Many of us right now are struggling.
Our lives have been upended—we’ve been thrown a curveball that we never could have seen coming, and are delicately icing the crater-sized bruise on our face from the impact while also trying to steam-roll ahead through the endless piles of bills, and obligations that remain.
And suddenly all those tiny little things that brought us joy before— (our newly found passion for watercolor painting, our morning ritual of lighting a candle and practicing affirmations, our new fun pair of pink fuzzy slippers) that gave us all a sense of lightness, enjoyment, or playfulness, now seem silly and insignificant.
I’m here to tell you that those tiny things you enjoyed might just be the most important pieces to hold on to in your life right now.
Psychologist and Buddhist mentor Jack Kornfield speaks of the necessity of honoring joy through struggle in an interview held by UC Berkeley writer Jill Suttie, remarking that often our awareness of the tragedies of the world around us can cause us to feel a deep sense of shame or guilt when experiencing happiness alongside tragedy.
Kornfield argues that “because we can’t change all of this at once, we feel overwhelmed, guilty, or ashamed...that it’s not right for us to have a measure of happiness” but ultimately that “it’s possible to cultivate and develop a sense of well-being, joy, deep happiness, and worth, even amidst the difficulties of life”, and deeply important to do so.
I’ve discovered first-hand that not only is this true, it may be the most powerful manifesto that will allow you to break through the sadness.
This realization came to me at the young age of seventeen, a few months after my entire world was brought to pieces in one afternoon in a hospital in San Francisco.
At that point, it had been two years since my older brother Ryan, who was nineteen, was diagnosed with leukemia—a radical, terrifying turn of events none of us could have ever seen coming.
And despite all the chemotherapy, radiation and even the successful match of my bone marrow in his body helping him heal (and initially bringing him to remission), it somehow wasn’t enough to save him. The pain consumed me—screaming, pleading and sobbing as the doctor patiently explained to me and my family what was happening that afternoon—that he wasn’t going to survive.
After his death, I lost all faith in the world around me. I didn’t want to continue to exist, because he wasn’t there beside me. I told myself that it was wrong to experience any measure of happiness (how could I?) because he was gone.
In the weeks that followed, each task was a challenge for everyone in my family and there was nothing we could see in our worlds but sadness.
We had accepted and resigned to believing that joy was a thing of the past—something that other people had, but not us. Not anymore.
A few weeks after his death, as the holidays approached, my mom’s good friend came to stay with us. She suggested one afternoon that we go see the silly new Christmas movie “Elf” that had just come out. Although it had seemed impossible to enjoy anything at all that was holiday-related without him, we were all desperate to try whatever might help ease the suffering. And so, we went along.
In the dark of the theater, I remember now so clearly, a tiny spark of lightness begin to return to my broken soul while watching this ridiculous, silly movie. And then a bubbling up and explosion of laughing, laughing, laughing, again and again! It felt SO GOOD. It was as though a piece of who I used to be was breaking through (I was still there!) and as I looked around the theater, my mom was laughing too. We could still laugh!
The following year consisted of countless times being gently pulled from class after sobbing at my desk uncontrollably, along with more sobbing on my bedroom floor, in my parked car, walking down the street and just about every single place I went. But also that same year, I remember passionately immersing myself in art, feeling the beautiful relief of the salty ocean air spraying on my face on my morning run, and the excited fear, nervousness and wonder of starting my first year in college.
That year I learned that happiness and pain could co-exist, and the only way I could truly survive through the suffering was to let in the joy. And to not only let it in, but welcome it fully and completely.
At the end of our first year without Ryan, my mom, dad and sister and I spent the holidays in Hawaii. We laughed, enjoyed the sun, tried (and failed) at surfing, and marveled at the beautiful sunsets. The pain was still there, but mixed in with the enjoyment, beauty and love of the world we still lived in, and I began to see that my being here still was a privilege that I would not take for granted.
Since then, I have experienced many more challenges and heartbreaks, including the pain of loss again and again with sudden deaths of several more family members that I loved dearly, as well as the internal challenge of trusting and honoring myself to come out to my friends and family as gay, and the fear and overwhelm of choosing to build a career around doing what I truly love, and starting my own business.
And yet through it all both then and now, I hold a lightness and power inside of me still, that I cherish and treasure beyond anything else.
Through these experiences I’ve learned that I can always access and choose joy, and that this sacred practice of allowing myself to feel happiness alongside the pain is what gives me the strength to overcome anything that comes my way.
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Camille Kelley is a coach for business owners, entrepreneurs and leaders looking to release the stress, overwhelm and burnout of the “hustle” and step into flow so that they can experience more magic, play and fun while creating bigger and better results by doing less. Camille uses a unique mix of EFT/tapping, creativity practices, and personal styling along with traditional coaching to guide her clients to overcome fears, blocks and challenges in order to step into their most powerful, vibrant selves.