When adversity really gets to us, what can we do?

A few months ago, I had a conversation with a mentor of mine. We were discussing the inevitable moments in life when we feel lost, confused, and disillusioned. What he shared with me was helpful for these unprecedented, unimaginable times of economic hardship, social unrest, environmental issues, political uncertainty, a Covid-19 pandemic, and all of that on top of what may be happening in one’s personal life. He said when we are feeling the most lost or hopeless, that’s when we are finally open to guidance. Disillusionment is part of a cycle that, if we work our way through, can lead us to great growth and a deeper trust in life.

1. Feeling Lost

When you’re disillusioned and upset, it feels horrible. No one likes the despair and confusion that comes with feeling out of control and worn out by life. But when this happens, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you can learn from it and emerge as a better person. After all, you must first be lost in order to be found.

2. Asking for Help

When all your ideas and effort don’t seem to be working, you can finally stop pretending to know everything. At that point, a doorway opens. You become more willing to be stretched, to ask for help. The brain becomes more pliable. Maybe you consider a prayer, seek counsel or guidance, open to possibilities other than your small view of things. With a greater perspective comes greater peace of mind, body, and soul.

3. Strengthening Faith

Affirming that the universe has your back is an essential part of the practice of surrender. To rest in the possibility there may be a bigger plan than your own has a profound effect on the human nervous system. At this point in the cycle, if we are willing, we can start to wonder… what if a force that sees the whole picture and is guiding things for our highest learning and growth? When you acknowledge the possibility that something bigger than you might be at play, your perspective broadens and you can appreciate life, even if you can only see a section of the masterpiece.

4. Receiving Guidance

From this place of humility and receptivity, you can choose to listen. Without your plan, there is now space to attune to the plan. This process is called kenosis in Christian theology – emptying yourself of your own ideas so you can hear what the universe is trying to tell you. Once you become willing to listen, the guidance and support all around you is revealed. Sometimes it comes in the form of a call from a friend with just the right message, a new book gifted to you just at the right time, or a synchronistic meeting that points you to the next best step to take. As Joseph Campbell teaches in his work on the Hero’s Journey, there will always be supernatural aid on the journey. Once you start paying more attention to your life, you become more aware of how it is blessing you the whole way.

5. Being Grateful

Gratitude is a choice, an intentional habit of noticing how life is loving you, even when it feels like it’s not. When you shift into this way of seeing, you realize that even when you felt lost along the way, you never really were. Maybe you were redirected, required to lose one thing to find something deeper. But that is the nature of life; a phoenix must rise out of the ashes to be reborn into something brighter and more magnificent… perhaps, even, the only way to be with another in their grief is by having climbed out of a deep well of grief yourself. With the practice of gratitude, we learn to use every stumbling block, no matter the size, as a stepping-stone to a wiser, more compassionate, glorious version of ourselves.

Life is a journey, a grand adventure. Using the steps above as a guide can help strengthen our capacity to trust life, even in the midst of the chaos. The more open we are to the cycle, the more we can face adversity and endure the dark nights of the soul, knowing there will be light again. After all, you can only see the true majesty of the stars in the blackest of night.

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