Re-Thinking Tough Times
There’s a way to interpret tough times so that their bites aren’t so hellish.
Yes, I understand the forms tough times can take—terrorist attacks, economic crashes, earthquakes, life-threatening medical diagnoses—and I stand my ground: there’s more than one way to interpret them.
I’m not saying there should be no sorrow in loss. What I’m saying is that loss doesn’t necessarily mean suffering. Undue suffering arises from self-punishing thoughts, like thinking that you’re going through what you’re going through because you’re a bad person, or being abandoned by people and/or God.
“A HAPPY PERSON IS NOT A PERSON IN A SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES,
BUT RATHER A PERSON WITH A CERTAIN SET OF ATTITUDES.”
I’ve mourned the early deaths of two brothers and a niece, and felt nauseating sadness in the process. But I didn’t unduly suffer.
When my first brother died, I experienced a moment of grace that gave me the presence of mind to look for the blessings—not punishments—in what had happened.
What I saw was that I could experience profound loss and not be debilitated, as I’d suspected.
What I saw was that growing old is a privilege, and that I still had the chance to exercise mine.
What I got from that (eventually) was the courage to yield to my burning desire to find something more in life knowing that if I experienced loss in the process, I wouldn’t be reduced to nothing.
Since making the decision to follow that burning desire, I’ve been bitten repeatedly by tough times. But my intuition told me at every turn that those bites could be used for my good. I looked at how that might be the case and here’s what occurred to me:
TOUGH TIMES CAN CLARIFY OUR DREAMS.
There’s nothing like tough times to gain clarity on what we want, or to remember what we’ve always wanted but lost touch with after years of sleepwalking. I know I’m not the only one who’s longed for something but didn’t follow through for fear, fatigue, or forgetfulness. Tough times are pinches that wake us up to see or remember the things we want to do, and/or see or remember the people we want to become. And I think the nature of our tough times gives us clues about what those things are while we’re still in the process. Since childhood, I’ve dreamed of becoming someone who used her money to help other people. But 1) I forgot, and 2) my financial behavior wasn’t going to get me there. Then I got hit by very tough financial times that 1) reminded me of my childhood dream and 2) re-set my money habits to reach it.
TOUGH TIMES CAN PREPARE US FOR OUR DREAMS.
Tough times help us build the muscle to fulfill and hold on to our dreams. Consider lottery winners: an estimated 70% have little money within a few years of winning—they experience the dream of a windfall without the know-how to handle it. Some people can handle their dreams as they come, but most of us require pre-schooling that may knock us down. Consider a mature tree. Now consider that tree with an immature root system: it can’t stand and topples over. The tree can only go as high as its roots go deep. Tough times grow our roots; the higher we’re headed, the deeper our roots need to go. Knowing that won’t banish our tough times, but it can give us the gift of hindsight, so to speak, in the present moment. At various times, I’ve had little to essentially no money (i.e., less than $1) and prayed for a windfall of cash, but a windfall never came. Eventually, I remembered to look for the blessing in the windfall not showing up. By experiencing moments of little to essentially no money, I learned to have a greater appreciation for money and be more mindful about using it. That shift, incidentally, is setting me up to become a charitable giving powerhouse.
TOUGH TIMES CAN HELP US FIND NEW SOLUTIONS.
We can’t cling to old, limiting beliefs and expect to reach new heights. And tough times can push us to the point where we’re willing to look for solutions in places we’d have never looked before. For most of my life, I took a hesitant approach to matters about God. Not that I was wary of God, necessarily, but I couldn’t accept prevailing notions about God or everyday interpretations of the Bible. Enter chronic tough times and a gentle suggestion by my brother to look into Jewish mysticism. Times were so tough that I was willing to do so. And the more I read about kabbalah, the more my life felt better, and the more I found myself in “Christian” territory and interested in a Jewish man named Jesus (who, by the way, can teach you much regardless of who you think he was or whether he’s coming back). That interest led me to two churches that teach that Jesus isn’t a savior, but an example to follow; that was a message I could swallow and use to improve my life.
TOUGH TIMES CAN HELP US FULFILL OUR PURPOSE.
I read a proverb that goes something like this: The hammer can shatter glass or forge metal. In other words, tough times can destroy us or form us depending upon how we decide to look at them. Consider a lump of clay—as a lump, it doesn’t serve much purpose. Now take that lump and put it through the ringer—knead it, stretch it, form it, fire it. The result is a mug that can be used for having tea. The kneading, stretching, forming, and firing were necessary parts of the clay fulfilling its purpose as a receptacle for hot liquids. If we consider tough times as opportunities to be re-formed and relax into them, the faster we’ll be ready to carry out what we’re here to do.