The Perils Of Life
“If you want light to come into your life, you need to stand where it is shining.” — Guy Finley
Do you believe life is happening to you or for you? You are in for the ride of your life or feel as though you missed the bus. However, some people spend their entire life chasing the bus but never catch it. They don’t realise, if they stop chasing, another one will arrive to take them to the same destination; perhaps an even better one than they imagined. Yet, they ruminate on what they’ve missed out instead of what they could have gained.
For instance, in recent times, I developed an interest in the Navy Seals screening process known as BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL), which some claim has an attrition rate of 73% – 75%. There is no denying it, the qualifying process is brutal, traumatic and exhausting. The recruitment program eliminates unqualified candidates who will endure similar conditions in battle. It is not for the faint-hearted, yet those who miss out will try to qualify again in the following years. Some make it, others don’t.
I am fascinated with the Seal recruitment process because if there’s one thing I’ve learned: it doesn’t matter whether you’re big or strong, physically fit, or a former athlete, the training decides if you qualify, not your physical prowess. Seal training serves as a metaphor for life where normal people endure hardship through misfortunes, setbacks, and disasters. None are immune to it, even those considered successful or famous are subject to the perils of life. Some bounce back quicker than others, and others never recover.
Pain And Suffering Is Not Who You Are
“When life knocks you down, try to land on your back because if you can look up, you can get up.” — Eric Thomas
We all suffer defeat at the hands of life. She is a brutal teacher whose aim is not personal but predictable. She is always on time and ready to deliver a dose of personal growth when you least expect it. For example, my first dose of defeat occurred at the end-of-year 11 (sophomore in the US), when I failed to graduate high school and was asked to repeat the year. To say it was humiliating is an understatement; particularly having to explain it to my conservative parents, who paid good money to send me to a private school. To compound matters, my year 11 counsellor advised my parents I should drop out and take up a trade as a carpenter or plumber. Suffice it to say they were unimpressed, primarily my mother, who was a former schoolteacher and came from a family of academics. Have you experienced something similar in your life? A defeat or failure which affected your self-esteem? Consider how you responded.
The good news is, I survived repeating year 11 and went onto study at university. However, my second defeat occurred during my first year of university when I was again asked to repeat the year because of my low grades. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through these experiences: our defeats do not define us, but it is how we respond that determines our future. To my way of thinking, I took longer than others to graduate, however I did so by gaining a High Distinction in my final year of university and received praise because of my graduating final works. Had I hung my hat on being unworthy or not good enough, I would have taken the advice of my year 11 counsellor and fabricated wood instead of words. I have experienced many similar encounters like this throughout my life, many of which I wrote about it in my book: The Power To Navigate Life: Your Journey To Freedom. One of which was being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and the second was losing my father to type II diabetes.
Life has taught me many interesting lessons that helped me to cultivate a humility and reverence for life. To assume power in defeat means reclaiming our authority over our pain and suffering. It shows we are greater than our defeats and our suffering. Expressed differently: pain and suffering are not who we are. It is what we experience and have the power to overcome. Like the Navy Seal recruits who endure torturous obstacles and sleepless nights, their character is revealed upon completion of their training and selection. Similarly, our problems are never bigger than our capacity to overcome them, but the size of the problem determines the level of growth. Bigger challenges mean greater personal growth to prepare us for something bigger. Do you agree? Can you see that your challenges and obstacles needn’t define you but can help you rise above them?
Develop A Strong Back And A Soft Front
“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” — Steve Maraboli
Here’s the thing: there is no secret or a magic formula to take back our power because it was never taken away from us. To take back our power, we must lean in to our problems. We experience them fully, knowing the person who emerges from battle is wiser, stronger in mind and spirit, and with a softer heart. There’s a Buddhist saying which I often refer to in times of need: a strong back and soft front, which has many meanings. The one I value most is, we must cultivate strength in mind and body when life knocks us down and rise again.
A soft front means yielding to the forces of life and softening our hearts, so we are compassionate with ourselves and others. We are all exposed to the same forces, some more challenging than others. A strong back is a reminder that when you encounter a challenge, to affirm your inner strength through a silent mantra: “Strong back.” This signifies an erect posture, firm and unbreakable knowing whatever unfortunate event we endure, we are prepared for because we have a flexible back that can withstand life’s events.
Flexibility of the spine signifies flexibility of mind. An open mind is open to new ways to overcome problems. It was Albert Einstein who said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” We must venture beyond our psychological comfort zone if we wish to rise above our problems. While the eyes experience the world, it is our mind that interprets what is sees. Our eyes are merely windows that capture light, yet it is the mind that processes what it receives into thought. If our mind is stained with negativity and discouragement, our eyes cannot know optimism and faith, no matter how clear it is.
A soft front calls for an open and compassion heart. Many people go through life with a soft back and a hard front. That is, a weak spine and a closed, brittle heart. Yet our hearts are a soft contractible muscle not intended to be closed but open to life, to love and new experiences. If the heart shuts down, it impedes the flow of life and we become brittle inside instead of yielding. Know that our true power lies within us, waiting to be awakened; it is not outside of us. It is not contained within another person, but in our core self. We take back our power when we recognise it has been there all along. So, as a practice, I invite you to talk to your heart; develop a conversation with it. Ask it wants out of life and listen to it speak in whispers. Ask what makes it come alive and how you can rely on it for your true power. Only then will you have surmounted life challenges by yielding to your authentic power.