Is It Possible to Feel Joyful When Things Are Falling Apart?

by | Jun 13, 2021 | Health anxiety, Highly Sensitive Person, Intrusive Thoughts | 8 comments

Highly sensitive people are highly aware of the state of our worlds, both inner and outer. As such, when it feels like things are falling apart – as it’s felt like for a while but has been amplified and accelerated since covid began last year – we can veer toward pessimism and hopelessness. And we might also struggle with guilt: How can I feel joyful when there’s so much pain in the world? How can I claim goodness when there’s so much pain? These are questions I’m asked every day in my work.

Of course, it’s not only the world’s problems that brings tears to the hearts of the highly sensitives; it’s the personal struggles of our children; the ache of friends; the conflict with partners; and, of course, the challenges of our own minds, which are wired toward anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and worry. Highly sensitive people are lightning rods that feel not our own pain but also to everyone around us, including the broader community. We’re also aware that, to some extent, things are always falling apart, for it’s the highly sensitives who are highly attuned to the fact that loss and change form the very fabric of our existence. What we’re less aware of because we haven’t been taught how to breathe and dance through the loss and change, is that joy is part of the fabric as well.

In the absence of these mindsets and practices, our small mind, which is rooted in control, believes that if it does everything right both internally and externally – if I do enough inner work and partner with the “right” person and eat the “right” food and have the “right” body and do the “right” compulsions – I’ll be happy. Perpetually happy. I’ll erase pain and live in the state of happily ever after that popular culture has promised me.

But our wise minds know this isn’t possible. Grief and fear and loss and vulnerability will never end; it’s part of our existence as humans. My son will always fly planes, and I’ll always need to lean into the practices that catch my fear so that I can support his joy. There will always be risk of illness, both my own and the people I love, and I’ll always need to rest in the hammock of prayers that hold the vulnerability so that I can return to trust. My kids will grow up and drive and fly away and leave, which means there will always be the risk and reality of loss, and I’ll always need to turn to my deep of well of Self that serves as a North start that I can rely on to navigate the ever-changing seas of love and life. Loss will always exist: the day will end, summer will end, another year of my life will culminate in a birthday that will contain both loss and joy.

And there will always be pain in the world. While I do believe that we’re on an upward trajectory that will land us on a kinder, more tolerant, more just planet – “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr as inspired by abolitionist Theodore Parker) – the simple fact that death will always exist means that pain will always exist.

It would be easy to turn away from the world’s pain, and to some degree we must safeguard our minds and protect ourselves from knowing every bit of pain that exists in every corner of the world. But we can’t over-protect, for that isolates us from one of the elements that makes us most human: our compassion. And so I lean into the practices of the heart, tending to my grief which, paradoxically, also opens pathways to joy. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes in The Book of Joy when a reader asks how to find joy in the midst of such large world problems:

“You show your humanity by how you see yourself not as apart from others but from your connection to others. I have frequently wept about the world’s problems… Yes, be appalled. It would be awful if we looked on all that horrendousness and we said, Ah, it doesn’t really matter. It’s so wonderful that we can be distressed. That’s part of the greatness of who we are – that you are distressed about someone who is not family in any conventional way. It’s incredible how compassionate and generous people can be.”

He’s talking about our interconnectedness – that we are one human family and we have this stunning capacity for compassion. The more sensitive you are, the more compassion you’ll feel, and then we need to learn what to do with that compassion so that it doesn’t paralyze us and we can continue to take action is whatever ways that allow our gifts to flow into our world.

What are these ways?

We grow a daily roadmap of simple and meaningful practices that allow us to root into reliable anchors that catch the uncertainty and open our hearts to grief, itself a pathway to joy. I know of no other way to live a life of fullness and well-being.

Without these practices, we stumble and fall into the grip of worry and intrusive thoughts, those elusive and compelling places that give us the illusion of control. We may develop unhealthy rituals in our attempt to find certainty. But these don’t work, and they ultimately land us in more fear and confusion.

In our ritual-bereft and grief-phobic culture, we grow up in the absence of healthy roadmaps and practices, which is why I created Grace Through Uncertainty. Through this course, I teach you how to find your own healthy footholds and what “spiritual practice” actually means (it’s different than religion) so that you can weep and dance and sing and practice gratitude in ways that are meaningful for you. And from there, from a full well of Self, you serve the world.

If you struggle with a fear of loss…

If you struggle with health anxiety…

If you struggle with intrusive thoughts, at the core of which is the need for certainty…

If you struggle with feeling guilty about your blessings…

If you struggle with knowing how to metabolize the pain of the world in a way that leads to joy and contributes to healing…

…and you would like to learn how to create a practice that can help you channel the fear of loss and need for uncertainty into grace and gratitude, I invite you to join me for this fourth live round of Grace Through Uncertainty. The course will start on June 19th, 2021, it’s filling fast, and I look forward to connecting with you there.

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Following are the call times for this live round. Please note that only about 1/4 of the participants are able to make the live calls and that the recordings will be available immediately after the call.

Call 1: Tuesday June 22 at 5pm ET

Call 2: Thursday July 1 at 12 noon ET

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PS: If you missed the most recent episode of the Gathering Gold podcast on morning and growing morning practices, you can find it here. 

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8 Comments

  1. I signed up for it last week. I think I’ll be able to make the call on the 22nd. Not sure about the 1st, cause that’s 6am here (and my birthday).

    What you said about one human family totally resonated with me, and made me think about something. I don’t know if this is going to sound weird or not, so I’ll preface it by saying, I feel like I’ve had this ability my whole life to connect deeply with people, not just if they’re part of my immediate family. Of course I connect deeply to my immediate family, but I connect deeply to people I don’t even know. For example, in 2011 while watching the NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament, there was a player on Gonzaga that I really liked, and that team had an underdog run and got all the way to the Elite Eight, where they lost to Stanford. Now, I like Stanford, but I had really wanted Gonzaga to win and I cried when they lost, especially cause that player was a Senior. Now she plays for the Chicago Sky in the WNBA and just broke some kind of assist record last year, so it all turned out very well for her, but it was just one of those things where I got totally invested in someone’s story and cried when it didn’t work out. I guess my point is that, we seem to have this attitude in the culture that if immediate family and relatives, or people that you spend every day with, are the only ones you should be invested in. But shouldn’t everyone be invested in everybody? Like, sometimes the argument against better health insurance in the US is people don’t want to have to pay for someone else’s healthcare. But my question is always “why? If you’re able, why?” I don’t feel like I’m explaining it very well, but my bigger point is, I think we should treat everyone like they’re family (assuming you love your family), instead of finding every which way to separate purse from each other.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Riley, and I look forward to connecting on the course.

      Reply
  2. Hi Sheryl! I volunteer to be one of your first scholarship participants for this course! HA! Kidding. Though, I plan to save and take it next time around. The way you write, and vocally explain/express the many struggles of anxiety, are spot on and your words, and deep understanding of it give me hope! Someday, I will be able to learn alongside you and put this into practice!

    Reply
    • I look forward to seeing you there :).

      Reply
  3. Thanks for such a beautiful post Sheryl explaining so clearly the reality of life. It comes at a perfect time for me. Altho I am now much calmer & peaceful internally thro councelling & your posts I’m struggling with 2 external things I cant control. A dear friend is terminally ill & nearing the end of her life ……. & I am facing estrangement from my brother, after many years of a toxic relationship that has caused me so much hurt. I feel loss deeply & any tips on bereavement and family estrangement would be welcomed. Thank you for sharing your wisdom x

    Reply
    • I too am dealing with grief after the sudden loss of my father and now estrangement with my brother. It’s all so very painful and I am desperate for some relief from all of the hurt lately.

      Reply
      • Sending you both love and hugs as you navigate your grief. I have many posts on grief, and I highly recommend the book The Wild Edge of Sorrow.

        Reply
  4. ♥️

    Reply

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