Life is beautiful

Life is beautiful

In May 2014, during the most spectacular trip of my life – a pilgrimage following in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi – we ended up in a typical Italian town square. While walking around I suddenly stopped. Had I been here before? Why was this place so familiar? Could it be…? Was this really…? Yes, yes it was!!! I was in Arezzo, standing in the exact spot where Robert Benigni had called out to his love: ‘Buongiorno Principessa,’ in my favourite movie of all time, La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful).

If you haven’t seen the movie this is what it’s about in a nutshell (that nutshell being Wikipedia): it’s about an Italian Jew called Guido who helps his son survive the Holocaust by pretending it’s all a game. Have you ever???? I wept until my eyeballs imploded at the sheer magnificence and profundity of the movie’s message. If you’ve seen it you’ll recall that Benigni’s character portrays the most loveable tragi-comic figure on screen, not to mention he is the genius behind the concept, script and direction.

This movie really got me thinking about perception vs. reality. What if any unhappiness I experienced was borne out of a perception I was holding rather than what I perceived as ‘reality?’ What if, like Guido, I could stop seeing myself as a victim of circumstances and turn any situation, no matter how horrific, to my benefit just by shifting my perception? Surely this would mean that, regardless of what was happening around me, I could still be happy and by doing that choose never to suffer again?

I happen to think that most of us were brainwashed into believing that suffering is noble, or normal even; that some great reward will eventually come to those who suffer a great deal (a special shout-out to my Catholic upbringing here). Well, I’m personally giving the finger to that belief but if I’m honest, it’s one of the harder ones to shift, right alongside this one: ‘the harder I work, the more I’m worth’ (I’ll blog about this sometime as it became a major issue for me after burnout). This is why I’m on a mission to shift any beliefs that no longer serve me. I don’t want to suffer my way through life anymore, I want to be happy because it matters, I matter– and if that means a gentle attitude adjustment, then why the hell not?

At the time I found myself in Arezzo I was suffering a lot. I was processing deep childhood trauma, I was burned out and depressed, I was grieving after my mom’s death, and I was unemployed with zero motivation to boot. The only thing I cared about was The Bachelor and re-runs of Friends. I blamed everyone for my unhappiness: my boss, the company I worked for previously, all the corruption within the organization, my parents, society, religion, the government, God, and Cliff Richard (not really but he makes a good scapegoat). Let’s be honest, blaming others for our misery feels fucking fantastic!!! And I found it very useful for a time, but it didn’t feel good to stay there too long, in fact it felt very disempowering. I felt like a victim.

This is not a story of how I woke up one day, shifted my perceptions and lived happily ever after (I mean I am living happily ever after, but it takes some commitment to weed these buggers out). All shifts happen incrementally, so slowly and subtly in fact that it can feel like you’re not making progress, until one day you wake up and realize that a situation or a person doesn’t have that same power over you anymore. You see, the movie just planted the seed that things could be different, after that I became aware of how I was reacting to things and people around me and how it was causing me so much pain; then I recognized I had a choice to take my power back, accept responsibility for what was playing out, and shift my perception around the situation – or not.

Here’s an example: when my mom was diagnosed with cancer I felt so powerless, and I wanted to fall apart so many times, until I stopped myself one day and said, ‘Kelley, you can suffer over this for the rest of your life and be miserable or you can grieve sufficiently and move on…’ There’s a huge difference between suffering and grieving. It helped that I knew my mom was not one for soppy or emotional and prolonged farewells, so I decided not to prolong my own suffering either. It doesn’t mean I don’t think about her everyday, but it’s with a sense of peace and not self-torture.

Choosing not to suffer feels like a more empowering way to live. The movie’s message helped me to recognize that I may not have control over my external environment (almost always our greatest source of suffering) but I always have control over my mind, and my thoughts, and how I react in a situation. I’m no swami I can assure you – I actually have quite an adverse reaction to incense; it’s a daily practice but I already feel the positive results. It’s why I don’t watch the news (Trump who?) or tolerate negative attitudes; it’s why I scroll past violent images on FB, and try instead to feed my soul with stuff that makes me happy: music, comedy, rich conversations, nature, animals, solitude, pedicures, and fresh hot bread rolls with big blobs of butter.

This was not intended to be a self-help blog because aren’t we all sick and tired of other people being authorities on our lives? I just wanted to share something with you that has brought me some relief recently, a life coaching tool I stole from someone wise: whenever you feel powerless in a situation check how old you feel (normally quite young as the child was often a victim); then bring yourself back into present day adult state, remember that you’re safe and in charge and powerful, then look at the belief that is keeping you stuck in victim mode and gently shift it, and keep doing so whenever it resurfaces. Try not to get stuck in who is right and wrong (eek that one’s a toughie cos there really is so much blame to go around) and defending your position because you’re doing this to feel better, and bring peace to my life, so ultimately it’s irrelevant.

So, the next time you find yourself thinking thoughts like, ‘life is hard, life is a struggle, life is challenging, life is damn depressing,’ just remember that these are just learned thoughts you’ve been hardwired to believe so you can turn them around, they’re not necessarily the truth – you get to decide and live your own truth. You get to be selfish about being happy despite what’s going on around you or how other people are behaving. No matter what the F is going on, and trust me I know, I really really do, you can stop and take a deep breath after the meltdown and choose more calming thoughts instead like:

‘Life is interesting’

‘Life is full of twists and turns’

‘Life is certainly eventful’

‘Life knows how to get my attention’

The trick is to start off nice ‘n easy otherwise you won’t believe the belief about what you believe…do you believe me? Good. Then you can eventually progress to statements like, ‘Life can be great fun, Life is full of possibilities, Life brings incredible people and experiences into my life – until eventually you’re dancing naked in your garden while skipping with the hosepipe and shouting to the world, ‘LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL.’

Because it is, it really really is. Don’t confuse people occasionally behaving badly (yourself included – none of that is real) with Life. Life is extraordinarily fucking beautiful. You’d better believe it, baby!

PS If right now you’re thinking, ‘Kelley, I believe your blog is all BS, and your attempt to cheer me up has made me want to kick you in the shins’, I welcome that – it’s your mind after all and you get to think whatever you want to think. How awesome is that?

Love Kelley xx

(Other dastardly negative beliefs that you need to watch out for – these little bastards sneak in way too often – I’m fat, I’m ugly, I’m unworthy, I’m poor, I’m old, life sucks, you can’t trust men, carbs are evil, and I’m a failure. Not true. All lies. You’re fabulous and worthy and wealthy and healthy and fun and interesting and successful and you trust yourself to know what to do in any situation involving men and carbs. Yeah baby!!!)

A special mention: check out www.dancingspirittours.com if you are interested in the Assisi tour I did plus many others. And tell Nina I sent you ????

Kelley Thorrington
natalie@thecreativelab.co.za