“Every human being has gone through a tragedy of sorts. And the idea is that you have two paths you can take. You can find that alchemy that turns lead into gold, find that magic where you can see the loss as an entry point for learning and grow from it and become wiser and stronger.” —Jillian Michaels
A small meadow that I walk by every day had been mowed a while ago. The grass was not growing back very fast as we had had dry weather until recently. But something caught my attention earlier this week—a Milkweed plant had grown knee-high above the shorn grass and stood out in stark relief from the dry, brown grass.
I was curious whether a plant had been cut down or if this was a new plant. When I looked closely, I saw that one stem of the Milkweed had been mowed off, and in its place, three new stems had grown.
As I looked around the meadow, I saw other plants that had been mowed down that were now tall and blooming! Red Clover, Daisy Fleabane, the tough, persistent Canadian Thistle, and others.
It was not the first time the meadow had been mowed, and I knew for sure the Milkweed had not had its chance to bloom yet. The Red Clover, like Alfalfa, grows fast and had probably bloomed before each mowing. The grass had already gone to seed before it was mowed the second time—its life cycle for the season was complete. But the Milkweed had still not bloomed or produced pods full of fluffy seeds. It seemed to have accelerated growth to compensate for the set-back of being mowed down.
In 1995, Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, along with Richard Tedeschi, PhD, coined the term post-traumatic growth (PTG)—when our biggest life challenges can offer opportunities for meaning and growth. While the term ‘post-traumatic growth’ is relatively new, the theme of suffering, meaning, and growth has been prominent in ancient spiritual and religious traditions, literature, and philosophy for eons. Resilience is bouncing back to ‘normal’ after a tragedy or challenge, whereas with PTG, we bounce back higher, so to speak. We learn to make meaning of our suffering. We learn a new way of being. We grow, bloom, produce seeds and fruit, and complete our life cycle. We turn lead into gold.