Shifting Suffering into Gratitude: Go Upside Down

“Instead of complaining that the rose bush is full of thorns, be happy the thorn bush has roses.” ~Proverb

They sound so cliché, sayings like, “There’s always a silver lining” or “Look on the bright side” or “there’s a positive to every negative.” Whenever struggle or suffering showed up in my life, those key expressions seemed to flow out of the mouths of family and friends.

That’s not to say they aren’t helpful. Sure, it helps a little to hear my best friend say, “It’s going to be ok,” when I spilled water all over my computer and lost everything—everything! Or my Mom consoles me with, “There is always next time,” when another job interview did not pan out.

And hey, I’ll admit, I—as a social worker, yoga instructor, friend, daughter, sister, and partner—have used these cliché phrases to encourage others when they’re in a place of sadness and hopelessness. These go-to phrases become the ticket to help a friend, a family member, or a loved one out of a bind.

But sometimes, those comforting sayings just fall short. The pain, stress, and agony of whatever situation just feel too big for those words.

Recently, I found myself swimming in a pool of suffering. In the midst of a painful break-up, I was not only ending a loving and supportive relationship but leaving a comfortable and friendly community as well.

For the past 10 months, my boyfriend and I have been living and working in Costa Rica. And as my contract teaching English ended, planning the next chapter in our lives began.

Unfortunately, “following your heart” doesn’t guarantee your boyfriend’s heart is going in the same direction.

Where was the silver lining now? What positive could possibly be around the corner from the negative of losing someone I love? How was everything going to be “ok” since my employment was up and I didn’t have a job secured? Where was the bright side? I couldn’t help but wonder. And stress. And wonder some more.

Not until I prepared to teach a yoga class did I find some inspiration.

With a little bit of reading, a glimpse of light flickered at the end of my seemingly dark tunnel— one of those dark, scary, no-hope-in-sight kinds of tunnels.

The focus of my yoga class: headstands. In a headstand, we literally stand on our heads; we invert our bodies.

To invert, by definition, means to turn upside down, inside out, and reverse the position, order, or relation.

Going deeper, to invert also suggests: to make different, to cause a transformation.

So here I was, in the middle of my yoga class, physically upside down. There is no doubt: in a headstand, the world looks completely different.

And then, I found myself fully engaged in the process of awaking up to the silver lining. As I spent those two minutes in headstand position, my physical, mental, and emotional perspective shifted.

Going upside down gave me the opportunity to see my world differently.

The concept of impermanence, the idea that nothing lasts forever, immediately flashed into my awareness.

So here’s another one of those good, ole fashioned sayings: “All good things must come to an end.”

Rather than focusing on the end of things—the relationship, my job, time spent in the paradise of Costa Rica—I could now allow myself to focus on something different.


Transforming my suffering into gratitude helped me see how lucky I was to have these experiences in the first place. In this moment, I see the break-up as a year and a half filled with love, laughter, and growth. Now I understand that I will leave Costa Rica with incredible memories, new friends, and another home—one that I can always return to.

Physically changing my experience helped me change my mental and emotional experience as well.

When we allow ourselves to see the same thing differently, the suffering and pain, the worry and stress, the sadness and hopelessness disappear.

When we give ourselves the chance to focus on what we’ve gained, what we’ve learned, or what we can take with us into the future, we cause a transformation.

Reversing the position, order, or relation of our thoughts and emotions could be as easy as going upside down.

So when we hear, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” we can invert that sadness into happiness—and gratitude. We can walk away from that experience seeing the roses rather than the thorns.

Photo by lululemon athletica

About Ilene Solomon

Ilene Solomon, LMSW, is an adventurous free spirit who loves to travel, write, practice and teach yoga. She is passionate about discovering the innate peace and strength within herself and empowering children, families, and communities to do the same. Learn more about Ilene at http://about.me/ilenesolomon.

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