How embracing a low point in life can help you grow stronger  - SmartBrief

All Articles Leadership Inspiration How embracing a low point in life can help you grow stronger 

How embracing a low point in life can help you grow stronger 

We can all hit a low point in our lives. LaRae Quy offers five ways to embrace and explore hard times to emerge stronger than before.

11 min read

InspirationLeadership

low point

Kobus Louw/Getty Images

My first low point in life arrived after I graduated from college and found myself working at a mindless job. I hated my life and wanted to change it, but how? 

At first, I thought it was depression, but what I was experiencing stirred something deep within my soul. It felt like growth at a subterranean level, so deep and dark that I couldn’t name it, and yet it created a yearning, a reminder that I had settled for something that would never make me happy. It spurred me into action as I fought back to the surface. Soul-searching, a transformative process, left me forever changed, and for the better. 

After we’ve been around the block a few times, it comes as no surprise that our best growth spurts can be painful. We instinctively know that we’ll emerge from the fiery depths of a low point, a stronger person — whether it’s moving away from an unhealthy relationship, quitting a job or taking a stand for something we believe to be true.

I went back to school to get my master’s degree at Arizona State University, and during this time, I was recruited to be a Special Agent with the FBI. Several years later, however, I experienced another disconnect from the work that once gave me joy and meaning. I began questioning my life’s purpose, and this challenging period left me full of doubt and confusion — again! 

The discomfort was impossible to ignore, but now I realize that this low point in my life was pushing me toward seeking deeper meaning and spiritual fulfillment. After 24 years as a Special Agent in the FBI, I retired and pursued a graduate degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Personal paradigm shifts that produce low points can happen at any time in life but can also be an effective catalyst for self-discovery. One study on midlife transitions found that this significant period can spark periods of questioning, reflection and personal growth. A newfound self-awareness can be the foundation for building a more authentic and fulfilling life.

A dark night of the soul

The first writings about the Dark Night of the Soul come from John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic and Carmelite monk in the 16th century. He was a guy who liked to think outside the box, so the church promptly imprisoned him for eight years because of his beliefs. 

During this time, he wrote “Dark Night Of The Soul,” recounting his experiences with spiritual darkness. For him, the dark night was a painful period that revealed profound truths about himself — the good, the bad and the ugly. 

It’s a blow to our egos to see ourselves as we really are and not as the heroes we’d like to be. Whether that vision of ourselves resembles a Marvel comic character or a knight in shining armor, real heroism requires us all to find the treasure of our true selves and to share that treasure with others — through expressing who we really are. To the degree that we do so, our lives are transformed.

Most people confuse their life situation, the flow of everyday events, with their true identity — this deeper discovery is essentially what religious people mean by “finding their soul.” A dark night experience happens when we hit a low point in life. It’s not depression, but it can produce misery that requires us to divest ourselves of illusion and ego because, beneath the surface, a transformation of self is taking place. But like every dark night, the light of day is sure to follow. 

The key is to explore and embrace the phase you’re in. Here is how embracing a low point in life can help you grow stronger:

1. Awakened discontent

A dark night happens when we are not living in alignment with our authentic selves. Many of us go to great lengths to maintain the public image we want to project. To move beyond this means, we have to shed heavy layers of pretense, goals and superficial ideas of who we are beneath the surface. 

It’s coming to terms with the fact that we haven’t truly applied ourselves and have more to offer the world. There is an awakened discontent when we realize that we’re headed down the wrong path. The ego loves to feed fantasy, but a low point represents a brutal confrontation with reality, and often, the reality is a much different animal than what you’d hoped for or expected. 

The goals you’ve pursued might align with your ego’s desires and fantasies, but they may not resonate with your authentic and spiritual self. Instead, you question the meaning of your life and face the deep questions around your mortality.

This realization came to me during both experiences with a dark night. I was forced to acknowledge that something was no longer working. It may take some time. It’s difficult to put a number on the duration of a dark night because it depends from person to person.

But here’s what you need to know: the journey is yours and will unfold in its own time. The focus should be on the process and the growth it brings rather than the time it takes.

How to make it work for you:

  • If you are experiencing a low point that looks like a dark night of the soul, recognize and accept it for what it is.  
  • Make an effort to face what is bubbling to the surface. Keep your heart open and remember that the restlessness is really only your authentic self trying to get your attention.
  • When you are in the thick of your emotions, observe them rather than label them as bad or good.
  • Seek advice from a spiritual teacher, counselor or friend whose wisdom and life experience you trust.

2. Face the shadow

“You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he’s afraid to close his eyes.”The Matrix 

In this movie, The Oracle shares this thought-provoking insight with the protagonist, Neo, during one of their conversations. It reminds us that sometimes it’s healthy to question our perceptions and beliefs rather than passively accept them. 

If we lose our sense of direction, it can be good if that direction is not ours.  So many of us follow goals and plans that were the brainchild of parents, teachers, family, friends and childhood conditioning. 

When you face the shadow, it often means that you’re not following a script written by someone else for the first time in your life — you’re creating your own. External forces are losing power over you, and you’re reconnecting with your inner spirit, the authentic you.

When we hit a low point in life, it can turn into a dark night because it represents a time of transformation. We acknowledge our doubts, confusion and soul-searching to explore beyond the surface and seek a more authentic way to be in the world.

When we face the shadow, we face aspects of ourselves that we try to hide. Unfortunately, as well as hiding the less desirable parts, we inadvertently hide the good stuff, including our true spirit and hidden talents.

How to make it work for you:

  • Cultivate the practice of mindfulness, and let your thoughts and feelings pass without judging them. Remember, you are not your thoughts; it’s not your thoughts themselves that bring things to fruition; it’s your actions.
  • Ask your pain, “What are you here to teach me?  What lessons do I need to learn?” 
  • Know that everything happens for a reason and in divine time. Permit yourself to be, to feel, to know yourself and to recognize what is really being shown to you.

3. Identify trigger events

I cannot explain the depths of despair and hopelessness that enveloped me during my low points. These emotions were not the result of a health crisis, death, or divorce. They were made up of the small things—life stuff

Low points in life are always triggered by something. It could be a series of events or just one, but these events always shake up our world. We experience various emotions; it can be a scary and overwhelming set of circumstances where everything seems to fall apart, and our emotions spiral out of control.

At this point, our ego raises hell with us because it wants to remain in the driver’s seat. So, we blame others for our situation, followed closely by resentment and anger. The ego will do almost anything to claw its way back into control.

Both times, I found myself hitting bottom, it was so terrible that I vowed I would learn the lesson, whatever the “lesson” was or how hard, so I wouldn’t have to go through the same experience again. And in both cases, I evolved spiritually, emotionally and psychologically. 

How to make it work for you: Remember these words:

  • Life is hard.
  • Pain is inevitable.
  • Growth is optional. 

4. Discover life’s purpose

The dark night is aptly named because we lose sight of those visible or material things we once clung to because they provided us with a sense of safety or an assurance that we were on the right track. 

It’s not the suffering itself that’s necessary; it’s what you learn from it. That’s the point of the dark night of the soul — facing hidden aspects of yourself so you can shed old patterns and beliefs that no longer serve you.

When we enter a period of personal growth, we need to change our priorities. This can often mean letting go of things and not tethering ourselves to possessions, bank accounts or career status. It may also mean that we’ve come to a place in life where we yearn to shape ourselves into the person we’re destined to be.

For me, emerging from my first low point in life gave me the confidence to return to school and find a career that would help me grow into my potential. This got me back on track, and I enjoyed a long and satisfying career in the FBI. The second time came twenty-four years later when I realized I was ready to take the next step in my spiritual journey. These low points were difficult, but they were also some of my greatest gifts. 

How to make it work for you:

  • Listen to your inner wisdom.
  • Resist pointing fingers and blaming others.
  • Focus on small choices that align with the person you’re becoming.
  • Take time to rebuild your sense of self.

5. Embrace spirituality

Sometimes a low point in life is just that — because crap happens. It’s a difficult time in life without grace, liberation or a stronger sense of direction. It just plain sucks. Other times, it can lead to the grace of self-knowledge, a heightened sense of closeness to the Holy or deepened faith and trust.  

When we’re in the middle of the muddle, we often can’t recognize the difference between the two. But if the experience leaves us more aware of the deeper currents of our lives, we frequently have more clarity because at our deepest center is where the Holy One lives, a place where neither evil nor intellect can interfere.

Spirituality encourages people to explore what builds the human spirit. There’s a distinction between religion and spirituality: we can change our religion while at the same time retaining our spirituality. Religion is a specific path to God or a higher being, while spirituality is the direct experience of God or a higher being.

Of course, we’ve all met that person who wants to be their own God. That usually works just fine while everything goes their way, but the well goes dry when they’re hit with death, trauma or adversity, and they have only themselves to believe in. They lack belief in a power that is bigger, better and more powerful than themselves. 

Scientists have found that the brains of people who spend time in prayer or meditation are different from others who do not. Neuroplasticity allows us to rewire and change our brains with experience and training. The more we focus on something, whether it’s math or God, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of our brain.

Many of us experience a dark night because we’ve been searching for answers to life’s more significant questions, even if we haven’t acknowledged them to ourselves. This yearning is the foundation for our motives and the energy behind our goals and behavior. We instinctively move toward truth and beauty. 

How to make it work for you:

  • Spend time alone. 
  • Meditate. Pray.
  • Begin a daily practice of gratitude.
  • Seek out communities that will help you grow spiritually.
  • Write simple, short expressions of gratitude for the things in your life. When you express gratitude, it wires your brain to feel extra thankful.

 

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.

____________________________________

Take advantage of SmartBrief’s FREE email newsletters on leadership and business transformation, among the company’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.