A while ago, I began telling a friend about something that happened to me that really upset me. Her answer to me was: “It’s all for the good.”
Um, really? Because in that moment, I didn’t see much good in what was happening at all. In fact, her answer made me feel worse about myself than ever. So I wanted to figure out why. Why is it that when I see posts about being positive, taking everything lightly, it often rubs me the wrong way? Why is it that “it’s all for the good” feels like a pillar of white smoke?
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Studies show that some people feel worse when doing positive affirmations and that correcting negative thoughts can paradoxically intensify them. Pushing away the negative thoughts or feelings actually feeds them more energy.
Lately I’ve been stumbling on a possible answer as to why that happens. My understanding is still evolving, but here’s what I’ve reached so far.
It’s because a phrase like that is not only insensitive to my feelings (which it is), it also goes against my gut feeling. My gut tells me that there are more energies operating in this world than merely the good and positive ones. And sometimes I think we leave ourselves unprotected and vulnerable when we completely shut out the dark side of life.
If we trust that everything has purpose and meaning, then the “shadow” does too. Somewhere in my being I know that this world functions on the interplay of both dark and light; good and bad; hardship and ease; conflict and peace.
When we merely acknowledge the good, we are overlooking essential elements that are instrumental to our growth and expansion—and that fall under the terms bad, dark, shadow, struggle, difficulty.
When hearing the words “It’s for the good,” it made me feel like a failure for not being able to see it that way. In that moment, it didn’t give me permission to honor the way I was feeling (pretty darn bad), to process it, and then to use those emotions to give me leverage that would propel me out of it.
The mere acknowledgment of being in shadow permits the light to permeate. It is when we trick ourselves into thinking that there is only dark or only light that we reach an impasse. An entire field of understanding gets lost by merely addressing the good.
Whenever I look back at the different struggles that I’ve been through, I think about how hard they were to endure. Yet they had to be there. They had to feel painful. They had to hurt in ways that I couldn’t imagine. They had to deliver contrast and cast doubt over the rest of my life. They had to be what I would call bad.
Why? Because when I evaluate how much I grew out of them, there was no greater teacher for me in that time and space. How many times do I look back to say, wow, I wouldn’t want to go through that again, but I really needed to go through that hard-earned lesson then.
Sometimes the fastest route to expansion is to confront our own darkness.
When I enter struggle, it compels me to plunge into my inner recesses to discover what I am made of, what is a part of me and what needs mending, releasing, reframing or letting go. It’s doubtful that any of us would need to do that kind of deep soul work without a shadow being cast over our lives.
It forces me to wallow in a swampy territory that doesn’t feel good. Even when I want to resort to distractions, it is like dancing along the rim of a glass. It is not comfortable to teeter on the edge where failure or triumph are both possibilities. Yet that in itself is a field of potentiality. In that realm, the band-aid of “It’s all for the good” just doesn’t hold up.
Between dark and light, there is a vast gray area that begs examination and exploration.
The immense arena between good and evil is where I process what’s happening, give it names, unlock emotions, and re-evaluate interpretations that I’ve made about an event. It is also the space where I oscillate between discernment and confusion, and where clarity gets hashed out on the threshing floor. The in-between state often contains the stuff that matters, the stuff that heals old wounds. It’s the very stuff that unwraps the joyful awareness naturally, innately, without the imposition or force of “it’s all for the good.”
Because, ultimately, suffering has the potential to unlock our compassion for others. Hardship can teach us not to judge another person for their choices but to get really surefooted about our own. Difficulty assures our resilience. Out of the shadow lies the potential to overcome.
The converse is also true, when I get stuck in quicksand and can’t shift at all. That’s when I seek help from other aware people who can assist me in illuminating the path.
Unlike a pendulum swaying from one extreme to the other, the movement between good and bad looks more like a spiral that helps us advance or recede along a continuum. The spiral of tears and of rejoicing, of defeat and of glory, keeps moving us with the ebb and flow of life, like a great heart in the center of the universe that expands and contracts automatically, effortlessly. If we know that all of it is emanating from this immense heart, doesn’t that color the perspective just a bit?
In the end, does that mean that the hardship was inherently for the good? I guess, in that case, it all depends on how you look at it.