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Life is hard, suffering is optional

Posted June 22

Question:

My life is a mess right now with problem after problem. The future looks frankly pretty dark and I'm struggling to even want to get out of bed in the morning. I honestly feel that I have an unfair share of troubles, and these situations look pretty hopeless and I'm really finding myself mad at God too. You often write that we should trust God, but in my opinion he has dropped the ball and is not doing me much good. I don't trust him anymore and I can't because things just keep getting worse. Any other advice to help me handle the mess of a life I've been dealt?

Answer:

I'm sorry your classroom journey is so rough right now. You are feeling badly not only because of the negative situations you are experiencing but also because of how you are thinking about them.

The most important thing to understand right now is everything you are feeling comes from your acquired perspective. But the way you are seeing your situation and feeling about it is never your only option. There are other ways to look at this, which might completely change how you feel.

I understand if you are skeptical about this, because bad situations are still bad no matter how you see them, but believe it or not, seeing them in a new way can give you hope, add meaning to the experiences and even lessen the suffering to some degree.

Right now your perspective on your life is coming mostly from your subconscious programming, and it might be pretty fear-based, negative and limited in scope. This happens because most of our subconscious programming is adopted before we are 5 years old. Hence, we can sometimes see life through a very immature, powerless and simple lens.

The question is are you open to looking at your situation from a new perspective? Are you open to changing your mindset around what the hard experiences you are going through mean? Are you open to letting go of your victim story?

I ask that because some of us get attached to our victim stories. They can buy us sympathy love and can even at times excuse immature behavior. Some of us are afraid we can’t change and aren't even sure we want to.

I'm hoping, since you wrote to me, you are ready to pull yourself out of this negative mindset and create some happiness in your life in spite of the hardships.

Helen Keller (who had it pretty bad) said: "Although the world is very full of suffering, it is also very full of the overcoming of it."

She had a very interesting perspective on troubles and because her challenges were so great, she has some credibility to me on this subject. In her book "Light in Darkness" she wrote, "I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work and my God."

She chose to see God as the author of all things and could therefore choose to see meaning and purpose in the difficult circumstances he created for her. That is one new perspective option, but it requires you to see God’s ultimate purpose being our education and growth. It also requires you giving him the benefit of the doubt that every experience you get is really there to serve, strengthen and educate you.

You could choose to see the universe is a wise teacher, who knows that in order to learn we have to understand the depths of both good and evil, joy and suffering, trust and fear. The universe therefore provides us a whole spectrum of interesting human experiences, many of which are not real pleasant. But the purpose in everything is to serve you, educate you and make you better, wiser and more loving.

I believe the universe works with our agency and choices to co-create (with us) our perfect classroom with all the lessons we need. I believe most of the tough classes I sign up for were my choices, but there are also others I don’t remember signing up for.

Some of these trials I believe are created by a wise universe that knows exactly what I will need to learn so I can accomplish my mission in life. Being mad at the universe for sending these lessons won't change anything. Being grateful for these challenges is hard, but I find it feels best when I practice trust.

I say practice, because I'm not perfect at it, but I understand that it is a choice. Trusting the process of life (that the universe is on my side and trying to bless me with these challenges) is a choice I get to make every minute of every day. This moment is the only moment I have the power in, but I find it serves me because the only other option is anger, jealousy, regret, discouragement and disappointment, and they create low energy that drains me and makes me feel even worse.

One of my favorite stories about this comes from Jon Mundy in his book "Living a Course in Miracles." He tells about a man stranded from a shipwreck on an island who prayed feverishly for rescue. For days he scanned the horizons and saw nothing. Given his circumstances he made the best of what he had and built a shelter and started a fire to cook food. He built a life for himself there and turned his hut into a home. One day while he was out scavenging for food, some embers caught the home on fire and the worst thing happened, he lost everything. On top of being alone and stranded he had now lost everything he had. Stunned with grief and anger he cried out, "How could you do this to me! Why this on top of everything else!"

The next day he was awakened to the sound of a boat approaching the island. "How did you know I was here?" asked the weary man.

"We saw your smoke signal," came the reply.

The trick is trusting that the universe knows what it’s doing while you watch your house burn down. I realize this isn't easy, but it is worth the practice because it does lessen the suffering somewhat. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor (who also has some credibility with me in the suffering department) said the people who handled Auschwitz best were those who saw purpose and meaning in their being there. He said, "Suffering ceases to be suffering when it finds meaning." What he meant was that seeing life as a perfect classroom at least gives every experience meaning and purpose. It changes your perspective in a profound way that does help.

If people like Helen Keller and Viktor Frankl could find meaning and purpose in the challenges of their lives, and if it helped them, I think it will work for us. Here are some other tips for getting through the rough parts of the journey:

1. Write down 10 positives each problem might create in your life. (Viktor Frankl and the Holocaust survivors used this very exercise and they came up with things like a greater appreciation for small blessings, more empathy for those who suffer, a beautiful desire to make every moment count.) If they can do this, you can do this.

2. Focus on what’s right, not just what’s wrong. Practice gratitude daily for your blessings however small they are. There is a great worksheet on my website to help you see how the blessings outweigh the troubles all the time (The Nature of Life Worksheet).

3. Focus on others. Lose yourself in the service of others. Find others who have it just as bad or worse — there are plenty of them. The more you focus on people who have it worse, the better you feel.

4. Write the way you want this story to end. If your life was a book or movie, what do want to see happen next? Sit down and write out a story where the hero (you) handles this challenging time and rises above it and ends up victorious. Write out how you could accomplish this and what frame of mind it might require right now. Set an intention to choose this path moving forward. Sometimes just seeing a way through gives you hope. Then stay in trust no matter what happens that the universe knows best and is trying to strengthen you.

You can do this.

Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.

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