“Ironically, gratitude’s most powerful mysteries are often revealed when we are struggling in the midst of personal turmoil.”
~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
What does your Rock Bottom look like? Is it failure? Is it a cherished dream not yet realized, or years of hard work that have not paid off? Is it an addiction of some kind or a behavior you just can’t seem to stop and it’s finally beaten you into submission?
Often rock bottom shows up as a spiritual crisis of some sort; life becomes hopeless or loses all of its meaning. Interestingly enough, this can happen after achieving a cherished goal and yet afterwards we are left with a strange emptiness we just don’t understand.
This is when the little voice inside your head might be at its loudest, telling you how worthless or stupid you are—or how (fill in the blank here with any of the ways that you love to insult yourself) you are.
Beating ourselves up has become a national epidemic and it’s the single biggest reason we end up at Rock Bottom—we start to believe the stories we habitually tell ourselves day after day after day.
This may seem like a pretty horrible place and chances are all of us have been here at one time or another. It’s one of the reasons that 12 step programs such as AA have been so incredibly successful for millions of people.
You can go to a meeting anywhere in the world and meet people who have been at the bottom of all rock bottoms and are now thriving. These programs utilize two great principles of success: having a mentor in your life who is there for you during these pivotal moments, and the idea that if you help heal someone else, you begin to heal yourself.
Now, I’d like to propose something very radical here—imagine that Rock Bottom is a paradise. It’s a beautiful world filled with infinite possibilities. Imagine a heaven that is cleverly disguised as hell and when you begin to soften your focus and start to see the potential of this place—that’s when the magical Harry Potter stairs begin to appear.
Put your foot out and suddenly a step appears, and then another step—and soon enough you are up and out.
If you are (or have been) so deep in rock bottom that you can’t imagine ever finding your way out, remember that you are in good company. Many folks who’ve spent some quality time at rock bottom have gone on to accomplish tremendous things in the world:
Steve Jobs was a college dropout, a fired tech executive and an unsuccessful businessman. At 30-years-old he was left devastated after being unceremoniously removed from the company he founded.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, yet hate never became a part of his vocabulary.
When The Beatles were just starting out, Decca Recording studios, who had recorded 15 songs with the group, said they have no future in show business and guitar groups were out. Even Walt Disney was fired from one of his first jobs because he lacked imagination.
Abraham Lincoln was a failure in business, had a nervous breakdown and was defeated in eight elections. This guy spent a lot of time in Rock Bottom, but throughout his presidency he remained steadfast, and was even quoted saying that if by the end of his term, “I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me.”
So how did all these people turn Rock Bottom into extraordinary success? It’s often impossible to believe that recovery, let alone success is possible in this bottomless pit we feel stuck in. But it is possible, one (magical) step at a time.
A Magical Step: Self-Acceptance
Find Peace within yourself, that is independent of what is going on outside your life.
Always be loyal to yourself. Embrace the totality of your self and work to turn weaknesses into strengths. You may not be always able to govern circumstances in your life, but you can govern yourself. Self-acceptance is like a shield that helps you block out the negative self-talk in your own head.
One way to practice this is to stop jumping past your successes. As a mentor, I see this again and again. Something amazing will happen and the client will just jump right over it, in the hurry to get to the next goal.
A Magical Step: Stop and Start.
Take a breath and start noticing all the success in your life, no matter how small. Where you focus your attention is where your life will unfold. Really become aware of the things that are going right.
Imagine Rock Bottom is a place where the universe sends you a very important registered letter with final notice stamped on it. It’s that letter you’ve been sending back for years but you finally decide to open that letter and answer it, in the living of your life
The poet Rilke said, “Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
The interesting thing about Rock Bottom is that we don’t arrive at it overnight; it’s often a very gradual process but within it, there is one universal ingredient that will always be present.
We ignore our true selves, the voice of our hearts, one little inconsequential moment at a time, but we soon learn that there are no inconsequential moments. They add up like drops of water slowly filling a barrel. A truth ignored will always eventually lead to a crisis, which means, within every crisis is a hidden truth that has been suppressed.
So why do we ignore the voice of our conscience or our “spiritual heart” as I call it? There are many reasons but one important foundational place you may want to investigate is how you deal with unpleasant feelings and emotions. Put simply, most of us have developed strategies for dealing with anxiety, stress and fear that actually make them far worse. Those strategies eventually become habits because we repeat them over and over. We develop these strategies because of an underlying belief system that everything should be good and comfortable and pleasant at every moment.
A Magical Step: Embrace Duality.
The Truth is, lots of moments just don’t show as what we want. They are not good or comfortable or pleasant, so we try to attack the moment, and kill it.
We criticize our emotions and fight them, rather than letting them run their course. Like clouds in the sky, emotions come and go. But we tend to attach to them or at least try to attach to the good ones. We avoid situations that make us nervous. We bury uncomfortable feelings like anxiety or fear; we numb ourselves with alcohol or entertainment or shopping. We have a false idea that “bad” feelings ought to controlled, or erased. The pharmaceutical industry in many ways is based on this idea: there is a magic pill for everything.
This intolerance toward emotional pain puts us at war with a basic truth about the human experience: duality. For every experience there is an opposite experience. Sometimes we just feel bad, and that’s okay. If we can just start inching towards being a bit more friendly with what is in this moment, we find our minds getting more spacious and lighter, as opposed to struggling so hard to control our anxiety and stress which is a bit like flailing around in quick sand.
Why do we suffer so much at rock bottom? Lack of surrender. Because we are trapped in the ego and associated with its likes and dislikes and the ego rebels against anything that is unpleasant. But not your soul. The soul is never stained by any experiences, even the most painful. It is not touched by any mistakes we are making. It is the ever pure part of us.
A Magical Step: Surrender.
Struggle ceases in surrender.
There is surrender, there is acceptance. Face everything that happens—success and failure; honor and dishonor; praise and blame. Gain and loss are the same. Stop arguing with the reality of this moment and watch as life becomes easy, flowing, painless. It takes continuous remembrance of something bigger than ourselves and our own problems. But surrender does not mean we just sit down and give up; it means we surrender to the outcome of our actions. We still do all the things we believe in and go after what we desire. Once we’ve done our best, we just let go and that allows us to breathe easier.
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. Perhaps carry a piece of paper with the word surrender on it, making that your mantra and see how it changes your life.
While implementing the antidotes of self-acceptance and surrender, there are some other steps to consider, steps you can take to climb further out of Rock Bottom:
1. Find Your own Dream Map
If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you arrive?
In order for us to achieve our dreams, we must have a vision of our path. Writing down our dreams and creating a list of actions helps us stick to our plan. When we turn our vision into measurable actions, we gain clarity and are able to see the necessary steps we must take in order to achieve them.
Action: Visualize a life you want to live. How does it feel? What did you dream of doing when you were a child? What would you do if money was no object? Create a vision for your goals and start breaking them down into small actions that you can take on a daily basis.
2. Use Fear in the Proper Way
Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you. The best way to learn something is to dive right in. When we overcome our fear of failure, we liberate ourselves. Fear is the single biggest factor that keeps us from experiencing a life of love and fulfillment.
Action: You must define your fears in order to conquer them. Create a list of everything you’re afraid of and start facing them one at a time. Make a commitment to yourself now to not let fear rule your life.
3. Intention and Desire
The mind is a conclusion-generating machine sostart generating new conclusions.
Our thoughts are the seeds we plant in the soil of our mind, and what we plant determines our reality. When we stop thinking about what we don’t want and begin thinking about what we do want, our lives begin to transform. Instead of working against our desires and intentions, we move into alignment with them.
Action: Create a mind map of your intentions and desires. Wherever you go, take this list with you. Read it when you wake up and before you go to sleep.
“So much has been given to me, I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.”~ Helen Keller
How many times do we count our misfortunes instead of our blessings? Open your eyes to the miracle of life and see the many gifts that you have been given. Remembering all the beautiful aspects of life and all the reasons you are blessed can immediately shift your mood. We can move from sorrow and despair to appreciation and hope.
Action: Each time you find yourself complaining about something, re-shift right away to what you grateful for. Make a habit of transforming your awareness of troubles into an awareness of abundance. If you get down, do something kind for someone else.
5. The Art of Simplicity
“I made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it short.” ~ Blaise Pascal
Simplicity is realizing that this moment is enough, you don’t need to add to it. True mastery of our lives is realizing the simple joys of life, removing distractions and clutter. The art of simplicity is simply knowing what to leave behind.
Start from anywhere and create change in your life. The simple question is: will you?
Often, people show up at my doorstep because they have no place left to turn—they have hit their vision of Rock Bottom. I tell them that it is okay; it’s okay because we can all use where we are as fuel for personal transformation to make huge shifts in our lives.
Think of the wisdom of water—water… such a wonderful teacher in demonstrating how to yield, surrender and overcome hard obstacles!
The soft always overcomes the hard; water simply gives itself up to whatever the moment brings, with flexibility, fluidity and its awesome presence to what is.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editorial Assistant: Kim Haas/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo credits: Porschelinn on Flickr