Adversity. Obstacles. Problems.
We all have little or bigger struggles in our daily life. As an exercise, just for one day, try writing a few words in a journal every time you feel something is a “problem”, small or big, or “feels wrong”, and be amazed at how sensitive we are to the negative scenarios we encounter in our daily awareness. Any of the following could be happening: perhaps you have been anxious on behalf of other people (close ones going through a hard time or illness, watching people being displaced by war on the news, or a celebrity you like has some sort of issue), perhaps you have been directly involved in conflict (at work, in your relationship, in the street), or perhaps you have an illness or problem you are stuck with. These are only examples, there are a million scenarios that can potentially cause us to feel upset. Not only are these are an inevitable part of life, they are paradoxically essential to our well-being, just like our shadow is an integral part of walking in the sunshine.
But we all know that sometimes these struggles can become too much, and we feel overwhelmed. How can we respond to the ugly and the worst that life throws at us? And how can we use our response to grow, instead of being destroyed by it?
1. By breathing mindfully, we can consciously observe the body’s tension in response to the stressful stimulus: where it appears (shoulders, stomach, neck, jaw, legs…), what it feels like (cold, hot, hard, soft, strong, faint…), whether it is growing or shrinking in size, wobbling or spinning.
2. By staying quiet, we can avoid an overflow of words serving only to heighten the situation; true help from our friends will come only once we have ourselves understood the nature of our suffering, once we can be still and allow the pain to reach us, as well as the support.
3. By watching our mind with deep awareness, we can access knowledge of how thoughts and emotions arise, how they guide us blindly to a worst case scenario situation, where – even unrelated – consequences appear to explode out of nowhere into our consciousness, as real as the ground under our feet.
4. By acting like the master of our choices, and not like a victim being floated around, we take responsibility and we are able to respond to what is coming to us.
There are many other things we can try of course, but doing the above “work” offers a way to understand that any obstacle is an opportunity. We are not exercising willpower and repression over our mind, but instead we deeply embrace ourselves as perfect beings of light. With this attitude, we can learn the lessons which accompany life. This is not akin to detachment, passivity or apathy to events unfolding around us. On the contrary, this process requires the deepest involvement and directed action of the mind, a heightened sense of introspective observation which each of us can access.
Regular meditation and yoga allow us to practice this introspection with simplicity, so that we may apply it in our daily struggles. Those practical applications are really what makes us grow, what brings us into our own.
But don’t take my word for it, give it a try for yourself, and see if after a few weeks of practice, you can notice a difference in how you relate to yourself and the world around you.