What if you discovered that having an easy life was actually bad for you? What if you realized that facing hardship and enduring tragedy was actually good for you? In fact it really is. It is how you choose to look at your experiences that influences what they can do for you.
We will endure tragedy and hardship in our lives at one point or another; it is the human experience to go through pain and upheaval because being alive is all about change. We come out of these life experiences with new found strength and vision. Many have testified to this. Our instinct is to avoid making bad choices or engaging in risky behavior in order to protect ourselves and prevent tribulation. Our survival depends on it. As parents, we certainly try to protect our children from danger and hurt and we don’t want to see anyone we care about, whether they are family or friends, or complete strangers, in pain or peril. However the older we get, the more we realize that life is full of twists and turns and it is inevitable that we will face misfortune in our lives.
The most important life lessons come when we are faced with situations that we are ill equipped to deal with. We feel helpless and shocked, sad and angry. It may be the illness or death of a loved one, losing a job, a relationship; or having a transgression committed against us in some way. It may be something that is very commonplace, but to us feels like despair that we’ve never experienced before. Or it may be something catastrophic like a natural disaster, poverty, famine or war.
One of the first realizations we must awaken to is that we are not the first to feel this way and we will not be the last. While our experiences and feelings are valid and unique to us; in the grand scheme of things, there are people who have endured far worse and survived. We are not alone.
Popular author Eckhart Tolle has written extensively about the power of the present moment. He says:
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
This idea forces us to concentrate on what we are actually experiencing. The past is an illusion of memory and the present an illusion of hope or fear. The only reality is right now. In this context, while we may be in the midst of chaos or pain, we can realize that each moment is fleeting and will pass and we have the power to determine if the moment improves or the situation worsens. Even when we are powerless to make things go our way, accepting this inevitability and ‘waiting it out’ gives us the foresight and lucidity to merely observe what we are experiencing and extract the skills and lessons that will influence us to our advantage.
Chaos in your life builds character because it makes you feel alive. The diversity of emotions you withstand when your life becomes unstable compels you to have a range of responses that you may not have had the opportunity to explore when things were going well. You gain problem solving skills, resilience, patience and ingenuity. If you manage your grief and anger, your fear and confusion by focusing on the present; centering yourself and allowing yourself to feel without letting those feelings dictate your actions; reason and pragmatism will surface and give you strength to move on to the next moment a stronger and more capable person.
The antithesis to this is avoiding tragedy or disappointment as an act of self preservation. An easy life provides no challenge and can become boring. Unfortunately it is only a matter of time that the inevitability of life’s hardships comes knocking on our door.
You may inadvertently create or look for chaos in order to feel alive. Some people climb mountains or travel to remote parts of the world; they take on difficult and challenging tasks to feel alive. When we are born to a privileged life there is nothing more admirable than exposing ourselves to how others live and sharing our wealth and security. You may want to volunteer in a disaster zone or do aid work in a war torn country. You don’t even have to go abroad. Some people volunteer and contribute within their own communities in order to develop their empathy and go some way towards understanding what it means to suffer loss, to experience hardship and to fight injustice; even when their own lives are charmed. This is a positive way to invite chaos into your life in order to learn.
It is important to understand that the ups and downs of life are necessary for our character to evolve and for us to experience growth through catharsis. This means that we undergo some sort of transformation, a cleansing or purification by means of suffering and change. We purge our emotions through a disastrous occurrence and ultimately find restoration and resolution at the conclusion.
When we don’t honor the validity and benefit of catharsis in our lives we may invite chaos subconsciously; often through indulgences and risk taking behavior that appears innocent and safe, but may lead us down a dangerous road. Any type of excess can be damaging in our lives and that makes it even more important to stay in control when our lives seem to be going off the rails.
Understanding that life’s challenges are what makes us who we are gives us the strength and purpose to be prepared for anything. Our personality and character evolves through each cathartic experience and with practice we find the optimism to face misfortune head on.
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