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We generally tend to regard all forms of discomfort as something to be avoided. Invaluable, unwarranted situations and emotions that can quickly make us feel like we’re just victims of a cruel world – that everything is just happening to us. But more commonly in eastern traditions, it’s quite the contrary. Instead, that mindset of aversion to uncomfortable feelings like anger, jealousy, embarrassment etc. is itself what perpetuates our suffering. We end up emotionally feeding the situation in an endless cycle of thoughts, an unconscious loop that’s not only physically paralysing but also does nothing actionable to solve the perceived issues at bay.
There are other ways, far more practical than trying to get rid of it by punching someone in the face, insulting someone, or by repressing our feelings. These understandings completely transformed how I perceive the uncomfortable situations that arise in everyday life. Inspired by the works of Pema Chodron, I’ve condensed these into 6 things to remember when life feels like it’s falling apart:
1. THIS VERY MOMENT IS THE PERFECT TEACHER.
Instead of these uncomfortable feelings being bad news, realise that actually they are the richest soil for development. They arrive like unexpected messengers, uncovering with terrifying clarity exactly where we are stuck because they show us where we’re holding back. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and lucky for us it’s with us wherever we are.
There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”― Pema Chödrön, How to Love Yourself and Your World
The truth as Pema so eloquently writes is that each moment is a gift or a “present” in itself. We can not change what is, but we can choose to appreciate it and explore the value of what it is teaching us.
When you switch your perspective and observe this simple but undeniable truth in your personal experience, the stories of lack, limitation and tigers might just fade away.
2. THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF-COMPASSION.
Our worst critics are often ourselves. Popular western media and social conditioning often imply that we ought to reside in a constant emotionally stable, positive and enthusiastic mindset. This imposes unrealistic expectations upon us and can quickly have us harshly critiquing ourselves into self-sabotage.
Carl Jung once stated that “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely” and I’ve found this form of radical self-acceptance to be the most constructive teachings of them all.
How? A wholehearted willingness to be what and how we already are. Forgiving yourself completely. Accept everything about yourself – I mean everything.
This takes practice, but it quickly replaces this stressful self-loathing narrative that’s bogging us down with a compassionate self-loving attitude that removes those mental barriers. But not just for ourselves because it’s only when we afford ourselves compassion can we offer that to the world.
3. NOTHING LASTS. NOT EVEN YOUR TROUBLES.
We think that the point is to pass the test or 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. ” ― Pema Chödrön, Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times
In Physics, the second law of thermodynamics states that the degree of disorder is always increasing in the universe. Everything is impermanent, in an ever-changing flux.
We capture photographs and film, creating beautiful mosaics of time that we yearn to share with our friends, but perhaps their sentiments reside in the fact that we know, if not only unconsciously, that everything is continually forming and falling apart in the chaotic tides of time.
You could frame this as quite a depressing situation but instead, I find it very liberating to know that everything is changing and nothing lasts. Not even your troubles. Because we are continually offered the opportunity to ‘grow with the flow’ as Timothy leary wrote.
Looking into nature we see enormous rigid trees get uprooted by rough storms, yet the flexibility of foliage allows the grass to dance poetically to the tune of the wind. See here the futility in struggling to fight against the chaotic nature of our experience and you find a far more graceful approach to life. You start to dance with it, playfully adapting to the cards dealt with every new hand, every new moment.
4. WORRYING AND COMPLAINING ARE VICIOUS CIRCLES.
Don’t worry that you are worrying. Our minds are reactive: judging and comparing, liking and disliking, clinging and condemning. As long as we’re identified with these judgments and preferences, wants and aversions, our minds are continually thrown out of balance, caught in a tiring whirlpool of reactivity. Are you changing the situation by complaining? Or just going in vicious circles?
It’s much more rational to realise we can not change what has happened and worry of what could happen, well, simply hasn’t. So we can only flow with what is now. Leave the mind alone, and it will quiet itself. Overthinking to fix the problem is like trying to smooth out a wave with a flat iron. Or trying to swim by grasping onto water – you only end up making more of a mess and drowning. Let go, let be, and then act. It’s not a passive approach, it’s active.
5. TRUST YOURSELF AND STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN
To live fully is to continually step into unknown territory. You can’t make a mistake. Because even if you do something that seems to be totally disastrous, it can all be worked out. Trust yourself to step into the unknown territory of your own being and you’ve found the real adventure, the hero’s journey as Joseph Campbell coined it. You can only step into those areas “out there” by beginning to explore “in here,” in yourself, all by yourself. There you learn to live by your intuition.
So, live consciously in the present, laugh at your confusion, and enjoy the way life is unfolding. You might not end up exactly where you intended to go, but you’ll eventually arrive precisely where you need to be. If things are going well, enjoy it! It won’t last forever. If life feels like it’s falling apart, don’t worry, that won’t last forever either.
What else would you add to this list? What important life lessons do you often forget? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts…