Around this little corner of the internet, we often discuss the yin and yang of life. The light and the dark. The joy and the pain. The go-go-go and the slow down. We’ve seen how these yin and yang forces are more complementary than opposing.
This same concept brings us to a reality of humanness—the duality of life, I call it—which can look like this:
The worst day for someone can be the best day for someone else.
- One family loses their dream house due to a foreclosure. That house goes on the market and becomes another family’s dream house they otherwise couldn’t have afforded.
- One man dies and his heart is donated; one man lives because of that donated heart.
- One woman places her baby for adoption; another woman is finally able to have a baby because of the first woman’s adoption placement choice.
Throughout our lives, we will be on both sides of this equation. Sometimes the “unfairness” of life tips in our favor, and sometimes it leaves us crushed and devastated.
Either way, how we respond to these scenarios is how we grow, how we step into our full humanity, and how we gain valuable skills like empathy and resilience.
When Good Things Happen…Pay It Forward
If we are on the receiving end of goodness at somebody else’s expense, we must first and foremost see the humanity in the situation and show empathy, gratitude, and humility. Our job, then, becomes finding ways to pay it forward. Here are just a few ideas based on the examples above:
- When you have been on the receiving end of a “housing miracle,” you can put efforts into organizations that help those in your community with housing instability.
- When you or your loved one is a successful organ transplant recipient, you can donate to the hospital or a donor network.
- When you adopt a baby, you could consider volunteering at or offering resources to a local women’s shelter or a children’s program.
In my own life, when we adopted our daughter, we chose an open adoption. We decided this would give our child more choices and answers as she grew up, but we also felt it acknowledged the humanity of her birth mother by allowing her to see updated photos and have other forms of contact. As long as this is something they both want, our adopted child and her birth mother have the opportunity to stay connected.
When Bad Things Happen…Reframe & Find Meaning
If you are the one who has had an awful thing happen to you, you may want to reframe your misfortune, and try to find meaning. I’m not saying reframing is easy, or even possible, in the rawest of moments. Reaching out to a therapist, a community mental health center, or possibly a national hotline (here’s a list of hotlines and associations) could help in this pursuit.
Even if it is a stretch, we can do our best to draw something meaningful out of a horrible experience.
- When you have been on the receiving end of a “housing devastation,” perhaps your new neighborhood connects you to someone who becomes important in your life.
- When your loved one has died and donated an organ, their lasting impact might light a spark in you–for meaningful volunteer work, a creative project, or a new perspective on life.
- When you have given your baby to someone else, it is time to prioritize yourself, your needs and wants; focus on your safety, stability and self-sufficiency, practice gentle self-care, and surround yourself with loving and supportive people.
I do understand the complex nuance of this. After all, the entire reason I’m here talking to you all as a therapist is because at my very lowest, while receiving therapy for severe postpartum depression and anxiety, I looked at my therapist and thought, “Some day, I want to have your job.” This idea didn’t suddenly move from misery to meaning. But a seed was planted. And out of my lowest moment came a career that has fulfilled me tremendously.
The Duality of Life : When Life Is Unfair
Sometimes good things do not happen at the expense of another and bad things just happen in and of themselves. Sometimes life just happens. Someone important notices your creative project and your career takes off. A hurricane devastates your home. Your neighbor’s dog has a litter of puppies, and one of them becomes a lifelong friend. A cancer diagnosis shakes your family.
In these situations, the same principles apply. With gratitude, humility, and reverence, accept the goodness and find ways to pay it forward. With openness, hope, and even creativity, try to reframe the bad and, in time, find meaning and purpose.
- Book Recommendation: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
- Mantra: I am DUALITY // repeat with diaphragmatic breathing
- Yin Yoga Asana: Bridge Pose
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