Here’s an often unwelcome, but ultimately unavoidable truth: sometimes life is just hard.
I feel like 2017 more than other years has been a hard year for me — as evidenced by the fact that I’ve barely written anything for this blog. But in some ways I can see that 2017, more than other years, has also been a really good year for me.
Yes, my health has been fragile at best and, yes, the daily news cycle has trampled my heart 3,000x over. But I’ve also mostly managed to stay reasonably cheerful and engaged in the face of adversity.
In some ways I consider this to have been my greatest triumph for 2017.
That life fell apart a bit and I didn’t spiral down into the depths of despair. That, slowly but surely, I’m learning to surf life’s sneaker waves instead of being bowled over by them.
Which isn’t to say that I never have days when everything seems like a mess and I can’t keep my tears to myself — because 2017 has definitely been enough to bring me to my knees from time to time. It’s just that the hard stuff hasn’t been what defines my experience.
I firmly believe that living this way is possible for all of us.
There’s no magic to it — and at the same time it’s still the most magical thing I know.
The secret is as simple as this: to the best of our ability, we choose to stay with the struggle.
This is a lesson I first learned on the meditation cushion, a lesson I first learned working with physical discomfort as chronic back pain often turned a simple meditation practice into an exercise in working with agony.
Sticking with the practice despite the discomfort turned out to be a useful training, even if I did not fully appreciate its value at the time.
The truth is that life is uncomfortable.
Reading the news breaks our hearts each morning. Disasters, big and small, plague our existence. We lose the people we love, we give our hearts away and have them thrown back in our face, we put everything we have into our dreams and fail anyway.
This truth is the very nature of what it means to be alive and human.
The only thing we get to control is our response to difficult circumstances.
Do we numb out and stuff our feelings down deep inside of us so that we don’t have to experience our own discomfort?
Do we lash out and blame others, pointing the finger anywhere but here, certain that our pain must be someone else’s fault?
Do we run — fleeing the job, the city, the marriage certain that if only we found the right job, city, or relationship that it would ease our discomfort and finally make us happy?
The truth, as best I know it, is that none of these strategies ever really work.
We can’t numb away our discomfort without numbing away our joy.
Blaming others brings no lasting peace because a part of the problem still in some way lies with us.
Running brings no escape because our demons follow us wherever we might flee.
The truth, as best I know it, is that lasting freedom comes only when we choose to stay with the discomfort, when we choose to stay with the struggle.
If I could wish one thing for you, it would be this: that you might have the strength and the courage to not abandon yourself in your moments of distress.
I believe that choosing to stay with yourself through the agonies of physical pain, illness, heartbreak, terror, or shame is the kindest thing you could ever do for yourself.
I believe that choosing to stay with ourselves through the storm is at its very essence the way we reclaim our true power.
Because when we practice living this way we develop the ingredients necessary for courage.
We develop the willingness to acknowledge that we are struggling, without judgement about whether or not it is reasonable for us to struggle.
We develop the capacity to engage with our difficult emotions instead of hiding, blaming, or running — to instead hold space for our struggle, to breathe with our difficulties, and to remember what it is to struggle and at the very same moment to feel safe.
We develop the capacity to bring our own kind attention to our hurts, to our heartbreaks, to our unmet needs. And in doing so, we learn that our own kind attention is the most basic ingredient of true healing.
We learn to engage with our struggle instead of trying desperately to escape from it and in doing so we develop the readiness, the skills we need to stand directly in the face of life’s fiercest winds and roughest seas and stand rooted in ourselves and ready — not to flee — but to transmute fear into aliveness as we laugh into the wind and the rain streams like tears down our cheeks.
It is my belief that this knowing is the essence of freedom and that, if you stand ready to face life’s fiercest storms, you stand ready for anything — awake, and alive, and firmly rooted in your power.
This is my wish for you.
P.S. If this post resonates with you but you aren’t quite sure how to really apply it, I’d like to invite you to consider the option of private coaching with me. While the concepts that lead us to freedom are in some sense universal, the barriers are often very individual and working privately with a coach can be the most effective way to overcome your unique barriers and see real results. If this interests you, click here to schedule a free conversation with me and learn more about what I offer my private clients.