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Make Meaning Where You Can't Make Sense

Some things in life cannot be fixed; they can only be carried.”― Megan Devine, author of It's Ok that You're Not Ok

I spent many years trying to make sense of my psychological and circumstantial struggles — ever on the lookout for “signs” that would clue me into the reason for it all — the spiritual rationale, the big “why.” I felt this constant compulsion to attribute some bigger-picture, spiritual significance to all the things that tripped me up and knocked me down.

The search was painstaking, labor intensive, and ultimately yielded nothing too convincing or satisfying. One day I was sure I was meant to suffer, the next I was convinced that my intended destiny was nothing short of stellar. Either way, whatever happened, it felt personal. And I took it personally. And then of course, there was all the wasted time and energy spent searching for those ‘divine signs’ instead of working with the tools I had, to improve my circumstances.

Trying to make meaning out of pain, is very different from trying to find some inherent meaning in it.

Much as I’ve wanted to attribute some divine purpose to my particular challenges, I ultimately could not fathom that the forces in the universe were orchestrating elaborate schemes to encourage each of us to learn specific, painful lessons. It just seemed an unlikely cosmic scenario, not to mention a disempowering perspective — after all, if everything that happens is preordained then we are merely victims of fate, largely helpless and at the mercy of some very callous “powers-that-be.” Well...not too motivating!

Rather, it seems to me that there are opportunities to make meaning where we can’t make sense–whether through our relationships, creative expression, through the stories we tell, the way we engage with the world, what we say and what we give. Then too, are those universal life lessons we can take away from any hardship:

• To be more aware of our inner workings, our words, our actions–their source and
   their impact.

• To become more understanding and compassionate toward ourselves and

• To become more deeply appreciative of the good we do have.

• To keep giving ourselves opportunities to grow, even when it feels like a stretch

    Take this pandemic for instance...

    You'd be hard pressed to convince me that this pandemic is anything other than senseless. Tragedy always is. So what do we do with it? How do we position it in our minds, how do we give it context, meaning? Because ultimately, that's all we can do with tragedy. Try to give it meaning, give it some purpose. These are some questions I've asked myself to help me do that. Try to answer them for yourself and see what resonates most for you:

    • What is missing from your life now that you realize is of great value to you?

    • What is missing from your life that you now realize was either harmful or just unhelpful?

    • If you were to look back a year from now, how do you want to say you handled
      this crisis?

    • What have you learned about your own coping mechanisms and strengths?

    • What insights have you had about the key relationships in your life?

    • If you were to redefine your life based on what you've learned during this time,
      what would that look like? Start with three adjectives that describe what you
      want your life to feel like going forward.

        So here’s what I know..

        Whatever your spiritual beliefs, the bad stuff is not “meant to be”! Even if you’ve been convinced that your own burdens are divinely ordained, know that the only thing truly “meant to be” is that you use what you have–inside and outside of you–to heal and grow. To better yourself and better the world in whatever way comes naturally to you. Period.

        Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us — and those around us — more effectively. Look for the learning.” –Louisa May Alcott