When life serves up something unexpected, whether it is welcome or unwelcome, we can find ourselves off balance. Even wanted change can be stressful. Uncertainty, fear, worry, hurt, or discouragement can cloud our objectivity and unduly influence our actions. This can cause greater suffering for ourselves and others. How can we best cope? Here is a 3-step process for being with difficulty:
1. Take Heart
The heart is the seat of compassion and it is a useful place to start. Notice and acknowledge your own suffering. Ask yourself what you can do for yourself in this moment? How can you best take care of you, right now? This is not the time to let go of your practice. The good that you have been doing until now will serve you in this moment and today’s practice will serve you in the next.
2. Have Courage
Whatever it is, it is already here. Can we find the courage to be open to it – to face it with curiosity and objectivity? After all, how can we cope wisely with something if we refuse to really look at it – if we can’t see it for what it is? Know that we already have everything we need inside to be with what is. We just have to be willing to experiment so that we can see for ourselves that this is true.
3. Pass it On
Understand that you are not alone in your suffering and that this is our common humanity. Can you transform your own suffering into compassion for others? Spend some time thinking of loved ones, friends, and family who are dealing with their own challenges and sending them lovingkindness. Is it also possible for you to wish for the sincere happiness of those you don’t know, like or understand? After all, if they were truly happy we would all suffer less. If you dare to extend your heart in this way, notice how the practice impacts you and how its after-effects carry over into your day.
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
– William Stafford, The Way It Is