Get Comfortable With Uncertainty
“The root of suffering is resisting the certainty that no matter what the circumstances, uncertainty is all we truly have.” ― Pema Chödrön
How do you react when you experience hardship? Do you give up or try to find the inner strength to get through it? Our experience during our darkest times decides who we are beneath the surface of our character. We cannot disguise our true self amid our challenges because it is reflected in how we respond to our difficulties.
Here’s a thought: we don’t know how we will react during difficult times until we’re knocked down. We won’t know the depth of our true strength until we have no other option than to rise again. For example, the former professional boxer Mike Tyson was once quoted as saying: “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.” Whilst he was drawing on a boxing metaphor, a similar analogy applies to our life. In other words, we don’t discover the depth of our resiliency until something unexpected happens. It is then we decide whether we are victims of our circumstances or choose to rise above our difficulties.
This is where we must exercise our true strength when we have no other option. For instance, if your loved one is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, or you lose your life savings in a scrupulous financial scheme, or your partner leaves you. This is when one’s strength of character comes into action. Have you met this other self during difficult circumstances? If so, what did you learn about what you are capable of? Growth does not take place when we are comfortable because we are not reaching beyond our comfortable existence. Those who do not venture outside their comfort zone will experience disappointment and frustration, since they are not activating their inherent power.
Expressed differently: we have latent faculties waiting to come alive when needed most. But if we avoid difficult conditions, we don’t activate these faculties. Whilst an overused metaphor, performing strength training at the gym supports our muscles and nervous system, so we become fitter and stronger. The same thing occurs when we face difficulties and lean into them. We activate our resiliency muscles, that remain stored away until we use them. Therefore, we must venture beyond our comfortable existence and exercise these latent qualities when it matters most. That is, we ought to get comfortable with uncertainty and discomfort because that is where growth takes place. It requires befriending discomfort instead of running away from it. In doing so, we extend our tolerance for discomfort without exposing ourselves to trauma. This was an essential teaching of stoicism, espoused by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Greet Your Struggles With Openness And Curiosity
“Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
Here’s the thing: as we step outside our comfort zone, we incorporate the lessons learned into our life. It involves getting close to the pain, instead of it being separate from us. That is, the pain or discomfort is not happening to us because we are choosing to coexist with it. We are consenting to the pain instead of resisting it. Resistance causes suffering and prolongs our anguish. But if we gradually lean towards the pain and find meaning and purpose through it, we will perceive it differently. Namely, the pain changes its intensity and association because it is no longer separate from us. I know this may sound gloomy; however, we can learn to accept what is taking place through a whole mind-body practice.
For example, I hurt my shoulder recently while swimming at my local pool. I hadn’t had a break since October 2021 and sensed a nagging pain in my shoulder. I could swim through the mild irritation, but suddenly the pain was too much, so I sought professional help and they advised me to take two weeks off training. During this time of inactivity, I processed the pain via journaling and meditation practice. I allowed the pain to be there without pushing it away or trying to change it. Gradually, I noticed my relationship to the pain shift. The intensity of the pain didn’t change, but my relationship with it changed. Specifically, the pain no longer dominated my attention because I learned to coexist with. I accepted it and dropped my resistance to it. Moreover, I sat with the emotions that the pain brought up and processed them thoughtfully.
This is one way we can process pain and suffering instead of allowing it to dominate us. You see, when our only response is to confront our fears; our insecurities and doubts, it is then we discover our greatest self. We can be backed into a corner and feel helpless or choose to move through our difficulties as best we can. The most obvious way is to change our thoughts about what is taking place. A change in thinking can shift our mood and behaviour immediately; it’s a choice. For some people, it means being pulled into a pit of despair until they can take no more and must excavate their way out of misery. It is about finding whatever strength we need to move past our pain and struggles. Are you satisfied with this understanding so far? Could you allow yourself to process your pain instead of feeling defeated when unexpected conditions arise?
We choose to lean into our pain and struggles, otherwise we miss out on the growth that accompanies it. I’m not suggesting we look for challenges because they are bound to land in our lap when least expected. I’m suggesting when problems arise, we ought to greet them with an open mind. Your greater self is not some distant version of you that is unattainable. It is found in meeting your struggles with openness and curiosity. It is choosing to move through your difficulties instead of believing life is happening to you. I’ve repeated this message often throughout my writing because I believe it to be true: life is not happening to you, but unfolding for you. The quicker you make this association, the quicker you will prevail through your difficulties.
Considering this, contemplate a recent challenge that has been occupying your attention. If you’ve been resisting it, how could you change your relationship to what is taking place? For instance, could you accept things as they are, even though you dislike it? You don’t need to like something to accept it. Acceptance means dropping your resistance to it. Could you offer less resistance to your troubles and accept your emotions of anger, frustration, or anxiety? There’s always something we can do to change our relationship to pain and difficulties, and it may not be a big step. After all, you won’t know what you’re capable of until you are pushed to your limits, and it is there you discover your greater self.