From happiness to complete despair. From despair to complete happiness – it’s a flight of stairs between two opposites. In the past thirty-nine years, I have walked down and up again. Do you remember that children’s song, "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands" ? I’m not only clapping my hands when I’m happy.
It dawned on me last summer while having a drink with a friend on the beach. He asked why I’m so passionate about spiritual-storytelling and coaching. I replied without thinking, "Because I know mental suffering". It was the first time I said it out loud and it caught me by surprise. Life can look picture perfect from the outside, but on the inside we feel bruised and empty; like a squeezed orange. A short description of how I felt during my teens and twenties - for years happiness seemed like this angelic echo coming from the top of a flight of stairs.
Today in my late thirties, I experience the opposite. Whilst talking about life, love and intimacy with friends over a cup of tea last week, one of them commented that I have such a happy and positive mindset. I almost wanted to start clapping, however, with that conversation on the beach last summer still fresh in my mind, I realised that my happiness is still incomplete.
During all those years of healing myself, and transforming my life, I also started to listen to others. I discovered how many of us are experiencing this mental pain filled with sadness, anger, anxiety, stress and disappointments, and are suffering on a daily basis, while others might think we have a pretty good life going for us. I see so many people struggling with themselves, or in relationships, school, at work, in life. They don’t know what to do, who they are, where they are heading, always searching, always restless, always thinking, always in a hurry. So out of balance or stuck in life.
Nowadays, in the midst of my happiness, I connect on a deeper level with a soft spot. An open wound within me that has left me with a level of sensitivity, that when I feel others' emotions I quiver all over. I came to realize that another person’s unhappiness is as painful to me as my own. It is as if my body is the thinnest, finest sheet around my soul, incapable of protecting me against the suffering in this world.
Ironically, all those years when I was down, I was cleverly hiding this soft spot. As a result, I felt numb, immune to my true feelings, afraid of being hurt and of being seen as a failure, because I have been told that only the strongest survive. I was in constant fear that if I showed how soft I truly am, someone would rub salt into my wounds. In my memory this had happened countless times. Life can be so harsh. When we grow up, it’s a painful reality that the world isn’t perfect and others will never act like we want them to. Our parents make mistakes, lovers hurt us, friends disappoint us, and we learn to fear our enemies. In the process of trying to protect ourselves we cover up the one thing where complete happiness resides.
Sometimes I read in online articles that the number of prescribed antidepressants have increased significantly over the last decade, having more than doubled in some western countries. This makes me question, are we collectively numbing ourselves to be able to continue with our daily life, or are we recognizing our mental pain? Not only the amount of pills but also the amount of people interested in mindfulness, meditation, yoga and other aspects of eastern philosophy or esoteric healing is increasing. In these modern times where new technologies are an essential part of our daily life, are we desperately looking for ways to re-connect with ‘something’ that does not have a microchip? Are we realizing more and more that happiness and peace lie within, and that in vulnerability lays our strength?
In my own healing process I discovered that in my soft spot resides my passion, and compassion for others. In there I find my purpose. The significance of pain is not to let it grow into monstrous proportions and to transform itself into suffering that will bite us in the ass. Pain challenges us to seek the truth. Therefore, nowadays I’m saying with pride, "I know mental suffering". I’m thankful for every tear I have shed because I felt my pain or those of others. I plead that we learn that wherever we are: happy; hurting; searching for ourselves, inner-peace or divine intervention; tired of singing a sad old song like Sade’s King of Sorrow; wearing a smile like a pair of saggy jeans; numb; have given up hope, feeling insecure or worthless….We clap our hands for courageous honesty! Because wherever we are, we are always on some step of that stairway to complete happiness.