How to Find Meaning in Difficult Situations

How to Find Meaning in Difficult Situations - Mary Morrissey

What do you do when you face difficulties in your life? 

It’s a question all of us need to answer because we all face them. It’s not a matter of if you’ll face difficulties, but when.

You can’t avoid these circumstances, situations, or conditions. They will come to you at some point in your life. Today, I’d like to talk about different scenarios you might face with a few case studies, including my own. 

More than that, though, I want to offer you some tools to face these challenges and come out the other side stronger than when you began. These dark times come into your life, but they don’t need to keep you from your dreams or from living into your purpose.

I want you to know that when I offer you skills to navigate your difficult times, they aren’t things I read in a book. These are not abstract theories. The skill sets I’m giving you today are techniques I’ve used and developed in my own life. These are solutions I’ve lived and breathed and trained others to master throughout my fifty years of study of the principles of transformation and forty years of teaching them.

Difficult Circumstances: 2 Case Studies

I want to start with two case studies. These are both people I worked with through their own difficult times. We used the tools I’m going to give you in the next section. But, before we get to those tools, I’d like you to understand what each of these Brave Thinkers was going through at the time.

Remember, your dark times can come in many forms. They can be something completely outside your control. Or there may be some part of the circumstance that you were responsible for. It doesn’t matter how you got there or who is to blame. Those aspects of the story won’t help you move past it.

The first case study is a former business partner of mine, a woman named Karen Joyce. 

Karen was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. Sadly, it was well advanced in her body by the time she was diagnosed, and the doctors didn’t offer  any treatment options or seem very  hopeful. Karen was told she had three months to live.

The second case study is a longtime friend named Bill Harris.

Bill was beginning his work in training people in the power of meditation and unlocking our inner capacities. He opened a business with a partner who was helping with the funding. In the second year, Bill was sued by a third party, who said that the technology Bill developed was actually stolen. The business was threatened with being shut down, plus the person suing wanted millions of dollars!

Bill’s business partner didn’t want to fight the lawsuit. He said that it wasn’t worth it, even if they won. But for Bill, the business was so much more than just the time and effort he’d spent building it. His world crumbled,  he was there alone, trying to hold onto a business under the threat of a million dollar lawsuit.

3 Brave Thinking™ Tools to Find Meaning in Difficult Times

These three tools are the ones that I shared with Bill and Karen, who I mentioned above. They are also Brave Thinking™ tools I’ve used in my own life.

The tools:

  1. Dare the Dark
  2. Mindset Training
  3. Determine Your Direction

1 — Dare the Dark

The first tool is one I call, “dare the dark”. These are dark moments in your life. You get a horrible diagnosis or your business is threatened. It can be a dark moment when you lose a loved one or a natural disaster wipes out your home.

In that dark moment, the first thing you want to do is push it away. You can’t make it go away by avoiding it. You can’t make it go away at all. So the only thing you can do is lean into it.

Dare the dark. Look it square in the face. There are things that happen that you can’t change. But it’s a power move when you look it square in the face and dare it. You dare the dark. You’re not fighting it. You’re not running from it. 

Stand firm and say, “here it is”. Here’s this moment.

2 — Mindset Training

Once you’ve faced it and dared the dark. You need to move to the second step: your mindset training.

When faced with a challenge, you’re going to tell yourself things about it. You’re not just going to acknowledge that the dark exists. You’re going to begin to notice what you’re noticing, and then you will begin to change your paradigm. (For a more thorough explanation of paradigms, follow the link. But as a short definition, they are beliefs we tell ourselves about our life and situations).

Here at the Brave Thinking Institute, our mission is to empower people to create and live a life they love. As a faculty, we know that starts with bringing awareness. Our programs are designed with mindset training, to help you notice what you notice. Then choose your paradigm. Make it something empowering for you.

3 — Determine Your Direction

Once you have dared the dark and mastered your mindset training, I encourage you to determine your direction. The situation or circumstance might have been out of your control, but the direction you select is one you can determine yourself.

Put your hand on the wheel and steer. As long as this is the circumstance, why not decide that there are gifts in every situation? 

Napoleon Hill said, “Every adversity has within it the seed of an equal or greater benefit, but like any adversity, any seed, it has to be found, planted, nurtured, and grown”.

You get to determine the direction of your next choices. You can look for the hidden seeds that will blossom into your full potential. 

How did these Brave Thinking™ Tools Work for Bill and Karen?

Bill sat down with a blank piece of paper and started writing out all of the possible good things that could come out of the lawsuit. 

I encourage you to apply this process to your own dark times and difficult moments. Really think about every possible blessing that could come from the situation.

Bill wrote down many possible benefits that were personal to him. After a while, he realized something amazing. He thought, Hey, someone thinks my business is worth a million dollars!

That helped him begin to think about his business as an entity worth a million dollars. Then he taped the piece of paper with possible benefits from the situation listed on it above his desk. He read that list a few times a day.

What was the result?

Bill’s ideas began to build, and his attitude shifted. He stopped approaching things as a victim. Rather than the dark shaking him, Bill began to shape the situation. He changed on the inside, and, within a few weeks, the person dropped the lawsuit. It dissolved. But Bill got to keep and benefit from the good that came from that situation for the rest of his life.

Karen Joyce was only given 90 days to live. But she applied these tools and actually lived, not for 90 days, but two and a half more years! You may have been hoping for a miraculous cure, and sometimes that can happen. But what she did get from these Brave Thinking™ tools is still miraculous.

Through applying these tools Karen became luminous of the process. She had the most amazing quality of life for the next two and a half years. She lived it to the fullest. In the end, she had no regrets and had accomplished much more with her 56 years than she dreamed possible two short years earlier, when her prognosis insisted she would only have 54 years.

Mary Morrissey Case Study… My Dark Night of the Soul

I’ve been through times of extreme difficulty in my life. I lost my business, my marriage, my house, and my reputation all at once. It was an awful and dark time. I was off-balance, and a friend offered me the use of their home on the Oregon coast. I went there and spent weeks bereft, walking the beach.

I had no knowledge of the things my husband had done to put me in that situation, to put the people I trusted in that situation. But I felt as if I should have. I blamed myself for things I couldn’t have seen. My anger and hurt was focused inward as well as outward. I blamed myself most heavily for the hurt caused to those I loved.

I didn’t know what I would do next. Everything I had built was gone. Even though I had a firm belief that there is something good in everything, I couldn’t see it. Though I knew I had the power to create a life I love, in those first few weeks it was difficult to see past the anger and hurt I was feeling. 

Finally, I started to recognize that while this was a dark chapter of my life, it was still only a chapter. I could write new chapters in my life. It wasn’t the end! 

When I began to build again, what I built was not only more successful in every measurable way, but more meaningful. It was more meaningful because of who I became in the process. 

I know in the very depths of my being that your most difficult moments can become a time that brings you to a much better place. I know that. 

That doesn’t mean you will come to a better place. It’s not absolute. You have to create it. If you do create it, if you do hold fast to that vision of what you want your life to be, those dark moments will teach you the lessons you need to fully live into your purpose. 

If you don’t get sidetracked by wallowing in grief or anger, you can come to a better place. When you can get to where you feel like you’re in the life you’re creating now, even before you’ve gotten there, those dark times won’t stop you from that life you love living. You can do that by accessing the tools and power within to bring you to a place that’s independent of that experience you’re having at the moment.

I would not wish what I went through on anyone. But I would wish where it took me on everyone.

Transformational Tools to Move You Through Dark Times

I don’t want you to think that this means it was easy. It wasn’t easy. I went through several weeks of feeling absolutely devastated. I was so hurt and angry at the person I felt betrayed by. I worried over the effect that had on my business and reputation. But more than that, I was beside myself for the impact it would have on the lives of the people I loved, nurtured, and ministered to through my business.

I was angry at myself for not seeing things earlier that were obvious now in hindsight. The regret was so great. A self-blame that was heavier than any anger I had at the situation or other people.

I could have stayed in that place of darkness and wallowed.

I think a lot of people do. But this was not the first dark time I had experienced in my life. It was, perhaps, the worst. When the initial and subsequent shock waves of disbelief and sheer betrayal waned enough for me to think, I went back to the tools that I’ve used throughout my life.

I’ve found inspiration for transformation in each of our world’s religions. I look for wisdom in different philosophies, mythologies, and studies. Inside all of these various teachings, there is a mystical thread. It’s a truth that isn’t confined to any one teaching. 

That truth is present everywhere, when you begin to look for it. It’s already inside you.

When I went to Oregon in this state of absolute grief, I took a tiny book, written by St. John of the Cross in 1100 AD. The book was called, Dark Night of the Soul

What I learned from this little book became a foundation for how I rebuilt my life after my own extreme challenges.

My first lesson? The sentence “When the dark night comes upon you…”.

Not “If…”, but “when”. The dark night comes to all of us. The death of a loved one, divorce, betrayal, loss—every one of us will experience some form of the dark night.

So what do you do when that time comes?

Leaning Into Personal Transformation to Find Meaning in Difficult Situations

The first thing most of us want to do when a terrible life circumstance comes along is rarely possible. We want to make it go away! And we work with many tools to influence our lives. We use positive thinking, manifestation, and choosing our mindset. But we can’t always make the thing go away. 

As difficult as it is to accept sometimes, there are certain things we are meant to experience – things we can’t change or escape through any of the tools. 

There are situations beyond our control.

We didn’t do anything wrong or take an action that led us to those situations. Think of the death of a loved one. The regret can be awful, especially when the passing is sudden.

You worry that you didn’t tell them everything you should have. You regret harsh words or just not spending more time with them. All sorts of things that come with second-guessing because you were not prepared for an extreme life change.

Death is one of many things that can throw us into that terrible moment in our lives. Our dark moments might look like bankruptcy, betrayal, divorce, a ruined reputation, or any scenario that has a deep impact. What do we do when we can’t change the situation?

When we can’t make the dark night go away, often the next reaction is denial. 

That was my first thought. This can’t be happening. It must be a mistake.

Sometimes your power is not enough to make the situation go away. The only thing that you can do when this happens is lean in. Surrender to it.

When You Can’t Change It, Surrender to It

When you surrender to the situation, three things will happen:

  1. You’ll experience a feeling of release.
  2. You’ll also experience a feeling of relief.
  3. You don’t want it to end too soon.

1 — You’ll Experience a Feeling of Release

The act of surrendering takes the weight off of your shoulders. On some level, holding denial puts a great subconscious pressure on you. 

This type of mental and emotional grief puts physical strain on your body and mental strain on your heart and mind. The minute you surrender, you can feel that release physically and emotionally.

2 — You’ll Experience a Feeling of Relief

Immediately after you have a feeling of release, or within a short period of time, you’ll experience a sense of relief. You’ve surrendered. Your mind is at peace because you know there’s nothing you can do to change the situation.

There’s a sense of being able to let go and breathe, leaving it in the hands of the universe or creator, or whatever spiritual belief you hold.

3 — You Don’t Want It to End Too Soon

When you get to this place spiritually and emotionally, where you fully surrender, you don’t want it to end too soon. You actually want EVERYTHING that life came to give you, even in that dark moment. That’s what fully surrendering does for you. 

It sounded absurd to me at first, too, but it’s true. With that enlightenment from total surrender, you understand these moments came to give you something important. So you don’t want it to end too soon for you to fully benefit from the lesson.

When I read that in St. John of the Cross’ book, walking on that beach, I thought, Well, that’s not how I’m feeling!

But that was only because I hadn’t fully surrendered yet. I hadn’t allowed myself to embrace a fact of life: there’s good in everything. Even though I could teach that and had shared with thousands of people that there’s a seed of good in everything, I still resisted in my own dark time. 

Eventually though, I did arrive in that place. It wasn’t an easy place to get to. But when I got to that place, things began to shift.

Becoming Stronger Than Circumstances

How do you become stronger than your circumstances? You’ve learned three powerful tools to help you find meaning in your difficult times. So often, people think that if they know enough or do enough, they can avoid dark times. 

Difficulties come to everyone. There is no safety net in life because there are things outside your control. The tools are there to help you navigate these circumstances and become even stronger. 

You’ve also learned how to surrender to the situations you can’t change, so that you can finally shift your direction and thinking. These are empowering tools that will help you find meaning in difficult situations.


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