Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks Into Breakthroughs | Michaela Haas

2015 September 7

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Do you know that feeling when the right message comes along at the right time?

Whenever I’ve gone through tough times, or been asked by a friend how I’ve coped with difficulties, my tried and true, go-to recommendation has been to read Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart. It has been a great comfort during many an upset – large or small. I pulled it out a few weeks ago after a friend who I had suggested it to spoke send me a thank you note for doing so. She expressed that my recommendation for her to read it helped comfort her during the extreme grief she encountered after her father’s passing. It was a sign for me to pick it up again as a support to help me through my current situation and work through the confusion, pain and suffering that I’ve been encountering.

I recently received a review copy of Michaela Haas’ latest book Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks Into Breakthroughs. After reading the description, I thought “Oh heck yes. This is a book I NEED in my life. Right now! Let me at it.” The concept of transforming suffering into something good, something of value has been knocking around in my head and heart for a bit and the central themes of posttraumatic growth and developing resilience sounded absolutely, well, life affirming. As someone who has been in therapy to cope with some hard spots in life (death, depression, loss, anxiety, fear, suffering, the yips), this book was yet another message well received, loud and clear.

The latest proliferation of life coaches who are all blathering on about “manifesting the perfect life,” shooting hazy, pixel perfect images of smoothie bowls and speaking to the “10 Easy Steps to Creating 365 Days of Joy, Magic and Smiles” aren’t the tribe I’m looking for when it comes to helping me through suffering. Who knows better about suffering than someone has experienced it right? Someone who has looked it square in the eyes and not run from it. Well maybe they cowered from it a bit, or cursed it out for a while – but they decided to not let the pain overshadow or overtake them completely.

[Tweet ““How do we actually use suffering so that it transforms our being?~ @anipemachodron”]

Michaela’s personal story of chronic illness mixed with heartache, blended with loss, shaken and stirred with well – our old friend all pervasive suffering was what spurred her on to write this book.

bouncingShe was on a mission to find out why some people were able to make it through the hard times, while others crumbled. Her investigation was grounded in the concept of resilience and how people from all walks of life were able to “bounce forward” and listen to their experience of trauma in order to experience posttraumatic growth.

[Tweet ” I set out to ask masters of resilience how they found strength in adversity. ~ @MichaelaHaas “]

Michaela interviewed a diverse group of people who have all learned and grown from the pain they’ve encountered. Each had developed immense strength in the face of adversity and flipped the switch on the habitual ways that they experienced fear, trauma and pain. The book delves into the personal stories of these individuals, distills the wisdom from their way of transforming their pain into something meaningful and offers the reader a detailed look at how they too can apply this insight into their lives.

The stories of survival in the book are gripping and vivid. Some names are ones we’re all familiar with – Temple Grandin, Bernie Glassman and Maya Angelou. Others are names of everyday people who have taken extraordinary pain and channeled it into meaningful action such as creating organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, or have neutralized the suffering into joy and used it to fuel their artistic endeavors. From the jazz musician’s story of how he survived and grew from the atrocities of the Holocaust to the young pro surfer who lost the use of his lower body in a freak accident and was able to continue to work to create an organization that shares the love of surfing with everyone. The individuals noted in this book have all gone through incredible pain, survived and come out the other side improved, empathetic and aware of the unique gift that their suffering has offered them.

Each chapter offers an example of the lessons that can be gained from the absolute worst of life’s circumstances. Advice and information from leading experts in psychology and trauma are peppered throughout and help back up the subject matter to keep it from veering into the “too good to be true” zone. It’s not a “flighty, woo-woo, let’s all feel good self help book whatsoever.” It’s a “dig deep, here’s the shit, dig in and get real/find some perspective/look at things a different way/you got this” book. It’s a guide to how to face pain and grow from it.

It’s an empowering read that speaks to how while we may not have control over much, we have control over our minds. We can train in this “resilience mindset” aka “growth mindset” in order to survive and then thrive from what causes us pain. Something good has to come from it right?

Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks Into Breakthroughs isn’t a book of ‘suffering porn’ and won’t leave you feeling like you’ve just steeped yourself in a big broth of traumatic stories. It’s uplifting and offers real world advice for recovery. The list of five exercises to cultivate courage in the face of adversity at the close of the book is essential reading, as are the recommendations highlighted throughout each of the chapters.

There’s a great amount of compassion and gentleness that’s apparent in this book. While the bitter pill of pain and suffering is present in reading about the personal setbacks and tragedies of those featured within its pages, the sweetness of discovering a life that has meaning makes the medicine go down easier.

With the author’s background being strongly rooted in Buddhism, you may be asking if this is a book solely for Buddhists. While there are some mentions to Dharma teachings, Michaela’s experiences in India and several quotes from some Buddhist notables, it’s not a book for this one group alone. If you have suffered, are suffering or are looking to build resilience against future suffering – well, this book is for you.

While reading Bouncing Forward, I was struck many times with remembrance of learnings or ‘ah ha moments’ from past therapy sessions. In some ways this book is a compendium of much of the work that I’ve been doing on my own journey – self-compassion, gentleness, empathy, letting go, self-reflection and a search for meaning and purpose. It’s all in there and so much more.

To have this book to rely on as a support during these difficult times has been an absolute blessing. I highly encourage you to pick it up for yourself, friends and family who are looking to cultivate a new way of relating to trauma and suffering. I only hope this post does it justice for how remarkable and helpful it has been to read this book as I work towards healing

Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks Into Breakthroughs takes its place on the recommended list of books that I suggest to friends who are going through hardships and will be placed next to my well-worn copy of When Things Fall Apart. They are perfect compliments for one another. When Things Fall Apart you can always Bounce Forward. The choice is yours.

 

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