In May of 2020, I celebrated my 70th birthday.
It was a puzzling experience. I never knew what I was supposed to be like when I turned 70. When I was in my 20’s I considered a 70-year-old, as an “old foggie” not with it, decrepit and behind the times.
Yet now that I am 70, I probably feel much more aware, worldly, and astute then I was at 20. Oddly, I still feel young inside, in fact not much older than 40 except when I gaze in the mirror and gasp “who the hell is that” thinking that aliens have replaced my body with a wrinkly one with chicken neck, when I had my “beauty sleep”.
But the reality is that turning 70 was a milestone. I am grateful to have arrived here and still be alive, maybe with less hair on my head, but with a lot more sober wisdom.
However, for some my age, I have observed that the milestone is more like a millstone. It is as if the heavy weight of life experience is hanging around their necks, dragging behind as they walk. I see some stooped over weighted-down, with a deep chiseled facial scowl exuding an attitude of cold hard criticalness, angrily holding onto that milestone unable to let it go.
To be honest I even see younger folks in this same state – the state of persistent bitterness about life.
And you know what, I completely understand how this can happen. Life is certainly not easy. It is a darn hard struggle, often full of suffering, pain, disappointment, and trauma. I must confess I too have spent my time in this prison, cursing god for inventing this ridiculous thing called life. It is the biggest who wants it energy drain product around.
So, it is understandable some of us get so bitter.
Why We Become Bitter
I was pondering this condition, the other day in a self-inquiry process (that is part of my Circle of True Friends support group for people that have done my workshops) and an important insight suddenly dawned on me:
“People become bitter when they don’t realize what they have gained from difficult experiences”.
This really hit me as being true but I wasn’t sure, so I thought I’d test this out.
I began to examine some of my tribulations in life, asking myself what I possibly gained from them. I saw that:
- I got involved with a certain individual because I did not follow my intuition and now, I have learned to listen to that still small voice within.
- When I went through that dark night of the soul, I gained the ability to find the strength and resilience in myself. Now that inner strength helps me more easily get through any difficulty in the future.
- I came to hate a sales job so that I could get really clear on what I did not want to do so that when my true calling appeared, I could recognize it.
- When a person hurt me, instead of collapsing, I learned to get up off the ground and say, “no more”. Now I can speak my truth with a solid voice with less fear.
- When I said a hurtful comment to someone and they were hurt, I understood how important it is not to respond in reactivity but to consider my words carefully and compassionately before I speak. I now treat people better (and consequently they treat me better).
Remarkably, when I viewed my suffering asking “what did I gain from this” I noticed a shift.
The bitterness related to those experiences and people dissipated and magically morphed into gratefulness.
As this happened, I was reminded of an insight someone shared on one of my workshops. “Life is like school only we get the test first and then the lesson”. Such a great piece of wisdom.
I do not know about you, but I think when we experience pain and do not see the lesson that is when we get bitter. The pain lingers in experience and the experience is not complete until we recognize the gain from the pain.
When we do, an integration occurs: that which we feel has brought us down paradoxically, lifts us up. We become wiser and improve our ability to live in life. We find meaning in our hardships.
Neat stuff eh? Who was it again that invented this thing called life?
So, I guess the next time I look in the mirror, feeling a bit bitter about whoever/whatever, I am going to thank every one of those wrinkles that have come from my suffering, for the gifts they have given me. I will take off that millstone to grind up the sharp stones on my path into some nice smooth sand.
Be you to fullness