“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein
Author, Barbara Kingsolver, instead of rescuing her children when they were young and struggling with something would tell them “It’s alright. You can do hard things.” Then she would stand back and watch them work through their struggle to find some facsimile of success on their own. When they reached adulthood, her children told her they often reminded themselves when faced with a tough situation that they could do hard things. This, they said, always helped them get on with the business of persevering through whatever was in front of them.
“I can do hard things” has become a mantra for me. It’s applicable in about a thousand different ways to varying degrees throughout a week or perhaps a day, depending on what I’m facing. The business of being human is messy and complex, and every now and then something crops up that takes me by surprise, hammering away at one of my core fears. In a flash, those fears — known, understood, and generally settled like a thin layer of fine silt on the bottom of a stream bed — can get stirred up as if some mischievous kid just came along and dragged a stick through the middle of it sending everything that had been resting quietly into an opaque, ugly cloud of brown.
How to respond when fear reaches for your throat? How about when the stakes feel really high, so much so that the beast reaching for your throat feels like the scariest, ugliest, fiercest thing you think you ever will see? What then?
For me, the only place to start is with eyes wide open — full frontal acknowledgement of what is going on in that moment and surrounding that situation. Gotta deal with life on life’s terms — no telling myself pretty stories to make me feel more comfortable, there’s no room for denial about anything. That only prolongs the agony in an acute moment anyway, and nobody needs that.
But after that first flush of fear-filled emotion passes, the one where I’ve already worst-case-scenarioed what this situation might say about me, or the other people involved, or how I’m living my life, I have to choose not to turn away from the discomfort it is bringing up in me. By that I mean not turning away from my discomfort in any way whatsoever — not physically trying to remove myself from the situation even if I feel like my skin is on fire and the only thing that will put it out is to leave; and not mentally turning from it — staying there, being fully present with the emotion, feeling the totality of the discomfort. Because the truth is that this is where the soul growth happens, slap in the middle of the discomfort, and if I run from it I miss what it has to teach me.
Lately there’s a message that keeps coming at me from the Universe with the repetitive insistence of something that refuses to be ignored. It’s a woodpecker drilling into my house while I’m inside. The message is this: be present; sit in your discomfort and resist the urge to struggle against it or turn away from it; let go of the illusion that you have any control over anything except your own thoughts, attitudes, and actions; live from love; be love; and know that where you are is where you’re supposed to be. Everything is the path.
(Credit for the following passage goes to Carolyn Gregoire, who authored an article about Marcus Aurelius‘s 167AD compendium of personal writings called The Meditations and how his work shaped Ariana Huffington’s thoughts in her new book, Thrive.)
“Perhaps the most memorable passage of Meditations encourages us to view life as being, in the words of the poet Rumi, “rigged in [our] favor.” It’s a powerful way of reframing any obstacle we encounter. Aurelius wrote:
True understanding is to see the events of life in this way: ‘You are here for my benefit, though rumor paints you otherwise.’ And everything is turned to one’s advantage when he greets a situation like this: You are the very thing I was looking for. Truly whatever arises in life is the right material to bring about your growth and the growth of those around you. This, in a word, is art — and this art called ‘life’ is a practice suitable to both men and gods. Everything contains some special purpose and a hidden blessing; what then could be strange or arduous when all of life is here to greet you like an old and faithful friend?”
Still, sometimes legitimately hard stuff happens in life, and the pain that comes with it is fierce, and you do suffer, and the discomfort of where you are and the disappointment you feel with yourself and others is intense. But somehow you manage to dig deep and find the well of courage you hoped but weren’t sure existed. And you walk through the fire, and you know you are strong because, guess what, sweetheart, you just got to the other side of something huge. And you pat yourself on the back because, while you feel depleted, there is no denying the strength and courage behind what you just did. And you find yourself cracked open in a new way, which is amazing, but still you feel like you’ve got the biggest emotional hangover there ever was. And while you know you’ve just proven to yourself that you’re kind of a Badass, you wish you were just a plain-old, bona fide, pure Badass, and that your badassery stood on its own and wasn’t so utterly intertwined with your tenderness and your flaws. And then someone hears your story, and they give you this…
and it makes you laugh, and it helps you heal because it is the truth.
Artwork credit: [Sugarboo Designs, Rebecca Puig]