“Every adversity, every failure, and every heartache, carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.” — Napoleon Hill
Do you believe life is meant to be difficult or that tough times come to teach us valuable lessons? Think carefully about your answer because this will reveal whether your pain and suffering can become a doorway into self-discovery. We seldom gain fulfilment when we operate within our comfort zone since our biggest accomplishments come when we explore new horizons.
We humans are creatures of comfort and will do anything to maintain balance in our lives because being safe is fundamental to our survival. That which imposes on our safety and well-being is a threat and can cause worry, anxiety and tension. It is why people choose to stay in their comfort zones because who wants to experience these negative emotional states? Yet, there are those such as the Navy Seals or SAS Commandos who do exactly that; they put themselves in uncompromising situations to become accustomed to the harsh conditions of warfare. Closer to home, our lives are not as disruptive as the war zones these elite soldiers operate in. We still experience anxiety in everyday situations whether at work, driving our car or in our relationships. Have you experienced this in your own life where the smallest event will cause emotional discontent? These things happen due to being overstimulated via external stressors. Every person interprets stress differently and some internalise it in various ways.
When hardship occurs, it may feel like an avalanche hurtling towards us. However, our most important lessons arise from difficult times because they teach us the depths of our strength. It’s what the American Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron means when she writes in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times of the need to accept our problems because there is great strength and healing contained within these experiences: “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” — Chinese Proverb
I recall the most difficult period in my life occurred in the aftermath of losing my father to illness in my twenties. In the months and years that followed, I experienced despair because I didn’t know how to deal with the grief that consumed me. I wanted to run from it due to its intensity. However, I learned to process the grief a little at a time and gradually my pain and suffering eased. There were times where I thought it was the last of the grief, then around the corner I was met with more anguish. It felt like I was starting back at square one again. Confronting despairing emotions like grief is akin to being in battle: you face the enemy when you are strong, yet it is important to retreat afterward, since the next wave of emotions will come in when least expected.
Have you experienced tragedies in your life whether it be the loss of a loved one or something else personal? How did you deal with it? For those I’ve coached over the years, many of them run away from or defer their pain for a later period. Yet, putting off dealing with intense emotions is unwise because they have a way of coming back as a giant avalanche. Difficult moments teach us to appreciate what really matters, irrespective of why they happen or the meaning contained within the experience. We come to realise the fragility of life and what is important to us when we experience anguish and despair. In the wake of my father’s loss, I realised my family, healing and self-compassion were important components and I sought to surround myself with them. Whilst we cannot control what happens to us, we can control how we respond to difficult moments instead of remain mired in our problems.
During our greatest hardships, we might think we cannot cope with the wave of grief and despair that takes place. The key is to take each day as it comes and not look far into the future. This is where we learn to let go of expectations, and trust we will overcome our pain. I maintain that life is an interplay of dualities mixed in a sea of contrast. We can be sailing along experiencing joy and happiness one moment, no sooner than experience hardship and challenges the next. Unexpectedly, we find ourselves in the grips of despair wondering whether we were hit by a double-decker bus. This scenario is real for many people and whilst they may suffer, they eventually realise it is no way to live and slowly find their way back. It may be a long road back, yet building a home in the darkness is not what life had intended for us.
Yes, we have choices, though I believe ours is to experience contrasting states which contribute to the lessons we will learn. It is not the events themselves that break us since we are given the wisdom to overcome almost anything because as the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once declared: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” This is proof that whatever happens to us, we will cope because we are infinite souls journeying through life having a human experience.
Originally published at medium.com