During times of difficulty people will often tell us that everything happens for a reason. And whether or not everything is purposefully imbued with reason, we can choose to see purpose within it.
When we’re faced with challenges we have a choice to see those challenges as unfortunate dilemmas or as opportunities for personal growth. And I have found, in my own experience, that choosing the latter of these offers life a richer and more wholesome quality.
If we think of this world as a school and birth as enrollment, then we find that within every circumstance there is opportunity for growth. We find, in fact, that the most difficult circumstances offer the greatest lessons, and the most abrasive people our greatest teachers.
We don’t always have to immediately understand exactly what the lesson is at the very moment it’s taking place. It’s enough to simply acknowledge that there is some lesson to be learned. And the more we shift to this perspective, the more easily we’ll be able to see the lessons that are right in front of us.
Whenever I look back upon my own life I now see how every difficulty, every unpleasant experience, every seemingly insurmountable challenge has offered me some valuable lesson which has furthered my growth and my awakening. And even now, looking back upon those situations, I can still find valuable lessons within them that may not have been so clear to me at the time.
The more I understand this, the more I can trust that whatever I’m going through in life, no matter how uncomfortable, there is some value in that experience, but only if I’m willing to remain open to that possibility.
When we begin to shift our perspective in this way, we come to realize that everything in life comes with the opportunity of learning and growing, and that every experience can assist to awaken us more and more to who we truly are. No matter what we might be going through, everything can be utilized for this awakening, and wherever we find ourselves, our present situation is exactly where we need to be in order to learn whatever lesson is necessary to get us to the next step on our journey.
We might not know what the next step is. We have to understand that the future is uncertain and that circumstances may unfold quite differently than how we might imagine or desire. But whatever circumstances arise, those circumstances will be rich with the necessary lessons for growth. It’s with this kind of understanding that we must be willing to put aside my personal desires and expectations concerning the future, and to embrace the great unknown.
We all have desires about how we would like our lives to unfold. We all imagine living in perfection, according to whatever we believe perfection to be. But perhaps everything is already perfect just the way it is, in the way that everything seems perfectly arranged in order to provide us with these life lessons.
But because we don’t fully understand or acknowledge this, and because difficulties make us so uncomfortable, we yearn for a life in which there is no difficulty. But what we fail to see is that resisting our circumstances only makes them all the more difficult to endure.
The fact that many life circumstances trigger discomfort in us is an indication that we still have some areas to attend to. So we must take time to examine our discomfort. It may be the only way to transcend it.
In order even to begin to understand the lesson in any situation we need to look very closely at what we’re feeling in regard to that situation. There is so much information in our emotional responses. Often the lesson is not about what we might do to change the situation, but rather how we might change our reaction to it, how we can shift our perspective and learn to respond in a more nourishing way.
When we’re in a difficult situation, we tend to resist it. Naturally we want the situation to change, but if we can’t change the situation, then our aversion to it only causes unnecessary suffering. What we may be failing to realize is that the tools for dealing with that situation, and perhaps also for changing it, are offered within it.
For instance, if we find ourselves in a situation in which we feel impatient, the lesson may be for us to cultivate patience. If we’re in a situation in which we feel anxious, the lesson may be to cultivate calmness. If we’re in a situation in which we feel angry, the lesson may be to cultivate compassion or acceptance.
When we feel an aversion to any situation, we need to examine that aversion. We need to examine the discomfort behind it. The situation arises to teach us something. And we can’t expect the situation to change if we are not willing to learn from it.
When you fail in school you end up repeating that grade. And the same applies to life. When we fail to learn from life lessons, they go on repeating until we finally learn the lesson. This is why we often find it difficult to change our circumstances, or why we find ourselves often going through the same difficulties over and over again.
Take relationships as one example. You end one relationship because of some unresolved issue, only to find yourself faced with the same issue again in the next relationship. And this keeps happening over and over again. We keep trying to change the circumstances but the same patterns keep arising.
So we have to ask ourselves why. Where is that coming from? Is the pattern something imposed upon us from outside? Are we just helpless victims of life’s unfair afflictions? Or does it arise from our own consciousness, from our own beliefs, from our own way of thinking and behaving? And if that’s the case then we’re not victims at all. In fact this means we have the power to change it. All we have to do is step up and take responsibility.
All that is needed in order to understand the lesson in any situation is awareness, not only of what is occurring outside of ourselves, but more importantly, what is occurring within us. To be aware means simply to have a conscious recognition, to observe and to acknowledge.
Many of us seek answers to life’s lessons in the form of guidance from others, whether they be spiritual teachers, psychologists, philosophers, even friends and family. And this is not without some merit. But the reality is that no one can know us better than we know ourselves, and other people’s perspectives are simply limited. But the more we come to understand ourselves through simple awareness, the more we can understand all of the issues that trouble us, and how they arise. And by understanding the root of these issues, we can then resolve them.
Many people believe in an infinite intelligence that creates and maintains the entire universe. And yet we tend to have more faith in other human beings, in books and institutions, than we have in that intelligence. And if there is such an intelligence at work you would think that it would know better than anyone precisely what is needed for our personal spiritual growth. And if we believe that, then shouldn’t we have faith that the most valuable lessons for that growth are already provided, and, in fact, personally tailored for us though our everyday experiences? And shouldn’t we trust in the wisdom of that intelligence more than in books and teachers.
I’m not saying that we should completely disregard books and teachers. They can be very useful in helping us to gain clarity about our personal lessons. But in order for that to have any real value, we have to first recognize what those lessons are. Otherwise we may simply be distracting ourselves with information that is irrelevent or even counterproductive. Sometimes the answer is right in front of us, and we know deep down exactly what we’re supposed to do, but we go on searching for answers in other places because we don’t want to accept what our heart is telling us, because often that means having to face our discomfort. And we would rather have some answer that feels comforting, that perhaps absolves us of responsibility, and maybe even distracts us from the discomfort.
And naturally we don’t like to face discomfort. It’s much easier to gloss over it, to push it aside it or distract ourselves. And this is just as true for many so called “spiritual” people who often believe that we can simply rise above our darkest aspects without having to face them.
But in order to resolve these issues, we have to understand them and this requires that we acknowledge them. In order to break free of anything, we must first break through. This means journeying through the dark places of the psyche. This means not resisting whatever emotions arise in us. This means facing our fears and our discomfort.
Much of this is subconscious. That is to say that it’s not in our immediate field of vision. It’s a place in our psyche which we tend not to pay attention to, and that we often ignore or deny. But’s like a shadow that follows us wherever we go. And you can’t run from your own shadow. You can only turn your back to it and convince yourself it isn’t there, but it remains with you. You just don’t see it because you’re not willing to look at it. And only by facing it, by shining the light of awareness upon it, does it dissolve.
So in every instance of life there is a lesson, which can assist in awakening within you a deeper awareness of who you are. And every answer you could ever hope to find is already within you. To understand the truth of who you are you must bring awareness into every situation and circumstance, into each and every moment, and embrace this life as the curriculum for awakening.