Mary Oliver wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” 

Often times when something dark or difficult happens, we want to push it away, out of our thoughts. We bury it as we don’t want to feel pain or sadness or hurt or loneliness. That’s a natural instinct. But does the darkness really go away? 

Rather than dwelling on or burying a dark time or moment, can you find compassion for yourself and see the event in a different way? Maybe even as a gift?

Last week I wrote about the pain I felt in not getting a promotion. I buried my feelings of shame and that I had done something wrong, but they’d bubble up whenever something bad happened in my life. But later, through writing and reflecting on what I had done right in the situation, I could see this darkness as a gift. After all, if that event never happened, I likely would not have found my current career — a career that lights me up and allows me to help my clients build resilience and joy through their stories.

More recently, I had a difficult and painful conversation with someone I trust and like. She (let’s call her Susan)  is usually a gentle person, but this time she went straight to how my thinking was wrong and that what I was suggesting was a fruitless pursuit. I got angry at her and maybe said more than I wanted. When I hung up the phone, I could literally feel the cortisol rushing through my body. I was angry, sad and frustrated. I was also confused. Susan is never harsh, she must have had a reason, but in my agitated state I couldn’t see anything.

I took a deep breath and asked myself what advice I would give someone I cared about (a friend, one of my children) if she were feeling how I was feeling. If a friend were going through a dark time, I’d talk to them in a compassionate tone, I certainly wouldn’t beat them up for getting angry or feeling hurt. 

I sat and wrote a letter to myself (yes, I wrote Dear Melanie…) with the hope that I could find a way to be compassionate to me, the way I would with a friend who was experiencing those hard feelings. I know that giving compassion actually lowers stress and is calming, and it did help me calm down. In doing so, I saw that Susan was giving me permission to stop trying over and over to help another of our mutual friends, Sam. Sam is in a self-destructive spiral, one that was involving so much of my energy that I was becoming exhausted and drained. 

When I read what I wrote to myself, I saw that Susan was giving me permission to set boundaries. She was telling me that I mattered. What a gift.

Next time you feel the darkness, try using self-compassion to see if there’s a gift in the dark. Often this takes some space and distance, like in my work story. But sometimes just pausing allows you to find the gift in the here and now. 

Can you find compassion for yourself and discover a gift in the dark? Try writing a letter to yourself using kind and gentle words, just as you would if you were helping a friend. 

I’d love to know what you discover! Feel free to share with me.

Letters last a lifetime and help you express just how much you care for the people in your life, even yourself. If you aren’t sure where to start, I invite you to grab a copy of Deepening Connections with Legacy Letters where I show you how to craft one from the heart.