The medicine of bitterness: living life fully

Part of my life art is to work with emotions. I love going deep to taste their immediate medicine, and let their wisdom inform my life moving forward. Here’s one example of this work.

One day, I found myself working with bitterness. I’d forgotten how, once upon a time, it was one of those feelings I swore to never harbour within myself.

Having managed to avoid bitterness for decades; finally, I felt urged to turn towards it, to work with it deeply within my being. Doing so revealed what had felt like the lost times of my life in their unembellished entirety.

The years of dedication to deep healing and integration: dropping beneath the subtle layers of disassociation, denial, shame, guilt, anger, disappointment, remorse and grief… when all I wanted was to return to the peace, happiness and deep connection I’d already known and loved.

Expansion to wholeness requires light and dark. As many of us know by now, it is an integration process; not an escape. But would this part of the exploration journey be welcomed?

As these new parts of my humanness unfolded, I found myself pushed away and unsupported by the people around me. No one could do it for me, of course. What was harder to accept was how no other seemed able to step up and fully understand, let alone hold my hand through the process of deep healing.

The one I had trusted to walk the path with, mirrored me to a fault. When Kundalini rose up within us both, hitting our heart spaces with sudden force; that unexpected illumination exploded in our faces. The past life traumas, the deep and wide ancestral webs weaving our lives…

The simple truth was that it was too intense, both for myself and everyone around me. I was catapulted into a life of jumping place to place, continent to continent, healing through love in many forms. From the haven I knew life could be, I felt uprooted and unprepared to learn to work with the intensity of this fire of the heart.


Playing with fire

Playing with fire is likely to get us burned. But if we stay devoted to the art of mastering our inner fire, we will eventually become it. We learn to wield it, have it dance for us rather than consume us.

What does that mean, practically?

Let’s think of fire as representing an emotional spectrum from “rage” to “burning loving passion“.

Fire is what fuels our life experiences, making them come alive with passion.

While I’m all for supporting tranquillity, it is also true that as a human being, action and movement is the complementary half of our existence here. Why would we be gifted these incredible bodies, if not to have incredible experiences?

The fire of anger and rage helps define what is worth living for, what is worth fighting for. It helps define our personal moment to moment values, and where our boundaries need to be in order for us to have the experiences here that we deeply long to have.

It is up to us to learn to transmute the fire of anger into one of passion and purpose.

Bitterness is the result of not having been able to access our anger, and therefore keeping silent about our side of the story, our truth, needs, value and worth. When we cannot own our truth, we cannot own our purpose.


Drinking the poison

In all honesty, it was bitter to look back and see all the sweetness of life that I could have experienced, had I stood up for myself earlier.

The sweetness I could have had, had I managed to let go sooner, and more fully, and had there been more freedom to go for the experiences I was worthy of all along.

It was bitter to see how I, myself, was the one holding myself back from moving on. Keeping parts of myself trapped in the cage of my mind, for a want for things to be different. Wanting for it all to return to the goodness that once was.

As a child, seeing how it affected adults around me, I used to think of bitterness as the ultimate poison.

But sometimes we have to drink the poison just so that we can fully understand it, and transform it from its lethal aspect into the gift of life it can be.


What is the gift of the bitterness I’ve tasted in life?

Bitterness is tied to the passage of time. We feel bitter when time passes by, while we feel left out in the cold. We feel life’s sweetness has deserted us. Years lost that can never be reclaimed.

It reminds us that time will keep drifting past, whether we choose to stay on the side-lines or to fully own our story.

The human being certainly has deep needs to feel seen, heard and valued. We want for our stories to mean something, to not just pass by as the speck of dust that we are in a vast universe. Maybe we want to leave a legacy through our children. Maybe through our work. Whatever it is, it must mean something to someone – why else all this hard work just to exist in this complicated world?

Bitterness calls on us to radically own our experience. To say; my truth and my life path inherently matter, with or without outside acknowledgement. My joy and expansion matter, whether a special someone can support me or not. Regardless, I will not wait on the side-lines for this story to evolve.

There’s a special sweetness inherent in tasting the medicine of bitterness. When we can feel it fully, with an open heart, it gifts us the capacity of living life without fear. For really, what could we fear more than a life not lived; a life dulled and darkened by giving up on life? Tasting the medicine, and fully owning it, removes its sting. And with that, the hold it has on us.

The medicine of bitterness enables our capacity to act – even when not knowing the consequences. A very powerful medicine in those times when there’s nothing else we can do but take that next leap of faith.

It reminds us of our responsibility to courageously choose presence and joy within the ordinary moments of daily life – it is never too late to begin, or try again.

And it empowers us with knowing the value of living life fully – to live entirely for this moment, and not hold back any last breath within us. To honor this gift of life by giving it all we’ve got. 

Artwork by Carina Ehlers
Art: To the Source, Carina Ehlers

Without a doubt, Rumi was right all along:
The wound is where light enters you.

For that light of love to be allowed free entrance into our hearts and being, we have to recoginze ourselves as both the light and the darkness. The dagger and the healing love.

Love is what exists when these dualities are no longer pulling our attention towards one or the other. When their balance is so deeply integrated into our being, that embracing it all, is all that remains.

Read more: 

Emotional work is a liberating craft

What is self-integration? Journey into shadow and light

Inward and outward phases of healing