“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” – Rumi
O’hare International Airport, Chicago.
Tears rolled down my face, as I watched my ex-fiance head to her flight back to Brazil. I was shattered knowing this would be the last time I would see her again. We got engaged the year prior, excited to end years of long-distance and finally build a new life together in Chicago.
In the ensuing months it became clear we weren’t ready to get married, yet couldn’t do distance any longer. As painful as it was to let go, it was even more painful to hold on. We eventually called the wedding off, which later broke me. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, could barely function at work, and entered the most severe bout of depression of my life. It felt like the world around me was literally falling apart.
To help cope with the breakup pain, I devoured books on Eastern philosophy, which sent the dominos in motion of taking Ayahuasca in Peru, quitting my job, traveling the world, and starting Warrior. As torturous as it was, the pain I went through lead to some of the most profound growth of my life.
Maybe you’re dealing with your own set of hardships – whether that’s a death of a loved one, a divorce, or a job loss. Whatever the case may be, these trying events have the power to transform your life for the better. In this article, I’m going to offer 6 insights that will help navigate you through this challenging period, shaping you into a stronger, more resilient person in the process.
1. Pain Is Inevitable, But Suffering Is Optional
They say that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Understanding this insight could make the difference in getting through the chaos circling your life. To explain, let’s differentiate between pain and suffering, as they typically get lumped together as the same feeling.
Pain can be defined as a physical or an emotional discomfort. From stubbing your toe, to getting your heart broken, pain is inescapable. Just like eating, breathing, and sleeping, feeling a certain degree of pain here and there is healthy.
The problem we need to address is suffering. We can define suffering as the identification of the pain you experience. It’s the delusional state thinking you are the loneliness, the depression, the pain running through you. It’s losing perspective that who you are isn’t any momentary thought or feeling, but the underlying awareness that simply watches it all come and go.
You may not have control over what life throws at you, but you do have control how you view it. You have the choice whether to cling onto the suffering that enters your life, or simply let it be. The more aware and less attached you are towards these momentary feelings, the less power they have over you.
Moreover, understand that long term happiness isn’t about reaching a place where things will always be great. It’s okay to be in a rotten place sometimes. Life is filled with a wide spectrum of ups and downs, gain and loss. You can’t have the sweet without the sour – and that’s okay. Make peace with the inevitable swings of this pendulum, and find the place inside yourself that isn’t subject to this change. Anthony DeMello once said:
“Before enlightenment, I was depressed. After enlightenment, I continued to be depressed. I just don’t identify with the depression anymore, and that’s made all the difference.”
2. Pain Transforms You
As excruciating as pain can be, it’s transforms you. Ask yourself, how different would you be today if you never experienced adversity in your life? As difficult as hardships can be, you learn from it, you grow from it, you evolve from it. The best parts of who you are come out of that pain.
The most challenging periods of anyones life is typically where the most growth occurs. Look at the difficulties you’re going through as a torch burning away the gunk weighing you down for years. It burns away attachments. It burns away limiting beliefs. It burns away long held fears. Pema Chödrön once said:
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”
As difficult as it is, go straight through the pain. Don’t try going around it or avoiding it. Some of the strongest people I’ve met became that way because of the past hardships they’ve been through. They walked step by painstaking step through the fire, and discovered the place inside themselves not subject to the flames.
3. Amor Fati – Love Your Fate
Amor Fati is a latin term that can be loosely translated as the “love of one’s fate”. It’s used to describe an attitude in which you see everything that happens in your life, including both gain and loss, pain and pleasure, as ultimately good.
The german philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said:
My formula for greatness in a human is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.
Amor Fati is having a deep understanding this very moment is exactly where you should be. It’s knowing that any form that enters your life – both good or bad – is ultimately a training vehicle to learn, grow, and evolve.
As much as suffering sucks, it’s a brutally honest feedback system that points out areas where you still need to grow. It points long held attachments, limiting beliefs, and unchallenged assumptions. The beauty of this system is it’s on every moment of your life, continually giving you the feedback to learn and evolve.
Ram Dass talks a lot about how lawful the universe we live in is. You just have to look around you to see it in action. From the way the moon rotates around the Earth, to how the chords fit together perfectly in your favorite song, to even time itself. When you open your eyes and look around, you start to realize that everything around you constantly runs off these flawless set of laws – even your own life. It always has and always will.
So consider that #1. there are absolutely no errors in this system and #2. this very moment sitting right in front of you is exactly where you need to be.
When you start to grasp this, the implications are profound. You start to realize that there is no wrong moment in your life. Every moment is perfect. When you get what you want, or don’t get what you want… When you find success, or failure… When you’re feeling pleasure, or pain… Every single moment is perfect if you have the right set of eyes to see it.
4. Make Peace With The Seasons Of Your Life
Throughout your life there are seasons that inevitably come and go. Seasons are periods of time (whether a few months, or a few years), colored by certain themes. I’m sure you’ve already experienced a variety them.
There’s been periods of your life filled with fun and excitement. Other periods dominated by work. Periods where you fell in love. Other periods where you were heartbroken. Periods where life felt like everything clicked into place. And periods you’re in now where everything seemed to be falling apart.
What’s important to understand is just how transitory these seasons are. They enter your life for a stretch of time, stay for awhile, and inevitably fade away.
When you understand that “this too shall pass”, you don’t freak out in whatever season you happened to be in. You realize that #1.) nothing lasts forever and #2.) there’s a time for everything. We can look to the Tao Te Ching to give us wisdom about this topic. From the 29th verse:
There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.
The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.
Reside in the center of your circle. Don’t get lost when things are going really well. And don’t get lost when things are falling apart. Walk the middle path. The season you’re in right now has been difficult, but for whatever strange reason, it had to happen. Let it be, don’t cling, and you’ll eventually find it passing by making room for the next season.
5. Now Isn’t The Time For False Strength
Oftentimes people going through turmoil (especially men), deny how much pain they’re actually in. They stiffen their upper lip, force a smile, and put up a show like they’ve moved on from the painful event that came into their life.
This isn’t strength, but weakness rooted in fear. Fear of being vulnerable. Fear of the criticism of others. Fear of tainting whatever self-image they’re clinging onto. This false strength only prolongs pain even further, as you can’t move forward without admitting where you’re starting at.
The degree to which you can be honest with yourself dictates the rate in which you’re able to heal and grow. If you deny your feelings, it’s only going to drag out this process that much longer.
Sometimes it’s not easy getting to this place of honesty. It’s far too easy to feel ashamed of the pain, the loneliness, the confusion of your life. When it comes down to it, these feelings of shame are rooted in a belief that there’s something inherently wrong with who you are and what you’re going through.
We can look to the wisdom of the legendary buddhist Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to help us through this…
“For the warrior, letting go is connected with relaxing within discipline to experience freedom. Freedom does not mean being wild or sloppy. Rather it is letting yourself go so you fully experience your existence as a human being. You have to completely conquer the feeling that there is something inherently wrong with your human nature… Letting go is connected of letting go of any vestiges of any doubt, or hesitation, or embarrassment of being you as you are. You have to relax with yourself to fully realize that discipline is simply the basic expression of your goodness. You have to appreciate yourself. Respect yourself and let go of your doubts and embarrassment so you can proclaim your basic goodness and sanity for the goodness of others.”
As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche points out, your basic nature is good. Through gain or loss, success or failure, either way your basic essence is good. There’s nothing you have to do, there’s nothing you have to be.
Allow yourself as Chogyam Trungpa said, to “let go of any doubt, hesitation, or embarrassment of being as you are.” Conquer the fear that there’s something inherently wrong with your human nature. If you’re feeling scared, then be scared. If you’re feeling alone, then feel alone. Feel what you feel and don’t hold anything back. Allow yourself to be human, and express yourself unapologetically.
6. Allow Your Pain To Find Expression
If you experienced loss – whether that’s a partner leaving, or a job falling apart, or a death of a loved one – you’re supposed to feel this way. You’re not a robot. There is no one immune to feel pain after loss.
Even Buddha felt great sorrow throughout periods of his life. During his time there was great war in Northern India where he was born. When he later found out a tribe massacred his town, he experienced an incredible amount of grief over the loss. If Buddha wasn’t immune to pain, don’t expect to either. Let these feelings find expression. Here are few key ways to do so:
CRYING – Don’t be ashamed to cry, especially for the men reading this. Crying literally is a cleansing process. It releases feelings you’re holding onto. It proven to lower stress levels. Studies have even shown that crying releases toxins and kill bacteria stored in the body.
CONNECT WITH LOVED ONES – Having the support of your family and friends is one the greatest ways to get through the pain you’re in. Again, now isn’t the time for false strength. You can’t get through things like this alone, so lean on your loved ones. The power of a hug, of feeling heard, of feeling supported can feel like necessary medicine during this time of your life.
JOURNALING – Journaling allows you to let your authentic self out without any hesitation, doubt, or embarrassment felt during times of grief. Be as real as you can be when you write. Write down the pain you’re going through, the worries you have of the future, the thoughts that are circling your head. Releasing this on paper let’s it go in your mind.
WORK OUT – Simply put, your mind and body are interconnected. By working out, you’re able to release all the stress and tension associated with the current challenge you’re facing. Exercise will also release endorphins chemicals into your body, which literally reduces your perception of pain.
ART – If you enjoy the arts such as playing an instrument, painting, or writing poetry – all of these are incredible outlet to express your feelings. It’s also a proven way to get you out of the analytical side of your brain that’s been on overdrive lately.
Ultimately, do whatever you feel is right. If you want to go out and take kickboxing classes everyday of the week, do that. If you want to simply stay at home, take it easy and maybe journal, do that. Do what you want and don’t feel guilty about it. You make your own rules. There is no right or wrong way to deal with what you’re going through.
In this article, I shared 6 insights that can help when you’re world is falling apart. Keep them close to your chest, and they’ll give you the necessary anchor to keep you grounded during the storm. When the winds eventually die down, you’ll find out how much stronger you’ve become because of it.
What are insights you’ve learned that helped you get through challenging periods of your life? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo by Sofia Pomodoro