I have been thinking a lot lately about adversity. Adversity is something we all face, its inescapable, like death. And rather than creating societal and familial norms regarding adversity that have to do with building resilience, more often than not (at least in the U.S.) we treat adversity as an insult and something to be offended by.
I have previously written on the topic of fairness in life. More specifically, that it is self-defeating to think that life is meant to be fair. This belief plays into why people feel entitled to be offended when "bad" things happen.
As of late, I have been approaching adversity with a new attitude. Instead of being insulted by conflict, disappointment, grief and pain... I am working to recognize each of these experiences with adversity as teachers. It doesn't mean the moment I meet with adversity no longer stings... it just means that I am choosing not to be victimized by it.
Letting go of the demand that life be fair has been a gift and has allowed me the space to embrace perspective. Perspective is one of those remarkably easy things to achieve that offers immediate relief. We spend so much time focused on ourselves (the expectations we have for our lives, the belief we hold about fairness, entitlement) that we get lost in our troubles.
This week I had the fortune of being a guest at a Habitat for Humanity breakfast with keynote speaker and perspective guru, Donna Beegle. I have been attending this event for a number of years and each time I do, I remember why. It is a one-hour shift in my perspective and always leads to my feeling humble and grateful for my life, adversities and all. Hearing stories of people with significant obstacles and challenges who heed the lessons their adversity affords them... coming out on the other side stronger and more content.
Adversity is a gift. Without it a person cannot learn the virtues that create wholeness. Adversity is a workout for the spirit. It can be painful, make you cry and leave you terribly sore. But you are stronger for it. And like a workout, practice and consistency lead to lasting results.
The purpose of adversity is to challenge us to rise. To make change. To surrender. To have faith. And the more we face adversity with perspective and gratitude, the less crippling it is.
Life is suffering, as the Buddhists would say. This statement may feel uncomfortable but if you sit with it long enough you will understand that it is a gift to accept that the baseline for life is suffering and that the purpose of our existence is to raise ourselves up from this baseline; not to deny it, complain about it, intoxicate ourselves because of it or exploit it for profit.
The world isn't getting darker. Bad things don't come in threes. People aren't evil.
It is all about having perspective. When you have perspective, adversity is tolerable and is less of a burden. When you have perspective, you will recognize all of the blessings in your life. Even if it is as simple as a clean mat on a dirt floor to sleep on. The more entitlement and privilege a person or a culture has, the harder it is to choose to put on the lens of perspective. Because in a heartbeat we realize how much time we waste feeling sorry for ourselves.
When you face challenges and dance with adversity, give yourself empathy. Be kind (not enabling) with yourself. Give yourself the space to cry and lick your wounds (but don't get stuck here). Be compassionate with the people involved. Next, seek perspective. Serve meals at a homeless shelter, watch a documentary about a culture dealing with oppression, read a book like Left To Tell by Immaculée Ilibagiza.
"Bad" things happen to everyone. "Good" people don't get a pass. We all face opportunities to test our divine skills over and over again--we get the chance to rise up and face our fears, until we get it. The concept that bad things should only happen to bad people is a dangerous fallacy because goodness is subjective. It also denies a person the chance to develop the divine skills of forgiveness, gratitude, charity, compassion, patience, understanding, and empathy. A life with these skills is blessed.
So, consider taking a new perspective with adversity. Ask yourself, "what is this trying to teach me?" Be willing to hear the answer. That endless, exhausting loop you feel stuck in will disappear if you heed the lessons being offered. Seek perspective. Get out of your comfort zone. Don't give in to your self-enabling patterns. Start by changing the attitude you carry about the world, adversity and fairness. Life can be less burdensome. Have faith.
* I write from practice.... no empty calories in my writing.