Everything & Nothing

Gratitude and transformation: a profound year of learning and growth in my forties

Martin O'Toole
5 min readDec 31, 2019
Saying a fond farewell to the best year of my life.

As a young man in my mid-twenties, I would fantasise about being in my mid-forties. In this grand plan, I was a stone’s throw from early retirement. I had a flash car, a big house, and a beautiful woman who loved me. I was a partner in a hugely successful UK advertising agency. This was my self-portrait of ‘success’.

I could never have known back then that a lot of the ‘things’ that I coveted and prioritised didn’t matter a jot in the grand scheme of existence. Nor did I understand how the traumas of my childhood would continue to destructively impact me and those around me until I might one day be ready to learn about myself.

For twenty years I ran roughshod through my life’s journey; constantly line dancing between the roles of flame and moth; self-sabotaging and smashing everything in my path. Lobbing hand grenades over shoulders and covering my ears to drown out the sound of my own intuition. I was always restless, always uneasy, always making dramatic changes to my life. No matter how hard I tried, I could not find peace. Survival instinct trumped intuition every day of the week — drowning out that voice in my head. She knew though. She would constantly whisper, or sometimes even scream; she would try so tenderly then desperately to get my attention and show me another way. Yet I chose not to listen.

Rumi said: “Maybe you are searching amongst the branches for what only appears in the roots”, and when I discovered this passage, a place deep inside of me began to resonate as I realised I’d been going about the business of life in a rather misguided manner. Ever restless, ever searching, ever suffering. Here, in these wise and simple words were the makings of a great and wondrous journey inwards. Into observing and understanding my traumas. Into my past and my present. Into letting go.

“Maybe you are searching amongst the branches for what only appears in the roots”.

— Rumi

And so my journey of self-care came late in life — in fact only a couple of years ago, with the core work of my transformation being in 2019: the Chinese Year of the Pig. Thus in my early forties, it came to pass that all those gallons of spilt milk flowing under so many burnt bridges could and would eventually result in my journey of introspection and reinvention; starting with the tough lessons of forgiveness and self-love.

When it comes to personal development, I believe we’re all journeying at our own pace and on our own path. There is no right or wrong and time is an irrelevant construct to these lessons. As it has transpired, for me, the only way I knew to learn was to bull-rush and bash my head against the great wall of life experience, and to proactively encourage my penchant for drama and suffering. This was the précis to my real teachings of inner work. I had to totally reconstruct my understanding of self. And in doing so, I realised that to be anything and everything, I had to become nothing.

Buddha once said “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”, and suffer I did — by way of my own creation of course. I tended, fed and watered my Tamagotchi of suffering as if it were my firstborn. I was blind to the toxic affects of this approach to emotional processing; but then I suppose I had to get all of that doing out of my system before I could truly learn to be. A bemused smile creeps across my battle-damaged face as I consider that no matter the age, time or place, we all have the ability to change at any time of our lives. It took me 43 years to see the futility and devastation caused by my own suffering. 43 years for my path to eventually show me the beauty and profundity of my inward journey and of simply being.

This time last year, I was in the throes of my third mental breakdown. I felt hopeless; I was manic, depressed and broken. Yet I was filled with so much hope, as my brother had come back into my life and showed me an alternative path which would lead me inwards. He opened my eyes to my myriad possibilities and enabled me to step off the path of misery which I’d pounded for so long.

Gratefully, I turned towards the mystery and opportunity so abundantly lining my newfound route to reinvention. And now, as I write these words, I sit on a remote tropical island; my heart filled to the brim with love and gratitude as it sings to me like a replete carol singer in full swing.

I’ve learnt and continue to learn; changed and continue to change. I see beauty all around me in the simplest of things. And as I reflect on this truly transformational year, I look ahead with wonder to whatever new and beautiful lessons and opportunities will present themselves. I smile as it occurs to me that this manifestation won’t be in the shape of a house, or a car, or a company – none of which make up so much as a shred of my identity. A warm and fuzzy feeling courses through me as I see with absolute clarity that I truly am the master of my own fate; and that all I need do is be happy and present; to be nothing, to be everything.

Next to love, gratitude is, I feel, the highest vibration. Thus, my heartfelt thanks are vibing high to anyone and everyone who helped me find my way to being. You stuck with me through my darkest times; you supported me as I found my purpose. Or perhaps you’re one of the many beautiful souls I’ve only recently met in 2019 — the best year of my life so far. Either way and whomever you are, you supported me through my healing journey. You gave me light and love in equal measure, and so gratitude to you and gratitude for this wonderful thing we call life.

Happy new year and peace and abundant love to each and every one of you. Here’s to always learning and always growing; to open hearts and minds no matter our age or circumstance. It turns out that old leopards can learn new tricks any time they choose to observe their spots. So if you need to find me in 2020, inwards is where I’ll be — having a tender word with myself whilst learning to love.

For Macy

Dedicated to my best furry friend, Macy (2013–2019). You saved my life and taught me the lesson of unconditional love. You were by my side for every early step of my awakening. Big love wherever you may be, buddy.

“May the wind always be at your back and the sun upon your face. And may the wings of destiny carry you aloft to dance with the stars”.

— George Jung.



Martin O'Toole

Psychedelic integration coach and counsellor, How To Die Happy author, podcaster, and mental health advocate writing about healing and the Anatomy of Happy.