I don't know about you but I spent years—no, decades—learning from challenge, from hardship, from suffering and sadness. I do believe that events and experiences that create distress and discomfort can be great motivators for change. When I feel like shit, there is only so much complaining I’ll do before I get off my derriere and do something about it! In fact, for many people, including me, this is the the first step on the path of personal growth.
Maybe it doesn’t resonate with you to have learned from hardship and struggle. Maybe you had a hunky-dorey childhood, two parents who loved you and each other and nary a care in the world besides doing homework and finding a great job upon graduating from a prestigious university. Ok, yes, I put on my Sarcasm Super Hero suit there for a minute. No one has a perfect life, I realize that. Everyone can remember times where they felt free and alive and everyone has experienced suffering, too.
Cancer, heart attack, death, divorce, job loss, bankruptcy, miscarriage. Suffering. That’s when we are at a crossroads, the crossroads of who we were and who we want to be. Cataclysmic events demand that we grow. Evolve and grow or stay stuck and continue to suffer.
When faced with adversity and feeling stuck, I’ve learned to ask myself, “If I had to stay stuck like this for the rest of my life, what skills, traits or characteristics would I have to cultivate in myself?” Usually the answer is the very thing I need to get me through the stuck spot and into a new version of myself.
Every time we find ourselves at the crossroads we are giving ourselves a little push to move forward. Growth is getting out of our comfort zone and it always means taking responsibility for ourselves and our feelings. We have to stop and look at the problem and notice how we feel. And then instead of the why-me’s what if we asked “What can I do differently next time?” And you ask that question again,
“If I had to stay stuck like this for the rest of my life, what skills, traits or characteristics would I have to cultivate in myself?”Its just another way of taking responsibility for our feelings and our reality. Of learning to deal with things differently instead of repeating the same old thing over and over again until you are pissed the hell off!
I was at that moment several years back when my inner world was cracking apart. I was at the nexus of all my issues; they were colliding inside me and I was at a crossroads. So I made a choice. Enough with this learning through hardship and suffering! Time to be responsible for my own happiness. At the crossroads I chose to learn from love, laughter, joy, peace and happiness. It was a choice, nothing more complicated than that.
Many people are used to suffering and it has become familiar and comfortable. Yet inside they struggle with feeling unhappy and, yes, they are learning, but the little voice inside their head is asking “Why is this happening to me?” If you have that voice, that question, then you are coming from a victim attitude. I know because I was too. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Of course difficult and terrible things will continue to happen, but so will good and amazing things. Some people are obsessed with doing anything they can to avoid their feelings of discomfort and unhappiness, they are often unwilling to learn and grow on a personal level. But, the Universe has a funny way of upping the ante until we pay attention. First we get the pixie dust (you and your husband don’t seem to connect like you used to do). Then we get the magic wand (you’re irritated and aggravated by your husband because he works all the time and never comes home to have dinner with you and the kids). Next, you get the 2 x 4 (he’s having an affair).
All the while, your body is telling you the same little parallel story. Tired leads to exhausted, leads to tense, leads to headaches, leads to migraines, leads to, well, you get the idea. Your body will show you the disharmony in its level of discomfort if you stop and pay attention. If you have pain and discomfort, whether the pixie dust or the crack of wood upside your head, you are at a crossroads. And you can acknowledge that you feel like shit and DO something about it. (Your relationship is over, use the time alone to refine what you will do differently next time and to think about what you really do want in your life, because that wasn’t it and you knew it as soon as you got sprinkled with pixie dust).
AND you can realize you don’t have to keep feeling like shit by being a victim. You can make dramatic changes without cataclysmic life experiences. You can make a choice or a series of small choices to learn and grow from positive experiences and still be open to learning from the challenging ones, too.
There are things we can’t control, but, (you knew I was going to say it) we can control our reactions to them. If we resist change and growth, if we resist the dynamic flux of life, which contains both challenges and love, then all we do is create disharmony. So its time to make a shift, maybe subtle, maybe huge.
Here is a practice I use to transition away from unnecessary suffering and to attract more of what I want. Of course I acknowledge the challenges and the dark stuff, they can be incredible teachers. But I start consciously looking for what I want in my life in the people, locations and things around me. When I see that amazing couple holding hands, laughing and in love, I whisper “thank you” to the Universe. “Thank you for showing me that so I know it exist and it is possible.” Thank you is what we say after we are given something for which we asked. So if you say thank you its as if you already received it, and you begin to build a new pathway to creating something positive instead of being a victim.
Whatever is in front of you, use it. But you have to look in the mirror. Are you truly happy with what you see? In what areas do you feel less than fulfilled? Where are you feeling stuck? If you had to stay like that for ever, what would you need to do or how would you need to act differently? Do you tend to learn from challenges or from love or from both?