In so many ways, throughout years of personal discovery, I have reclaimed a greater sense of sovereignty, strength, and resilience.
But recently I went through a series of traumatic events that shook me to my core and left me questioning everything I thought I knew about myself.
Over the course of about a month, my father had a massive stroke, my beloved dog was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, and I went through a very difficult breakup with my partner who I’d been living with.
In addition, I found myself in an intense conflict with two of my closest friends.
After so much personal work on myself, how was this my life?
I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror, and found myself questioning who I was. After all, I was the common denominator.
I felt paralyzed.
Had I been deluding myself all this time? Did all of these years of hard work amount to nothing?
I felt like an imposter.
It was a real dark night of the soul. And as is often the case with these death and rebirth cycles, it was hard to trust I would reach the other side or ever feel like myself again.
For the last decade, as a result of many years of self-inquiry, I found my life getting better every year: feeling more and more connected to myself, others, and my spirituality.
So having this series of blows delivered in such short succession shook me to my core.
It felt like a rapid and unexpected boomerang in the opposite direction from where I had been going, a shocking departure from the previous trajectory.
I began to wonder if everything I’d worked for was a lie.
In the darkest moments, it tested everything I thought I knew and stood for.
I started to question my career aspirations. What did I have to offer the world when my life felt like such a mess?
I tried to remind myself that pain and hardship are always doorways to transcendence, rebirth, and expansion, but it was hard to trust that in the midst of what felt like an endless series of blows.
While intellectually I knew that there were important lessons surfacing from these struggles, emotionally I felt crushed.
I had to put a complete pause on all of my projects as I tried to pick up the pieces, understand what had happened, and stitch myself back together.
It wasn’t easy to regain my footing amidst everything.
I had to dig deep within myself to remember what The Reflection Principle has taught me so many times before: that pain and struggle are our greatest teachers.
As I remained painstakingly open to what life was trying to teach me, I began to see the cracks in my foundation that needed mortar.
I realized that while I had developed an arsenal of powerful modalities to help cultivate resilience, peace, and vitality, in the midst of the crises I had been neglecting the most foundational practice of them all: self-love.
This was a huge surprise because I had been prioritizing self-care activities like yoga, music, and time with friends, which I assumed were an extension of self-love.
But then I realized I was going through the motions of self-care without actually treating myself with compassion, love, and kindness.
While I was creating space for activities that were intended to nurture me, I wasn’t actually treating myself with nurturance.
Literally and figuratively, I was doing yoga without breathing.
It was almost like I was using self-care as a form of avoidance: I had learned to self-regulate my way out of my own vulnerability and had thus forgone the cultivation of my own self-love.
I realized I was doing things to make myself feel better in order to avoid confronting my pain rather than using those practices to tend to my pain.
With everything I was going through, I knew in my head that anxiety, sadness, and pain were natural and somewhat inevitable.
But deep down a part of me was angry at myself for feeling those ways, expecting that the personal work I had done would somehow inoculate me from struggle and difficulty.
I blamed myself for these feelings, which only made things spiral downward even more.
It took time and patience, but as I began to sift through the rubble, a profound awareness came to light: While I loved myself and accepted what I was going through in theory, I was not treating myself with love and kindness in practice.
As I began to change my inner voice and the way I related with the parts of me that were in pain, I felt an immediate shift and everything began to change.
I began to speak to myself the way I would speak to someone else I loved: I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this. This is really hard. Of course you’re in pain given everything you’re facing. This is not your fault. You know who you are and you can trust yourself, even when others are being unkind.
The moment I shifted the way I spoke to myself, relief washed over my body.
I could breathe again.
As I began to practice self-love moment by moment and on an ongoing basis, my whole perspective began to change, and the hidden lessons that previously felt so shrouded in darkness came into sharp clarity.
I realized that regardless of what I was going through or what circumstances occurred, the events of my life did not need to threaten who I am.
Career-wise, I began to see that I had unconsciously adopted the idea that I need to share my lessons from the mountaintop of being healed, rather than offering my vulnerability as a part of the process and healing and transcendence.
I recognized that maintaining the feeling that I have it all together was so central to my sense of self, and holding onto that identity was not an authentic, robust, or strong foundation for self-love.
This was transformative destruction at work again: wrecking my ego-based conceptions of who I was and revealing the possibility for deeper healing to forge a stronger firmament as I continued to navigate the complexities of life.
I see a similar process unfolding in the collective as well.
As our society seems to be falling apart at the seams in so many ways, we also see the new paradigm emerging out of the wreckage.
Individually and collectively, we have to burn the old ways of being down so we can recover what is most precious within ourselves and rebirth a new culture.
Even though not all of the hardships have passed, I am finally learning to find solid ground within myself amidst the groundlessness of the inevitable struggles life brings.
And that is the art of transcendence.
Brooke Sprowl is the Founder of My LA Therapy, a concierge therapy practice, and My Truest North, a cross-disciplinary coaching and consultancy firm specializing in mission-driven entrepreneurs seeking greater integrity, spiritual awakening, and deeper ways to actualizing their higher purpose through collective service. With 15 years of clinical experience as an individual, couples, and family therapist, she is trained in a wide-range of approaches, from evidence-based therapy practices to peak performance and flow neuroscience techniques. Brooke is also the host of the podcast, Waking Up with Brooke Sprowl. She is passionate about writing, cognitive science, philosophy, integrity, spirituality, effective altruism, personal and collective healing, and curating luxury, transformational retreat experiences for people who are committed to self-discovery and using their unique gifts in service of the world.