||When Bad Things Happen
I and some of my friends have noticed lately that many people in our immediate circles seem to be struggling with quite dramatic and immediate major life events – health crises, financial struggles, family and relational challenges. In all these cases, the people involved are suffering a great deal and not sure what to do to resolve the life events that have unexpectedly emerged in their lives.
All of this got me to thinking about how challenging it can be when bad things happen, and how it can often be hard to understand these experiences. Many of us find ourselves saying, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” Even though I was raised in a family where reincarnation and karma were emphasized as the primary belief system, I have always felt uncomfortable with the idea that we “deserve”, or have “earned”, the bad things that happen to us. Over the years, I’ve found myself more comfortable with the idea that, while we can’t avoid upsetting or sometimes overwhelming experiences in our lives, we can choose – much of the time – how we wish to move through them. Even though this isn’t possible in every case, my sense is that the place where we can find even a semblance of empowerment in the presence of disempowering events is what we choose to do with these experiences.
For example, I’ve heard and read many stories of people who had terrible tragedies in their lives – losing a child to an illness or some other disaster or losing their job and having to find another way to make a living – and how these same people emerged from their experiences creating foundations, organizations, and other ways to reach out to others and offer them help. They moved through whatever crisis faced them and came out the other side deciding to offer something to others rather than becoming defeated by what life brought their way.
Even though this particular response might not be available to everyone, perhaps there are smaller ways in which we can meet life’s challenges so that we emerge having learned something that becomes part of our strength. Perhaps we can learn something that offers us new options in our lives – new ways of seeing things, or responding to them – that we wouldn’t otherwise have discovered.
For example, let’s say that you come home to find there’s been water leakage in your home or apartment and that there is some damage as a result. You might become quite upset and feel overwhelmed. You might get angry, or fearful because you don’t know how you will get it fixed. After a while, you might begin to explore what the experience offers by way of practicing equanimity, mindfulness, or some other response you want to develop or express. Then, the crisis becomes an opportunity to become more resilient, to strengthen your capacity to move through unexpected challenges more gracefully, with more ease.
Or, let’s say that you are suddenly faced with a health crisis, which can be truly destabilizing and overwhelming economically and emotionally. Perhaps part of the experience offers you a chance to reach out for help in a way you might not have allowed yourself to do under less-frightening circumstances.
And so, for this week’s experiment, I invite you to explore what happens when you meet adversity with curiosity about what it might teach you, or offer to you, in terms of strengthening your capacity to move through difficulties with more ease. This doesn’t mean to accept situations without reacting to them, or without responding appropriately with anger, sadness, outrage or action. What it offers is an opportunity to become aware of how you move through the experience from the inside, the quality of consciousness you bring to it, and the impact your responses have on you.
As with all the experiments, please be gentle with yourself and bring along curiosity as your constant companion – along with an appreciation of your capacity to engage adversity with the thought that it might offer you an opportunity to deepen your resilience.