There are a lot of "fixers" in the world today. Those people who mean well and rush in to try to fix things when we're sharing our struggles with them. As a society, we tend to want to run away from suffering — our own and each other's. We think that suffering is something that must be immediately remedied. We forget that the nature of life is to sometimes be really challenging. Culturally and spiritually, we have lost the perspective that suffering is a necessary part of the larger scheme of individual and evolutionary change and growth. And this perspective makes us more compassionate people, more kind and tolerant, and thus more willing to call forth the best in each other, while being less inclined to rush in and fix things at the first sign of discomfort.
Discomfort is the birthplace of learning. How many new things came easy for you from square one? For most new learning and growth it is necessary to go through a stage of being consciously incompetent, and that can be an awkward and even painful place.
For me, it was times like when I was learning to ski as a child, negotiating the end of my first high school romance, becoming a mom for the first time, and the start of every new job. Each of these situations involved pain for me — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
In retrospect, I wouldn't trade away the pain of those situations for the learning and high points that followed. At the time though, I questioned whether it would all be OK in the long run. It's much easier to look back after the fact and accept how and why things unfold they way they do when we can rest in the certainty of already knowing how things turned out. The harder practice is to accept it in the moment, when nothing is guaranteed and the images in our forward-looking crystal ball are murky.
The ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness do not offer guarantees that things will be easy or that we will not encounter challenges, struggles, and even pain along the way. It is those things that we have overcome and worked the hardest for that we appreciate and grow from the most. To our own detriment, when something hurts in life, we rarely think how it might turn into something good in time, and that there might be benefits to facing this difficulty rather than trying to escape it.
This is the challenge, to instead relax, slow down, and have compassion for the growth that is happening within, even when it's not pretty. We need to the ability to say and hear that "this is really hard." We need to be able to respect the uncertainty of change and to hold ourselves and others in compassion when we're not sure where things are going or why. Only in retrospect do many of these things make sense; in the moment, they can throw us off our center and down the road of self-loathing under the mistaken belief that if we're a good person who's on the right path, life should be easy and pain-free. But that's not generally how things work. It is in our greatest discomfort that our greatest learning takes place, and often our greatest compassion for the suffering of others arises.
Rather, we are encouraged to step back from our need to control our experience, to simply and compassionately witness our own discomfort and be curious about what it might bring forth. It is the same in dealing with others; rather than rush in and try to fix that which cannot be fixed, we can stand as witness, acknowledge our common humanity and share the hope of something better yet to come.
The poet David Whyte writes that our deeper struggles are in effect our greatest spiritual and creative assets and the doors to whatever creativity we might possess. If we can see that struggle sometimes has a larger purpose, we are better able to hold it for ourselves and others compassionately.
Heather Buck is a life and leadership coach at InStill Coaching. While on her own journey to live an authentic life, she partners with others seeking to live and lead authentically. She is constantly asking herself and others what it is to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. Writing is how she makes sense of the world and her place in it, and she basks in the connection of shared experience between writer and reader. You can find out more about her work and her journey at InStill Coaching and Any Moment Now.
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