I have a friend whose favourite theory is that Hell isn’t a place you go to when you die, it’s the place you go to live. And you get to do it over and over again, until you become a decent human being.
He’s fond of arguing that reincarnation is simply the re-taking of life’s exams. Then again, he’s also fond of arguing that the people who learn the fewest lessons in life are destined to live in Middlesbrough, so I’m not sure how much credence we can attach to his ramblings.
But if you ignore the religious context for a moment, there’s something of truth in the notion that life will continue to give you the same lesson until you finally learn it.
Giving in to human nature and casting ourselves as victims of life ‘continually’ might elicit more sympathetic hugs on Facebook, but it’s also a sure-fire way to guarantee missing the key lessons we should be learning.
That’s not to say that you can’t ever be a genuine victim. There will be times in our lives when we are victim to very painful & difficult experiences & we need support & genuine self compassion during those times. Some people go through life events that are so life-altering that they dwarf anything most us will ever experience and in those cases the trauma needs to be honoured and worked through with as much care, safety and time for healing as the person needs.
But recognising there are genuine victims among us also underlines the fact that many people find it easier and more convenient to play the ‘life’s got it in for me’ card. And there’s a big difference between the two.
When we stop asking why life is happening to us and instead focus our efforts on what it’s trying to teach us, life is instantly more rewarding. Just don’t expect it to stop throwing lessons at you, because part of the human condition is that we never stop evolving.
Relationships don’t always break down because the other person is a monster and it doesn’t happen because you’re ‘not good enough’. Sometimes they break down because you haven’t learned to value yourself enough, to make better choices, neither of you are really fully emotionally available or you are simply not compatible.
The business deal you were hoping for doesn’t collapse because life is out to get you, it collapses because you didn’t trust your gut giving you warning signs, or you got distracted by something else.
You’re not exhausted because you’re useless and can’t cope, you’ve hit the wall because you’ve spent all your time meeting the needs of others rather than prioritising and valuing your own time and space.
Becoming resigned to defeat – the mute acceptance that what happens to you is beyond your own control – is one of the most unhelpful and destructive emotional states.
What you allow will continue, and life is shaped by the choices we make.
One of the choices we always get to make is whether or not to examine our decisions and look for the patterns and context that drives them. That context often lies in our childhood experiences, and lifting the drain covers on the past isn’t always easy & takes courage.
Pain is a hard, often brutal, teacher, but a teacher nonetheless. The lessons can also be subtle, and we won’t always learn them at the first time of asking. In fact, sometimes the lesson we’re being taught is presented to us in different ways until we get it. And when we do get it, the next lesson arrives.
We learn to set better boundaries, how to honour ourselves, how to love ourselves, how to do ‘the next right thing’, how to let go with grace, how to heal from our childhood, how to make better choices, how to listen to our intuition (and, if need be, how to live and die by its sword).
Our subconscious actually understands all of this and gives us the tools we need to make the right choices. Anxiety, for example, is the subconscious telling us we need to change something, even if we don’t quite know at the time what that something might be.
Similarly, depression isn’t a card you just get dealt in life’s macabre game of chance or something you endure forever by gritting your teeth or upping your meds. It’s a sign that you need to work through things and express what’s going on, because depression is pain turned ‘inwards’, so you can find a way to heal your wounds, clear up your thinking and create a much, much better relationship with yourself.
Bad relationships are a sign that you need to love yourself more and understand why you’re unconsciously and endlessly re-creating your own trauma. Addiction isn’t about dependency, it’s about what happened in the past that makes you dependent.
But we can only take responsibility for change when we choose to get off the victim’s merry-go-round of self-blame (‘I’m not good enough’) and self-pity (‘why does this always happen to me?’). And actually inspiration to change is all around us. The world is full of amazing people who grew up with severe and complex trauma that was so completely disempowering that they decided their path could only be to become as personally powerful as possible. And I love that emotionally pioneering spirit.
When we suffer an emotional setback, it’s important that we let ourselves grieve & give ourselves adequate time & space to heal. But it’s also vital that we try not to lose the lesson. And once we’ve been supported to heal and we understand the lesson, we can make the right decision to move forward positively.
Most learning cycles become easier as we become more practiced at them, and so it’s not unreasonable to hope that eventually we stop learning through pain and learn through awareness instead.
We can choose to say no when we mean no and yes when we mean yes. Happiness is a currency earned, not a right given, and we earn it through consciousness and self-awareness, both of which help us to make better decisions.
Admittedly, the path of personal responsibility isn’t easy, and when we fail to learn its lessons, it can feel as though we’re being punished. But it guides us to self-healing, and self-esteem and personal growth.
However pretty the other paths look, misery lurks in the shadows. Even if they don’t lead to Middlesbrough.