A lot of the time, when people are struggling, what can help us is to help others. Many times, it is not hard to find people that have needs even greater than our own. And we always have more to offer than we think.
The reason we may not always notice that fact is because people hide even their most intense struggles for all kinds of logical reasons. But there are two things we can be sure of:
1) All of us will experience these periods in life, and that is when we will all be at our most vulnerable.
2) If it’s true that everyone we know will experience these periods, but we don’t know who, and we don’t know when, then we need a solution that can travel through time.
So what if, when we were down, each of us had a letter (or some letters)? And what if those letters were from our family or friends or co-workers? And what if those letters reminded us of who we are most of the time? What if they reminded us of our strengths and beauty and history?
When we’re down we’re not a different person than when we we’re feeling better. Sometimes life just makes it much easier to have pleasant thoughts about the world.
But when the world is less cooperative, that’s when we need to be able to focus our consciousness on productive, meaningful, and compassionate practices. Reading such a letter can be such a practice.
To that end, I urge you to take pen to paper if possible. Writing something out in long hand takes time. If we can hand-write them, the words are uniquely our words because only our writing looks that way.
Also, people know that time is considered valuable now. Hand writing is something that can contribute to another person’s sense that we truly have special feelings for them. But even if we can’t hand-write it, what will count most is what we say.
If we would like an exercise in positivity, then we can set a goal that, before the end of this week, we will each choose at least one person to write to. And by the end of the following week, we can commit to sending them their letter.
Imagine! Getting a real letter in the mail? That alone will feel special in today’s world.
In doing this, we are best to start with those who are most in need, and if possible, it’s easiest to start with the people we feel truly unconditional about. From there, our job is to simply appreciate them, but to do so in way where they can take it out and read it when they are down.
The intention is that our letter should be a lifeline for them to hold onto until their own strength returns. We can think of it as us reaching through time to embrace them with our words.
For those who may have trouble imagining such a letter, I will provide an example below. I’ll write one to a fictional person, but for it to feel real I’ll invent this person from real bits of many people I know and love.
I’m not sure what’s going on while you’re reading this. I wrote it for you because I truly love you, and I wrote it for you to read any time you’re feeling down.
As we both know, the ups and downs of life are guaranteed. No one ever got up and stayed up. And no one ever got down and stayed down. Nature wouldn’t have given us a range of emotions if we weren’t supposed to experience all of them. But riding the rough ones can be hard if we don’t maintain some perspective.
We are not our temporarily negative, cruel and unreasonable thoughts about ourselves. We are who we usually are. Every other version of us, from elated to depressed, is just a dial-up or dial-down of our usual self. If you’re dialed down right now, this letter exists to travel through time, to remind you of who you are to me.
First off, when I look at you I see a woman of capability. You have a kind of fibrous strength that seems to wrap around things and then you just crush them with your capability. It’s like you thrive best when you’re in over your head.
The times when most of us are losing it is when you get extra focused. So if you’re having trouble with life when you’re reading this, I’d bet it’s happening when you have too little to do. You only ever struggle when you’re not accomplishing something.
When you’re doing something you’re too busy trying to make everything work better to even notice how you feel until the day is over. It’s like as long as it’s some focused thing to accomplish, you can live in the moment no problem. I admire that.
I also know that when you get down you tend to get pretty harsh about yourself. But you’re still smart and funny and interesting. And even though you can be hard on yourself for how you look or are during those times –just so you know, those are only your thoughts.
We don’t have those thoughts about you, so to us you’re always your same beautiful self. I’ll admit, you look less sparkly than when you’re not happy, but it’s not like your bone structure changes or anything. And who cares about that stuff anyway?
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I just don’t care how you look. It’s not your looks I love, it’s you. It’s who you are. It’s how you are in the world. I admire you.
So if you want to know how you look to those of us who love you, I’d just think about how you look on those days where you were amazed at how great you looked. Because we always think you’re amazing, so to us you look like a sad or happy version of that person, all the time.
Of course, being sad or angry or hurt isn’t a problem, it’s just a part of life. I’m just sorry if that’s where you are right now. And I hope this letter can help you to move past that, and reconnect with all of the qualities that I admire so much.
And if you doubt anything I’m saying, how great you are is plastered all over your life.
It’s not like anyone forced you to care about the welfare or education of your nephews. You didn’t just care that they were fed, or that they were taught things, or that they had fun. But you’ve always wanted all of their potential to be nurtured too.
Also, even though you have some struggles with your Mom, you’ve never lost respect for her and you’ve always expressed love for her, even when you were really upset.
In fact, even if you’re upset and hurt, you’re always so fair-minded about the fact that you know that she’s always giving you whatever she has to give. That fair-minded part is one of your most amazing qualities.
When most people feel slighted and hurt and angry, and they want revenge for some insult they endured, you’re one of the only people I know who can be big enough about something like that to not only stick up for the person that hurt you, but when you do that you point out the potential validity of their criticism about you!
That’s amazing! You can’t sometimes give yourself credit, but you can give it to someone that just insulted you? And you can take what they said and use it to try to make yourself a better person? Do you realize how few people react that way?
That feels like some next-level forgiveness a person might expect to find in some old Buddhist monk. We all bunny hop backwards sometimes, but no wonder you just keep getting better over time.
When most people would be getting knocked backwards by an insult, you pull yourself back up using forgiveness, and then you draw a lesson from the experience and you move on. Every time I see you do that I think about how much time you save versus most of us who can wallow in those enervating thoughts for forever.
Also, whether you’re cleaning your house or at work, you don’t feel any compulsion to stop doing what you’re doing until you’re done. You’re so task-oriented, efficient and focused and dedicated that it’s like you become the work you’re doing.
You also leave everything more organized than you found it. I’ve always loved the respect for others that that implies. When we can’t control much, we still have control over some things. And if you’re going to create some control, then you’re the sort of person that will use that ability to make things better for others.
You make things and spaces easier for others to use, you want them to look nicer for others, or to feel nicer for others. That’s a lot of love that gets expressed and it’s nice to be around someone who does that.
You’re egalitarian, compassionate and reasonable. And because you’re so forgiving I always feel safe around you. Not enough people make others feel like they can fail and still be okay. But you seem super-strong in that way. It’s like the more a person could benefit from compassion, the more you’ll give them.
You know, when I sat down to write this, I wanted to capture who you always are, underneath whatever you’re thinking about yourself right now. But by trying to do that, I’ve realized there are no words that can truly capture what you are.
Saying that I could define you in lines of words is like saying the equator can define the Earth. Words are like measurements, but they are not the thing we are measuring.
In the end it makes sense that the words won’t work. Because how I feel about you is immeasurable. How much I care is immeasurable. And how awesome you always are, is so insanely immeasurable that I couldn’t even finish this letter without my feelings for you rising up so high that they spilled out of my eyes in tears.
I love you. You’re always an amazing person even when you think you’re not. So if you feel scared or sad or terrible you just wait. Because when those thoughts subside, you’ll get a tiny glimpse of the remarkable person I see. And your light is so bright, that just that glimpse will be enough to inspire you. It sure inspires me.
I also hope that, as your life moves forward, you let even more of your own light shine through. Because that won’t only be good for you, that would be a great thing for everyone.
If I was there right now I’d give you the biggest hug. You’re gonna be okay. I love you.
peace and love forever, me
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.