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Being grateful for things that are hard

As I've posted before, I am list-obsessed.  Today I did a list with a friend that was about the benefits of difficult things we've experienced.  It was so good, I felt I needed to blog about it.  This is not exactly the same list that I did with my friend, but I just wanted to put down the pivotal benefits I have received from some of the big challenges I have faced in life.

1. I am so grateful that I was very sick when I was young.  I had multiple chemical sensitivities, and they were at their worst in my early to mid twenties.  There were months where I couldn't get out of bed or make food for myself, couldn't walk on the street or be in a vehicle, or breathe in a room where my air filter wasn't.  I wasn't able to do a lot of the things my age peers could, like complete post-secondary education or work or participate in the community.  My parents did not believe that I was genuinely sick and did a lot of things that  jeopardized my health.  Others were not open to making adjustments for me, because it did not make sense to them - how could something that wasn't toxic for them be toxic for me?

The benefits that have come from this are many.  One is that I see that people can recover from quite intense illness.  I am now very clear on what creates health - what kinds of spiritual concepts, emotional attitudes and physical habits create and sustain health.  Having learned this young, and having to significantly deviate from cultural norms in order to heal myself, caused me to make health the centre of my life.  Over time this has influenced all my decisions from what I do for work and how I structure my days, to how I relate to people and how I raise my child.  When no one had answers for me, it was my illness that taught me to look deep inside myself to be guided on how to heal and how to live.

2. I have come to see that because my parents did not, and to a large extent still do not, give me approval for who I am and the choices I make, this has meant that I don't make my decisions based on whether I get approval from other people.  I am grateful that I am able to do the right thing for myself even when I am not getting approval or even if I am being actively disapproved of.   I learned that in order to survive I have to think for myself.

3. I am grateful that my daughter's father opted out of participating in her upbringing.  There have been times where I have been felt angry, abandoned and like I did not have the resources to keep going (we broke up when she was a week old), but now that I look back over the last 8 years I marvel at how we have been looked after.  I think having to survive the early years of her life by myself caused me to tap into deeper spiritual resources than I had previously.  I have had to be very present, ask for help, and value myself despite the outer circumstances.  It pushed me further in taking total responsibility for how my life functions, and caused me to uplevel how I was doing my work - I changed the format and what I was offering to earn more money so I could work and also take care of my child. 

Another benefit to this has been that I have been able to raise her according to my own values (attachment parenting & homeschooling) without having to compromise or convince anyone.  I know other moms who have lost so much energy through conflict around child custody issues or major decisions regarding health and education etc and I just haven't had to deal with that.  I have never (really never!) said a negative word to my child about her father and she has never witnessed any conflict between us.  

4.  Having a lack of financial resources at different times has shown me that what really matters is actually free (relationships, nature, time, awareness etc), and that abundance comes through being creative.  I've gotten to see that abundance is really relative - often people with lots of money don't actually feel secure because security is a state of mind.  What we think of as prosperity depends on our context and perceptions.  Not having money sometimes means your life can be simpler, less cluttered, more flexible, more community oriented, more self-sufficient, using more of your skills and capacity, more fulfilling, slower, more magical.

5. I am grateful for being an immigrant and feeling marginalized in certain ways, because it's caused me to have a deep understanding of how power functions especially in systemic and structural ways.  It helps me to be aware of how I might be marginalizing or adding to the marginalization of others, and even of parts of myself.  I know the power of listening and empathy.  It's helped me see how people can see things from such different points of view and why that might be, and I think that has allowed me to be a translator of sorts in my work - I can bridge people's understandings in a lot of cases.  On the other side, I am glad that I came to Canada as a child, because it means that I don't speak with an accent, I understand most of the subtleties of how this society functions, and I received a decent education - decent enough that I can now see the benefit of homeschooling and feel confident in my abilities to do it.  ;)

6. In a way, I am grateful for any and all losses in my life, because they show me the truth that nothing that is real and truly yours can be taken away, and in fact having things taken away allows space for you to know what is universal and what kind of spiritual love underpins this temporary existence. I know that love and connection survive the body.  The wisdom we accrue goes with us wherever we go.  I am grateful for having lived this long that I have some perspective on life and it's cycles.  All cycles even cycles of destruction and loss are important and are not to be resisted because they make rebirth possible.  

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Comment by Amahla Johnson on July 20, 2013 at 10:33pm

Thank you.  Kathleen - your comment made me think of Victor Frankl's book called 'Man's Search for Meaning".  He was a psychologist who was interned in a concentration camp during the holocaust.   While enduring horrific treatment, he would daydream of himself, decades later, lecturing to audiences about the psychology of survival in the concentration camps, which he later did do.  He projected into the future a reality that made his circumstances valuable or meaningful.  In German it was originally called 'Saying Yes To Life In Spite of Everything: A Psychologist experiences the Concentration Camp'.  

Comment by Kathleen Ruhl on July 19, 2013 at 3:57pm

Thank you for your heartfelt sharing Amahla! While going through tough situations, it's not easy to be grateful but looking back...they are definitely life lessons. You're strength to do that gives me inspiration.  Thank you.

Comment by Janet Carol Ryan on July 17, 2013 at 3:36pm


Comment by Mae Jardine on July 16, 2013 at 6:38am
I enjoyed reading your gratitude list, Amahla. Clearly, you have trained yourself to acquire wisdom from your life's challenges. You are blessed to be a mentor rather than a whiner. My kind of gal pal : )

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