of Support and Inspiration:
This Too Shall Pass
There's a wonderful Zen story about a king. As he was about to die, he called his three sons to him one by one. To the oldest son he said, "To you, my oldest son, I gift all my realms and principalities. May you govern them well." To the second son he said, "To you, my son, I give all my estates. May you run them in a good fashion that the people might prosper on them and that the harvest might be abundant." Finally, he called for his youngest son, who was truly his favorite, the child of his heart and soul, the one that he felt so akin to, so close to, and he said to this son, "To you my most beloved, I gift what is most precious of all." Then, he handed him a ring. And on the inside of the ring was inscribed: "This too shall pass." This understanding may seem simple, but it is a profound knowing, and in this king's mind, it was equal to all the kingdoms and principalities he owned.
Remembering this phrase when meeting adversity and trauma can be very helpful. Yet, in some life challenges, the outer circumstances don't seem to pass. Some may truly be experiencing a life-threatening or chronic illness or difficulties that seem to linger. Here, too, however, the saying has relevance, because what can still pass are the fearful or angry responses to any situation-including death, so that new, more healing, loving responses can be invited into people's lives, even in the midst of the adversity or trauma.
Stop Judging Your Feelings
I've also learned from personal experience-and discuss it often with clients-that, even when outer circumstances remain challenging, we can invite ourselves not to feel bad about feeling bad. If we're already feeling bad, it's enough already. But what happens is that, on top of this, we often judge ourselves for feeling bad. Doing so heaps insult on injury and undermines us. It's just this added burden that can often push us over the edge. We're better off not judging what we're feeling or undergoing, but instead allowing and observing the actual grief or anger or illness, whatever it is.
When you judge yourself for your feeling or experience, you set up a situation where you're resisting the feeling and not accepting it. "Oh, I'm angry. I shouldn't be." Or, "I shouldn't be this angry over that." And, as you get caught in this critical mode, you can actually perpetuate the feeling, get stuck in that place longer than if you just let it pass through without judgment.
One way to bypass this self-judgment is through the path of non-resistance. Here, you let whatever you're feeling or experiencing pass through you, like sunlight passing through a pane of glass. You're not grabbing hold of it and getting knotted up in it. If fear comes up, you say to yourself, "OK, here's fear." Then, you let it pass through, and there it goes. When, instead of accepting what's happening or what we're feeling, we get caught in thinking, "Make it not be like this. Or, I've got to get through this fast. Why is this taking so long? Or, I shouldn't be feeling this," we can suffer even more.
Mine the Gold of What Is
The invitation is to mine the gold of what is. We tend to think that the gold is only in certain circumstances or ways of being. Being happy. Looking pretty. Being healthy. But there are gifts even in the adversity and trauma in life. And often it may even be that our soul might in some way want to experience this adversity and trauma in order to extract the gifts. My perception is that the sooner we extract the gifts and the learning that life challenges offer, the better able we are to move on.
Consider the different ways of perceiving the situation-are you're looking at it with the glass half-full vision of it or with the glass half-empty? Last night I was describing to a friend that I was feeling a bit depressed and kind of empty. We were discussing my age, which is 56 and the major astrological event that happens at that time known as the Saturn return. It is associated with a lot of letting go, shifting and restructuring in people's lives. So I was talking about how things are changing and falling away and how I have less energy than I am used to having. On that day, I felt particularly low energy and found myself frustrated and saddened by that.
This was me feeling bad about feeling bad.
My friend, however, took another perspective. "You know," she said, "it sounds to me like you are softening." When I heard that, I was able move beyond my initial perception and look inventively at the big picture of what was happening. Now, as I looked once more at my low energy and despondency, what I saw was: "Oh, I'm deepening." I unearthed another way to look at the situation. Saying "I'm deepening" gives me empowerment in my soul as I make the journey.
Meeting Suffering with Grace
In our culture, we live with an a kind of belief that says, "You should be happy; everything should be going well. You shouldn't be sick. If you are sick or unhappy, there's something wrong with you." In Buddhist teachings, it is understood that life includes suffering. And I think if we understand that, too, then when suffering comes, we no longer think, "There's something wrong with me, I'm a lacking person." Instead, we say, "Oh, here's this part of life. How do I meet it?" And perhaps sometimes, we can invite ourselves to meet adversity and trauma with the utmost grace that we can muster-and the utmost presence.
For example, when my recent partnership ended, I essentially felt like I was going through a second divorce. I thought here it comes again, the same thing. The relationship ended similarly to my first marriage with the person departing to be with someone else. At the demise of my first marriage, I felt angry and distraught, somewhat vengeful. Then, when the second one came around, I felt very hurt and sad, but this time I thought, "Here is the invitation to do this differently." I really tried to go through the end of the second partnership in the most conscious, caring way that I could- and it felt so better to meet the same situation in a new manner.
One of the things I did differently the second time, was to be there for myself and for my grief. I cried every day for three months. I couldn't help myself. Various things would come up that would trigger my tears. Someone might ask me, "Oh, how's Rick?" and I was suddenly sobbing. Instead of judging that , however, I thought to myself, "This is what I need to do. This is sad territory and I need just to feel my feelings." That helped a lot. I stopped working against myself or trying to be anywhere other than where I was. I also sought to be more conscious and caring with my ex-partner and we met to debrief with one another. That felt a lot better than getting polarized. After a time, my feelings began to normalize again.
We're not "the only one"
What I've learned myself and what I see in others is that when we go through any kind of huge change or challenge, we can expect for some feelings to arise. I recently interviewed some people involved with a teen program for young women, and they discussed the challenges of that life passage into young womanhood-all the dangers of negative self-image, cliques, feeling outcast and experiencing low self esteem. To counteract that, they're doing activities in nature with these young women, healthy risk-taking kinds of things, like rope courses and such. They also have groups where the women talk together, and one of the young women was saying how important it was to be able to talk about the challenges they were experiencing with others who were undergoing them-to find out that she is not the only one who feels she is left out of groups or weird or that she doesn't look right.
In general, when we are dealing with any kind of adversity, trauma or challenge, we realize, "Oh, this territory that I'm in is one that other people are in, too, and it's normal that I'm feeling upset, or discouraged or angry or sad," then we feel reassured. We discover that other people experience what we do, too. We are not alone.
Alissa Lukara is a writer and president and originator of the Life Challenges Web site. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright © 1999 Life Challenges. This article originally appeared on the Life Challenges website, which helps people face and transform adversity.
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