Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried,
but you’ve actually been planted. Bloom.
I heard this quote, or some version of it, in a podcast today and it felt like the truest thing I’d ever been told.
I don’t know who the author is, or what specific thing she was speaking about. But haven’t we all felt that darkness at some point? When tragedy after disaster strikes. When little things and big things pile up on top of you, leave you choking underneath. When you think you can’t take one more thing, and then the knife twists.
Often, almost magically, once we make it through the dark times and to the other side, we get clarity of hindsight. We see things differently from the rearview. We conclude it all had to happen just the way it did to get where we are now. We look back and see turning points, epiphanies, rather than the suffering and gloom we felt then.
With Daylight Savings ending this weekend in most of US, the mornings are brighter, but the darkness comes earlier. The days are short, and it can feel like we rarely see a glimpse of sun. For many of us this affects our mood, exacerbates the darkness we might be feeling around this time already. When the weather turns cold, with the holidays approaching.
This quote seemed timely. After hearing it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Which is why, sitting down to write some new flight attendant content for the blog, I find myself instead rambling about darkness and plants.
Bear with me, if you don’t mind, there is a point.
We can suffer less when we remember more.
When we can shift our focus from the darkness around us to the growth we will experience, things seem more manageable. We can make it. We’re on the way.
I’ve got four other related thoughts to keep in mind when the darkness comes. No expert advice, just things I’m working on remembering in my own life. Sorry to any originalists, this is not a travel or flight attendant post. But I do hope it’s helpful. If you’re feeling buried right now—by work, by grief, anxiety, or a big old pile of life, read on. I hope this quote and the rest of this post might give you some comfort.
Here is my totally unsolicited advice:
4 Things to Keep in Mind When You’re Buried Alive
1. You don’t grow the most beautiful flower by dumping the most water.
Plants need water. Humans need love. And our goals require work. But there is a balance to all of this that is so much easier to see in a houseplant than in our own lives.
I struggle with overwhelm and an unhealthy relationship with productivity. It is an almost daily fight that saps my good feelings and makes it hard to breathe.
I have so many passion projects. So many big goals. And what feels like not enough time to accomplish them all. I get blue sometimes that I haven’t done it yet. That I’m not further along. Lament the years of wasted time in my past. (Anyone else know this feeling?)
And so, I work. In the morning, late into the night. Adding tasks and thinking “If there were just one more day in the week” that everything would be fine.
This is my buried. Trying to white-knuckle my way into accomplishment and success.
The funny thing about creative work is that you can’t force it with militant scheduling or get extra credit for the struggle you endure. I’ve come to realize (and I’m trying to keep in mind) that my brain needs some downtime to foster creative ideas. That I need to actually live a little to find the material for my next big writing project. That maybe my work could bloom more if I did less.
If there are any other productivity-obsessed folx out there, you know this is easier said than done. But having the thought is the first step. And then we try.
This is not just a tip for balancing work. It can be about anything in our lives.
Take romantic relationships. You don’t cultivate the best relationship by putting every drop of your energy into it. Or holding on tightly so it doesn’t slip away. That’s how you drown it. Just like the plant.
And if you are constantly thinking about how you feel, especially when that feeling is negative, you’re drowning you, too.
Do not mistake this for toxic positivity. I’m not suggesting you be positive at all. You don’t have to smile or laugh or think happy thoughts to take this suggestion.
Just be aware.
When you are in pain, it can color everything in your life. And if that’s what you’re watering it can easily take over. Obsessing, squeezing tightly to your idea of how things should be. Reminding yourself constantly of wrongs you’ve suffered and pain you feel makes it impossible to see the glimmers of good and the opportunities along the way.
Feel your feelings. Lay in bed for a while, stare at the ceiling. And then, when you’re ready, get up. And when you do, try watering something else.
Holding on lightly, watering intentionally, and giving space to grow are not only best practices for plants.
We take care not to overwater these guys. But our own issues?
2. It doesn’t have to make sense.
One way to stay spinning in misery is trying to assign meaning to every bad thing that happens in our lives. Wishing to go back and change a thought or action or something we said. Wishing to go back to avoid being hurt. Wishing to go back to the before times and just hope it all unfolds differently. We want to know why someone hurt us. How someone could do what they did. How we could have avoided heartache. Failure. What was the point of it all?
The thing is, no matter how many times we wonder and regret and bemoan, we’re not entitled to these answers. It doesn’t have to make sense now and maybe it never will.
For me, in times of strife, it helps to imagine there is greater meaning that I will discover later. When my suitcase was stolen out of my car, along with my laptop and three days’ worth of stuff, I brainstormed reasons this could have happened. Perhaps if I’d taken my car to work, I would have been in a terrible car accident that morning.
I bought a new car recently that I really like. It has so many upgraded features that my old car didn’t. All wheel drive, heated seats, navigation, and a panoramic sunroof. “The only way it could be better—” I told a friend, “Is if it had tan leather seats.” (It has black cloth interior.)
Just days after I’d made the purchase, a car salesman from another dealership texted me about a new car they had available. It was my exact car. But with tan leather seats and 15,000 fewer miles. I wasn’t about to beat myself up for not waiting around for this “perfect” car to enter my life. And I wasn’t going to be miserable about the otherwise awesome car I had already purchased (and spent a lot of money on.) So, instead, I pondered imaginary meanings that could make it make sense. Maybe this car was more expensive than the one I bought. Maybe it was over budget and would have been a poor financial decision. Maybe it was driven by a smoker, and I wouldn’t have been able to stand the smell inside of it.
Sometimes building imaginary meaning for seemingly negative things can help us to feel better. And if it does, you should do it.
But there’s something else that can make us feel better too. Or at least less obsessed.
It doesn’t have to make sense. Today or ever. Life is composed of events. Babies are born and people die, buildings burn, and love is made. People get sick, and people change. Disasters strike and markets crash. Events are just events. We feel the way we feel about them because we’re human.
Sometimes trying to find meaning in the “bad” things that have happened to you keeps you standing in the dark longer than you need to be. Screaming “Why?” into the abyss.
But what could we do, knowing there does not have to be meaning to every detail or event? We could accept things as they are. We could move on more quickly or hold on, but lightly. We could be free.
Perhaps when you begin to bloom and stretch your leaves, you’ll look back upon the soil and understand the meanings of all the things. And perhaps, you’ll conclude that life was simply happening around you.
3. The sun shines in Seattle and It rains in San Diego
Not one of us anywhere is entitled to a life free of suffering. Being a human is painful sometimes. It is part of the deal. And of course, we all know this from experience. Yet, still, in the moments of pain we rail against reality, wish our feelings away. We try to numb them with alcohol, drugs, romantic partners who aren’t right for us, or with work. We think we should not have to suffer so terribly. Then, we feel shame for thinking this, knowing others have it worse than us.
What if instead we reminded ourselves that “Pain is a part of being human.” Gave ourselves a nudge of compassion and encouragement in those dark times. Remembered that we are part of something bigger, that there is a species-wide bond that holds us together. We are all only human.
Next time you’re enveloped in pain, try saying to yourself:
“All humans experience pain. I am going through one of those moments now.”
“It appears I am experiencing being human right now.”
Or something along those lines.
I know it sounds silly and embarrassing. But reminding yourself of this fact can help you to get through the moments of suffering. Knowing that you are on the team, and that we all, no matter our circumstance, will feel it too at one point or another.
The other thing to keep in mind is that everything is relative. And we could not experience joy if we did not have something to compare it against. Our bright, shining moments light up in contrast to the dark ones. We need both to have either.
If you are feeling buried, know the sun is still shining. You will get back to it eventually.
The human condition comes with pain.
4. Nothing is Wasted
You’ve heard it a million times, just like I have. And yet, here we are, being human and hardly believing it when the time comes.
Failing at work will teach you resilience. Can teach you how to tweak your strategy to do things better. Losing your family might just open your eyes to the friends you have in your corner, loving and supporting you. Losing relationships may just show you how strong you can be on your own. May propel you to hold your own hand as you step forward toward the next right thing. Death and sickness can remind us to appreciate life.
In the past, the wrong job taught you skills you didn’t have before. Even if the skill was just getting by. The wrong partner taught you what you don’t want and won’t accept. Broken friendships and past relationships can show you things about yourself you wouldn’t have seen on your own. Things that don’t make you proud, and ways you’d like to do better. Having gone through the pain of addiction, picking up the pieces of your life can feel painful. But what a way to blow your own fucking mind by carrying on and making it through. By living in a way that makes you proud. By being of service to others simply by being yourself.
Sometimes the darkest days and the lowest lows are what fuel us to change. We are creatures of comfort. It is being in the most uncomfortable position that finally convinces us to move.
If you are sitting in darkness, know it does not have to last forever, and it does not have to be for nothing. You are learning and improving, you are preparing to bloom, even if you can’t see it yet.
And that’s all for today. Those are my four tips for when you feel like you’re being buried alive. (Whew, that was a heavy one!)
Thanks for humoring me in this foray into the thought work I’ve been practicing. I swear I’ll get back to regularly scheduled flight attendant and travel content in the coming weeks. But taking a pause for reflection every now and again is important, especially, I think, in times of changing seasons and circumstance.
If you were feeling a bit doom and gloom before, if you know what it is to feel buried, I hope this encourages a shift in perspective or at least makes you feel less alone.
Wishing you all a happy weekend, a delicious extra hour of sleep, and the biggest, brightest blooms.
Hey you! Yes, you!
Thanks for stopping by. I’m Toni, and I run the show here at A Wheel in the Sky. Here, we take on a lot of personal growth topics like this one, but we also talk travel and all things #FlightAttendantLife. If you’re interested in insider travel tips and juicy personal posts, please consider subscribing!
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