Post Traumatic Growth

In most martial arts there exists a system of belts. Students begin as a white belt and progress thru a series of colors until they reach the level of black belt. The belts are a metaphor for the journey of life. We start out in life as a white belt. This represents who at our core that we truly are. Then life happens to us. Our parents expectations, our positive experiences, the traumas we endure. Our belts begin to get dirty and colored. As things happen to us we move away from our white belts and who we were born to be. With time our belts become brown and then eventually black. Most people in their lives reach their black belt in life in their 40’s. We have been thru some real adversity. People we loved have died. We’ve been deeply hurt by others. Life has not met the expectations we once had for it. We’ve spent much of our time on this planet with far too much concern for what others think of us. Most people remain the rest of their lives stuck in this black belt stage of our development. It can turn us cynical and leaves us in a place where we tend to reduce our expectations and dreams to match our unfulfilling reality.

However, what most people are unaware of is that in martial arts and in life the black belt is not the final color or stage. Weaved beneath the black in the belt is another white belt. A black belt who continues to train and push forward will eventually wear away the black threading and return to that which they had begun; their white belt. In life this is a metaphor for returning back to who we were born to be before life beat us up. It also means that when we feel that we are in our darkest spaces and in the furthest place from the light, that we are in fact the very closest to breaking thru to that which we yearn for in our soul. The return to our authentic self. The return to our white belt.

To progress from black belt to white is one that almost invariably requires something significant and traumatic to occur in our lives. We can all think of someone who underwent some tremendous hardship and who came out the other side “different”. They carry themselves rooted in a new purpose and with a strength and surety that they never exhibited before. It is as though these changes occurred over night. That was not the case.

There is a plant called the Chinese bamboo tree. When this seed is planted it requires daily watering and nurturing. It needs just the right amount of fertilizer and light. During the first year the plant does not even break thru the ground despite all of the time spent on it. During the second year the seed remains in the darkness. It is not until the fifth year that the Chinese bamboo tree finally breaks thru the soil. Now once it breaks thru it grows ninety feet in six weeks. You can literally sit and watch it grow.

Our growth in life is very much like this. Most people are existing as black belts and are close to breaking thru the ground like the Chinese bamboo tree. Close to immense growth that will take them out of the darkness and back to who they were born to be. But to allow this process to occur we must truly get out of our own way. We must embrace the struggles that come our way not resist them. Pain and struggle in life are mandatory. Suffering is optional. Suffering = Pain X Resistance. Suffering clouds our judgement and weakens our resolve. It deepens the black on our belts but brings us no closer to the belt underneath.

Pain alone can do the opposite in our lives. It can clarify our values and give us tremendous strength. It can be the force which starts to strip away the black threads that still cover the white belt beneath. Post traumatic growth occurs when a person decides that what happens to them does not have to create suffering. It is when they decide that although they are going thru hell that they are going to keep going. It is when a person becomes aware that although they may have been broken, that we always mend stronger in the broken places.

The sword of a mans soul is forged not in glory at the mountaintop, but rather in fear and struggle while clinging to the rock wall high above the void.