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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.

Gratitude.

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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  • Danny

    This is such an inspiring message. I was for years a member of a very insular community and finally left. I have been experiencing tremendous suffering as a result, and have had these heavy feeling of guilt and stress. When I read this post it helped me realize that yes, there is good always to come out from a situation. I can choose to look at things as priceless experience or wasted time and agrivation. Thank you for putting out this message

  • Carmelo Bryan

    Thanks for sharing such a personal story. Putting yourself in another position physically helped you shift mentally and emotionally. It helps me realize that what happens outside of us is only a “situation” and our inner being can choose whatever reaction we want to have.

    Yet, we must be here to experience these emotions, these journeys, these situations. I think that every time we “see the light” as they say, we grow, we evolve, we raise our awareness and consciousness and that’s probably what it’s all about.

    Yes, gratitude for everything. Again, thanks for the perspective, Ilene.

  • Lashpal

    Thank you. Really if we learn to turn our sufferings into gratitude, we start living happy life. I lived many years of my life in pain and sufferings and when i start looking at them as a gift , I bow my head in gratitude. sometimes we did not understand the process.

  • Connie

    This was so inspirational! I really needed to read this today, it touched upon where I am in my life and how I need to see the things in my life with a different eye, or from another angle. Thank you…

  • Marcela

    Thanks so much!!! As usual, this message got to me in perfect timing 🙂 God bless you…

  • Snoopy

    Awesome! Inspirational!

  • Gbiemeret

    Wow! Incredible inspiration Ilene! You are amazing- and such a fantastic writer!

  • Saumya

    You are God sent! I was grappling with similar feelings about moving out of a situation that is seemingly “secure” and towards something that my heart tells me to do. To make matters worse, moving out from a place where you can go for a jog to the beach or cycle to an island or be part of a new culture didn’t make it easier. Well, NOW it does. Thanks.

  • mew

    thank you for this. i have been wondering whether this kind of perspective could still exist in the world today as we know it. (well some people might ask you, “what? you don’t look sad/down! you sure you’re not in denial?” and that can really make me think i “should” be sad and down in response to a certain event)

    thanks! i needed to read this, right now. 🙂 impeccable timing.

  • Thank you for your inspiring story!

    I think it’s amazing how our views about a situation can cause us either great pain, or tremendous joy. This is why I emphasize to our meditation students that they learn to see the world as it truly is, so that it doesn’t create pain and suffering in them.

    Charles A. Francis
    The Mindfulness Meditation Institute

  • Ilene, thanks for sharing your story of growth. It’s always encouraging to hear of people who are benefiting from gratitude. Also, I really like the rose proverb! “Instead of complaining that the rose bush is full of thorns, be happy the thorn bush has roses.”

    – Warren Shaeffer
    (Community Manager at Thankaday)

  • Ilene

    Thanks for your words Warren! I really connected with that proverb as well. Sometimes the simplest shift can lead to the biggest “a-ha.”

    All my best in our continued path of growth,
    Ilene

  • Ilene

    Thank you for you reading, Charles!

    In complete agreement with you: thoughts and feelings all stem from the way in which we see our experiences. Pain and suffering on the one hand; joy and gratitude on the other.

    Here’s to viewing the world from a place of light and love,
    Ilene

  • Ilene

    Everything unfolds as it should. So humbled that my experiences have helped you in someway as well.

    “Should”…that word can be so trapping. Honor what you’re truly feeling…and forget the rest. 🙂

    Best of luck in your journey,
    Ilene

  • Ilene

    Thank you so much! And thank you for your support!! Just here to help share and love.

  • Ilene

    Thank you Snoopy. Glad it helped bring some inspiration to you.

  • Ilene

    And God bless you, Marcela. You’re so right: everything comes in exactly the right moment.

    Sending more love and (virtual) support to you in your life’s journey,
    Ilene

  • Ilene

    Hi Connie. Thank you for your words. Seeing things with a different eye sometimes takes looking at it from another angle! 😉 So grateful that my experiences have helped you begin to shift. Honor what shows up!

    Much love to you in your current life space,
    Ilene

  • Ilene

    You are so right, Lashpal. Sometimes we don’t understand the process…especially if we’re stuck in the same position. That pain and suffering can trap us in our current view of life.

    Here’s to the courage, bravery, and openness it takes to look at our life experiences as gifts!

    Much gratitude to you,
    Ilene

  • Ilene

    Hi Carmelo,

    I couldn’t agree more: we’re here to experience it all! From the pain and suffering to the joy and gratitude. As humans, we’re blessed with the ability to live in the sticky parts of life and grow out and above it–changed, evolved, and “bigger” because of it.

    I appreciate your comments and insights so much. Thank you for your presence.

    Here’s to honoring what’s here and then shifting perspective to find out if there’s more to it.
    -Ilene

  • Ilene

    Danny, it’s my pleasure to share my personal experiences of shifting suffering to gratitude. Thank you, as well, for sharing your struggles and bravery.

    Of course, we have to feel that suffering first. Only then can we truly choose to move through it, past it, and above it.

    Best of luck in many more priceless experiences of growth,
    Ilene

  • Ilene

    I’m right here with you Saumya! 🙂 But we’ll always take those experiences with us…and can always come back to them (physically, emotionally, spiritually…).

    Thank you for your kind words. All the support in following your heart!
    -Ilene

  • Agreed! Here’s another one that gave me that “a-ha” sensation: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is today.”

  • Ilene

    Ah!! I love that! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Snoopy

    Ilene. Thanks again for your post. I have re-read it several times over the past month. Still as inspirational as the first time I read it. Can’t wait for your next post. Your family must be very proud of your accomplishments. 🙂

  • This article is long but worth reading. Life is not just about happiness and what makes it challenging is that we can’t always decipher the things that will happen next. You’re absolutely right! It is how you look at it — “Half empty or half full” — Thank you for sharing!