No one likes to feel upset, get hurt, or go through challenging times, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Bad times have a scientific value. These are the occasions a good learner would not miss.”
Like most of us, I’ve attended the school of hard knocks and experienced my share of struggle. Raised by a single mom, I put myself through college, worked around the clock building a career while juggling motherhood, was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, and went through a divorce three years later after 18 years of marriage. If someone asked me to design my ideal life scene, none of those experiences would make the cut. It’s wildly unpleasant and uncomfortable to go through the hard stuff, but the upside is learning how to accept others as they are and yourself as you are… to let go, forgive, take care of yourself, dance, play, and begin anew.
Here are five spiritual lessons I learned from pain.
1. Feelings come and go—behaviors are what matter. Emotional adulthood is reflected in your choices and how you behave, especially when you’re hurt or upset. Set an intention for how you want to show up in the situation no matter how tough things get. Let that be your guide and solace as you navigate through any challenge. In the end, what matters is your behavior—the choices you made and actions you took—not the feelings you had.
2. Pain runs lockstep with judgment. When you’re upset, it’s because you’re judging something or someone as not being the way you think it should be. In essence, you are resisting reality. Instead, be willing to accept the “is-ness” of the situation, even if you don’t like it. Notice how you immediately relax just a bit when you make this choice. If you can accept what is, there is no conflict or problem. There is no story. From that place, you can figure out the next positive action to take with more clarity.
3. It is possible to care too much. Showing concern for others is good, but even that can go too far. When you become so other-focused that you are at the whim of the moods and behaviors of your boss, family members, or partner, you are out of balance. Worrying too much about someone else’s reactions, thoughts or needs puts you out of touch with your own. Ask yourself, how am I spending my energy? Is it a wise investment? Is my day being consumed by thoughts about this person or situation? If so, it’s time to take action. Step back and make your emotional wellbeing a priority.
4. Don’t fast-track discomfort. Lessons repeat themselves if you don’t learn. When you move too fast out of a difficult or uncomfortable situation with someone, it’s likely to happen again. If there are situations in your work, life, and relationships that have a common thread or tend to recur, it’s time to look deeper at what’s going on. When we slow down, we can observe the patterns that are presenting themselves in our lives. Then, we can see the lesson, grow from it, and move beyond it.
5. Trust deeper in a larger plan. One of the huge challenges of being human is that we want to control. But the truth is, our brains can’t even begin to comprehend the vast and detailed inner workings of our lives. When challenged, do your part, do the very best that you can, and then trust what is happening is somehow for the highest good. Remain curious about the why’s and how’s as you continue to put one foot in front of the other. Life is a miracle. Be open to letting it guide you, teach you, support you, and reveal its awe-inspiring plan to you every step of the way.