We all face adversities in our lives, some smaller than others but we face them. The question is how can we thrive and prosper during the adversities? Many would say build resilience but my answer beyond that is foster contentment which is, in my opinion, the best and most sustainable kind of resilience.
Today in a single day I experienced paralysis in my body being in a foreign land with no one to truly call to help lift me out of bed. I have been in this position many times as I experienced semi-paralysis for several years in my past. Despite having experienced it for countless days, I am never ready to face it again. Every episode feels like the first one as well as the end of the world rooted in shock, overwhelm, frustration and much fear.
Now having regained my ability to move, thankfully to a dear doctor of mine who is my angel, I sit in a meeting ironically on mental health in Kenya with about 100 people conveying from 30+ countries to strategize on a global mental health campaign. I sit unable to truly socialize, wanting to cry and scream due to my morning experience as well as wanting to dance out of joy for being able to walk again and seem “normal”. Confused with these conflicting emotions, I found myself wanting to explain to everyone why I cannot fully be there with them emotionally, but no words came out. I found myself wishing people would look at my eyes and know I needed some care. I needed someone to tell me it is going to be alright, do not fear. But that is again not the way life operates – you need to be your personal reminder because even though we have people around us, many who will be with us in the ups and downs of life, at the end of the day you will need your personal strength to get up and live another day.
A painting by Evan Roberts that reminds me of life’s journey.
After each paralysis episode I felt as if I experienced a form of death and rebirth. Feeling death knowing that in that very moment I no longer had a functioning physical body, loosing what I thought was part of my identity, no longer being “independent” and wondering what is the point of this all. Then experiencing rebirth when I could finally walk again, feeling every movement in my body, feeling that the world has infinite possibilities for me knowing I just have to get up and go. So, with these extreme experiences and adversities of life lets go back to the original question – what is going to keep us thriving through these adversities and life challenges?
The closest concept I have come to is contentment which is defined as a state of happiness and satisfaction. In this definition I place further emphasis on the combining of the words of happiness and satisfaction because happiness could ebb and flow but together, they can be constant. The art is in finding the contentment and fostering it by living in it in whatever position you are, wherever you are and with whoever you may be with. Finding contentment in whatever outfit you are dressed in, scene you are overlooking, hand you are holding, and physical strength you have. Contentment by seeing the infinite in a finite moment such as this moment.
The first time I experienced such a moment was during my senior year of college when I was paralyzed on that given day and was able to only move one finger in my whole body. I somehow focused on what an incredible miracle it was to have that finger move. In that moment I disregarded the fact that I could not move anything else other than my eyes and that finger. I found deep contentment in just that movement which uplifted me and helped me see the things that were actually working for me rather than what was going wrong and causing me pain. It taught me to see contentment in the simple yet miraculous things like the fact that I am still breathing and there is still this very moment just for me.
During my years of struggle, I carried the word Radiyah meaning content in Arabic around my neck, to always remind me of the message. In recent months having regained full health and being fully active in the world, I for some reason removed it which reminds me of human’s greatest weakness – forgetfulness. We know the answers, we know the truth and we have a deep knowing of the better way to live but we forget. We experience life events that teach us lessons and soon enough many, or at least I, forget them. What is the best way to not forget? What is the best way to live in contentment which is further rooted in gratitude for what we already have and excitement for what may be?
These will be questions I will hope to answer better through my daily intentional living as I have no guarantee on what life has in store for me. Regardless of the life events, I want to design my life to be rooted in contentment rather than living in misery. I hope through observing and adjusting my thoughts, words and actions I can be rooted in deeper contentment and to be able to live as a fuller, happier and freer person. I know it is a journey, and in this journey I wish the same for you my dear friends.