The Perils Of Life
“If you want light to come into your life, you need to stand where it is shining.” — Guy Finley
You either believe that life happens to you or for you, there are no two ways about it. You are in for the ride of your life or you feel as though you missed the bus. Some people spend their entire lives chasing the bus but never catch it. They don’t realise that if they stop chasing, another one will arrive sooner to take them to the same destination, perhaps an even better one than they imagined. Yet, they tend to ruminate on what they missed out on instead of what they could have gained. It’s no surprise that life can defeat us sometimes. Welcome to the school of life or as some call it, the school of hard knocks. Do you get this impression sometimes? That life is purposely conspiring against you? How does it make you feel?
In recent times, I developed an interest in the Navy Seals screening process, which some claim has an attrition rate of 75% – 80%. To put that into perspective, only one in four men will qualify for the BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training. There are no two ways about it, the qualifying process is brutal, traumatic and exhausting. The recruitment program quickly eliminates those incapable of enduring similar conditions in battle. It is not for the faint-hearted, yet those who miss out will try again in the following years. Some make it, others don’t. I enjoy the Seal training 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 there are those who never recover. The retired United States Navy admiral William H. McRaven captured this sentiment in his book Make Your Bed: Small Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe The World: “Life is a struggle and the potential for failure is ever present, but those who live in fear of failure, or hardship, or embarrassment will never achieve their potential. Without pushing your limits, without occasionally sliding down the rope headfirst, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life.”
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 we least expect it. My first real of dose of defeat occurred at the end of year 11 (sophomore in the US) when I failed to graduate and was asked to repeat the year. To say it was humiliating and embarrassing 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 me to drop out and take up a trade as a carpenter or plumber. Suffice to say my parents were unimpressed, primarily my mother who was a former teacher and came from a family of academics.
The good news is, despite the setback I graduated high school and went on to study at university. However, my second defeat occured during my first year of university when I had to repeat the year due to my low grades. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through these experiences: you are not defined by your defeats but how many times you recover from it. To my way of thinking, I took longer than other students to graduate, however I did so with High Distinction and received praise from my lecturers, owing to 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. Have you experienced something similar in your life and found your way through it? What lessons did you learn? Would you say it made your stronger or wiser?
There have been many more encounters like this throughout my life, many of which I wrote about it in my first book, The Power To Navigate Life: Your Journey To Freedom. One of which was being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and the second, losing my father to type II diabetes. Life has taught me many lessons that helped cultivate a humility and reverence for life. To assume power in defeat means reclaiming your authority over your pain and suffering. It shows you are bigger than your defeats and greater than your suffering. Pain and suffering is not who you are. It is something you experience and have the power to overcome.
Like the Navy Seal who endure torturous obstacles and sleepless nights, their true test of character is revealed upon completion of their training and selection. My humility for life extends to the lessons I learned. However, there were times I felt like a wounded soul carried out to sea, and blown around by howling conditions, to arrive in safe and calm waters. I realised my problems were not bigger than me, but the size of the problem determines the level of growth. Bigger challenges mean greater personal growth to prepare you for something bigger.
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
There is no secret, no magic formula to take back your power because it was never taken away from you. To take back your power, lean into your problems. Allow them to lead you where you need to go. 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, 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 learn to 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 means when you encounter a challenge, remind yourself of your inner strength by quietly reaffirming to yourself: “Strong back.” This signifies an erect posture, firm and unbreakable knowing whatever unfortunate event you experience, you are prepared for because you have a flexible back that can withstand life’s events. Flexibility of 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 your mind that interprets what is sees. Your eyes are windows that capture light, yet it is the mind that processes what it receives into thought. If your mind is stained with negativity and discouragement, your eyes cannot know optimism and faith, no matter how clear it is. A soft front calls for an open and compassion heart. Many walk 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 your true power lies within you, not outside of you. It is not contained within another person but in your core self. You take back your power when you recognise it has been there all along. So, talk to your heart—develop a two conversation with it. Question what it wants out of life. Ask what makes it come alive and how you can rely on it for your true power. Only then will you surmount life’s challenges by yielding to your authentic power.