I took a Positive Psychology class a few years back. It’s not quite as hokey as it sounds, but also not as profound as I wanted it to be. I’ll save you from taking it and let you in on the main lesson: studies show that cultivating a gratitude practice increases happiness. Mind blowing, I know.
Here’s the problem: I’m really bad at forcing gratitude when I’m in a rut. It feels fake, like plastered stage makeup. I had hit rock bottom the previous year with my anorexia and ever since had been wallowing in neck deep depression. Practicing gratitude felt like trying to smile in mud.
One of the homework assignments was to write down three things we’re grateful for every night throughout the semester. Although I understood the concept of the assignment, it didn’t help me to see through the lens of gratitude. I hadn’t worked through the post-traumatic-stress that anorexia had put me through and I certainly hadn’t rebuilt my relationship with myself. I needed more than a strip of paper with happy thoughts on it.
I needed to find meaning in my depression. I wanted others to know that they’re not alone and that they can heal, but I had to heal first. I had to overcome my inner battles so that I could help others. I wasn’t sure how this would happen, or where this would lead me, but it gave me purpose.
For my birthday, my family had given me the opportunity to work with a music producer to record some songs I’d written. I’d always intuitively found my fingers at the piano when I needed to feel better. But this time, I wasn’t going to my bedroom to play, but to the recording studio.
I remember sitting at the piano in the studio that day. I was wearing the big headphones. The ones you see in the movies. The microphone had the circular screen (a pop filter) in front of it. This is the real deal, I thought to myself. The mic was turned high. Every noise amplified.
I remember singing into the microphone for the first time. I’d never heard my own voice in a mic before. It felt as though I was encountering someone I’d never met. The voice coming through the mic sounded far different from the chaos inside. Her voice was fragile and tender and clear. Who is this?
Recording was like the abrupt stillness that comes after a huge thunderbolt. Or when a really dramatic scene cuts in a movie. A light switched. Something settled in my soul. For the first time, I felt like I belonged somewhere.
The producer I worked with that day became my mentor. He critiqued my songwriting, and challenged and encouraged me as an artist, writer, and singer. Most of all, he believed in me. I took every word he said to heart and with his guidance, I wrote an album of thirteen original songs.
My songs were far more reminiscent of journal entries than a pop hit you’d hear on the radio. They were raw and transparent. My insides were oozing like the fizz that spews out from a shaken up Coke bottle. But my longing for serenity and healing became the goal I set my eyes on, and I would do anything it took to get there. This meant working through intensely difficult emotions that had become dormant. This also meant getting up close to the mic even though I felt as though I couldn’t open my mouth.
We tend to think that our vulnerabilities are our weak spots; the parts of us that cannot be seen or we wouldn’t be loved. But in reality, our vulnerabilities are precious wounds that allow us to be loved even more deeply. The deeper the wound, the greater capacity to be filled.
I picture healing as crossing a bridge. Walking across the bridge takes faith and courage. But if we don’t cross the bridge, we wallow in the water below forever. Creating my album is what took me across the bridge and lead me to realize the unique purpose of my music: to help others cross their bridge.
As I crossed my bridge to healing, I learned that it is by accepting, surrendering, letting go, and trusting that I find serenity in my heart. Looking back, I would not change anything about my life, experiences, or things I had to overcome. In fact, I’m grateful for all of it. Our perceived setbacks in life are the very forces that pull back the arrow to throttle it forward even stronger.
As it turns out, my psychology class did have a thing or two to teach me. I have since adopted the habit of writing down what I’m most grateful for every night to put it in a jar to fill. It helps me to focus my mind on all of life’s blessings and to cherish even the smallest of joys. But this time, it doesn’t feel forced. I’m attuned to the birds singing around me and the voice of my own quiet heartsong.
Dear reader, I know the rickety bridge to healing is difficult. Each step feels messy and painstakingly uncertain. But you are ready to cross the bridge. There is courage amidst your fear and hope amidst your despair. Each step is leading you closer to the person you truly are, who is waiting on the other side – healed and whole. Your pain becomes your strength. Don’t be afraid.
To listen to a meditation song I wrote, click here: Oh Soul