The Upside of the Downside: Excavating the Good from the Bad

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“Be confused, it’s where you begin to learn new things. Be broken, it’s where you begin to heal. Be frustrated, it’s where you start to make more authentic decisions. Be sad, because if we are brave enough we can hear our heart’s wisdom through it.” ~ S.C. Lourie

If we have the awareness for it, there’s a lightside to every darkside. There’s an animus in every yin. There’s an anima in every yang. There’s a softness buried within even the roughest patch. There can even be good luck hidden inside bad luck.

Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes it’s more up than down. Sometimes it’s more down than up. Either way, it’s a veritable roller-coaster ride.

But there are ways to turn the tables on being down on our luck. There are ways to outshine the darkness. There are ways to learn from the downside by mining for diamonds in the rough.

There are ways to transform our experience into something more constructive and progressive than merely wallowing in sadness, madness, misery, or pain.

Glorious sadness

“In the end, I want my heart to be covered in stretch marks.” ~ Andrea Gibson

There is virtue in heartbreak. Soul can be plucked from sadness. Our ability to love more authentically can come from having experienced terrible loss. Our heart breaks apart in order to come back together as a more powerful version of itself.

It is the ability to break apart and come back together again that makes a resilient hear so powerful. Having our heart broken open can keep us openhearted for more experiences – whether good or bad. But we must let it fully break.

Where we tend to go wrong is not allowing our heart to break all the way. As Rumi said, “You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” Instead, we have the tendency to repress the sadness. We suppress the grief. We resist the heartbreak. We smother the pain away without ever really feeling it. So it just lingers in the shadows, but it grows stronger. It festers. It magnifies and manifests into an aggrandized version of itself that we call Shadow.

But when we let our heart break fully, it opens up. The Shadow becomes self-actualized. It is finally allowed to be a part of the whole. A glorious sadness gushes out so that self-improved meaning can pour in. It hurts, but it’s a joyful ache. Our sadness finally has a resting place, a sacred space where it can be transformative instead of crippling.

Sweet madness

“Research indicates that when we’re angry at others, we aim for retaliation or revenge. But when we’re angry for others, we seek out justice and a better system. We don’t just want to punish; we want to help.” ~Adam Grant

Being angry at others is easy. Being angry for others is challenging. The former creates vindictive chaos and misguided vengefulness. The latter creates compassionate rebellion and empathetic insurrection.

If, as Spinoza said, “all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare,” then discovering a way to be angry for others seems to be a most excellent endeavor. The problem is that it is so rare.

Perhaps a way to make it less rare is to focus our anger into the upside of the downside. Into the sweet madness of revolt. The kind of madness that is full of love for all things. The kind of rage that is full of compassion for others. The kind of passion that is full of foolishness for the healthy progression of the species.

Sweet madness is madness for love. It’s being so filled with love for the interconnectedness of all things that our anger toward anything that tries to destroy that sacred interdependence is ruthless and fierce. It’s David courageously standing up to Goliath for the freedom of the whole.

It’s harnessing diversity through unorthodox crazy wisdom in the face of any dogmatic orthodoxy attempting to homogenize everything. It’s defying the gods with Promethean courage and stealing fire despite.

Existential masochism

“What is a tragedy but a misunderstood comedy.” ~ Shakespeare

In the sense that pain is an inherent aspect of the human condition, it behooves us to discover a way to negotiate pain in healthier ways. There is pain in growth just as there is growth in pain. Existential masochism is taking personal responsibility for both our experience of pain and our experience of growth.

Existential masochism is unearthing the mystery from the misery. It is not only finding pleasure in pain, it is the pleasurable experience of transforming pain into strength.

It’s hands-on emotional intelligence. It’s proactive self-overcoming. It’s consciously seeking the elusive Phoenix Egg in a sea of ashes. It’s pulling our rebirth out of our death.


When we use the tool of existential masochism, our ability to be vulnerable becomes robust. We become better able to negotiate the pain that arises from our vulnerability. We’re able to turn the tables on pain and come at it with a sense of humor, rather than a sense of dread.

If, as Rumi said, “the cure for pain is in the pain,” then pain becomes information that we can use to leverage meaning into our lives. The more meaning we’re able to create, the less painful meaninglessness becomes. As long as we’re able to learn from it, pain can be a steppingstone. Seen in this way, pain can be an initiation into wisdom, a flourishing into Eudaimonia. Which can be quite pleasurable.

In the end, our ability to discover the upside in the downside makes us more adaptable to the vicissitudes of life. It makes us more flexible regarding the impermanence of the universe. We’re better able to withstand the thrashing about of the roller-coaster ride that is life. Like a flower breaking through concrete, our ability to find glory in sadness, sweetness in madness, and pleasure in pain, has led to a flourishing despite the odds.

Image source:

Breaking open

Hammer heart

Tomasz Alen Kopera