Sitting in the pain of your life is part of the therapeutic process. It is really uncomfortable and takes a lot of courage. But the goal of doing therapy is not to stop being in pain. The goal is to find your true self and, in that experience, a deeper connection to life and the people you love. It’s simply to find joy.
How can we find joy?
One summer day while working in the garden with his young daughter Nikki, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman had, in his own words an epiphany. Seligman was meticulously freeing weeds with a trowel and neatly setting them aside in a discard pile. Nikki, being five, was just having fun. Weeds were flying up in the air, Seligman later said. Dirt was spraying everywhere.
The aim of positive psychology is to catalyze a change in psychology from preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities life.
If it isn’t clear from the above quotes the positive psychology movement has revolutionized the point of therapy. From the steely eyed psychologist of the 50’s and 60’s looking at their clients as objects to a relationally focused experience that brings the client and therapist into a field of interconnection today.
The shift has brought about the desire to create a growth experience for the client. This means helping the client to see their gifts and strengths through the pain they are currently struggling with.
Many clients tend to focus on what they are not doing well. It may be a lack of motivation, negative behaviors in their primary relationship, or problems being with their kids. It is important to help people to understand these behaviors and get a sense of what they can do to change them. However, it is equally important to identify how the client is successfully managing other parts of their lives.
The goal is to both illuminate the struggle while simultaneously magnifying the strengths.
The intrinsic self
A big part of helping the client is to get them in to a deeper connection with their intrinsic self. It is the basic understanding that we are, at the core, good and whole. Unfortunately for many years we have layered over this goodness with fear and psychological strategies to prove our worthiness. These strategies are what cause much of our pain and uncomfortable behavior in life.
Through increasing awareness these psychological masks are removed, and what emerges is who we are meant to be. This is the core of our being. We find this, not through effort, but through slowing down and listening deeply to ourselves.
What we find is that our awareness is who we really are and the emotions, thoughts and sensations that cause us so much suffering are only there to give us information but not to be identified with. I love the following quote by John Wellwood a contemplative psychotherapist:
The discovery of basic goodness can be likened to clarifying muddy water – an ancient metaphor from the Taoist and Buddhist traditions. Water is naturally pure and clear, though its turbulence may stir up mud from below. Our awareness is like that, essentially clear and open, but muddied with the turbulence of conflicting thoughts and emotions.
If we want to clarify the water, what else is there to do but let the water sit? Usually we want to put our hands in the water and do something with the dirt – struggle with it, try to change it, fix it, sanitize it – but this only stirs up more mud. “Maybe I can get ride of my sadness by thinking positive thoughts.” But then the sadness sinks deeper and hardens into depression. “Maybe I’ll get my anger out, show people how I feel.” But this only spreads the dirt around. The water of awareness regains its clarity through seeing the muddiness for what it is – recognizing the turbulence of thought and feeling as noise or static, rather than as who we really are. When we stop reacting to it, which only stirs it up all the more, the mud can settle (Wellwood, 2000).
Finding Your Joy
The joy of life comes from a deeper opening to our true self. When we find this place we can experience a more satisfying relationship to ourselves and to the people around us. It means letting go of the need to be something else and showing up as the person you truly are.
The joy of life is found in relationship with others. Even the desire to create something amazing can truly be felt in the sharing of the experience with someone else. How often have you accomplished something on your own but only felt its full glory when you could see it reflected in the eyes of someone who cares?
The irony is that in letting go of the need to be of worth to others we actually become of real value to ourselves and those around us. When we no longer have to be enough, but instead we believe we are enough, relationships flourish. This is the path to more joy in life.
How this shows up in my own life.
I personally know the pain of attempting to live my life through the needs and wants of others. I spent my childhood trying to be the good enough son and brother. After that it was trying to be the good enough partner and friend. My life was spent working hard to prove my worthiness.
As my inner work has continued some of these old strategies still pop up in my marriage and as a father. However, more and more I find myself watching the murky water of selfhood. In my awareness I can see that I’m not my thoughts, feelings or sensations and this provides an opportunity to be who I really am. I witness all that is happening and try to not identify with any of it. No longer grasping for happiness or pushing away the discomfort.
My connection to myself has continued to grow and I find my relationships flourishing. This isn’t perfection but a willingness to be in the joy and the discomfort of all that unfolds in my life. I don’t think I’m a failure when things go bad and a hero when things go well. I recognize that it is all fleeting and wonderful at the same time.
If you or someone you know wants to find a deeper connection to themselves I encourage you to reach out.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
Kotler, Steven & Wheal, Jamie. (2017). Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work. Dey Street Books, NewYork, NY.
Wellwood, John. (2000). Toward A Psychology Of Awakening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, And the Path Of Spiritual Transformation. Shambhala Publications, Boulder, CO.