sense in that. In some way, it is almost arrogant for us to expect more of ourselves, than we would ever expect from anyone else. We are made of the same stuff as any human. We are no more or no less human than our closest friend. In fact, we should be our closest friend.
- Practice forgiveness - We are flawed. We have no idea what we are doing. We do our best, but we are winging this thing called life. It is messy, and we are going to stumble and fumble our way through it. We will never reach perfection, unless we consider our messiness our imperfection as what we are/should, and if we do that, then were are already perfect — in a sense. This is a wild, insane adventure. And no one really knows what they are doing.
- Embrace the breadth of your emotions - I love the idea of positive thinking, but I think it can send the message to some of us that we are supposed to only feel positive feelings and that they should push away negative feelings, but I don’t think that’s that case at all. I think all of our emotions are important and play an important role in helping us process life. I believe all emotions offer us information about what we might do next, so that we might reach a more positive state.
- Look for the lessons and learn from the teachers - If we don’t think of challenging times and people as simply “bad,” but as opportunities to learn and grow, then we can benefit from everything we encounter in our lives. Of challenging people, I always ask what they have arrived to teach me, and of challenging times, I always ask what lessons might I learn.
I think the key to not getting lost in the darkness when writing through difficult experiences is anchoring oneself to what is good by practicing gratitude, self-compassion, and forgiveness, as well as appreciating all that life has to offer, both the good and the bad. That is how we learn, grow, and build muscle and character in life.