“Opposition is a natural part of life. Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.” ~ Steven. R. Covey
“The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.” ~ Unknown
“Accept – then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it… this will miraculously transform your whole life.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
“If you’re life is cloudy and you’re far, far off course, you may have to go on faith for a while, but eventually you’ll learn that every time you trust your internal navigation system, you end up closer to your right life.” ~ Martha Beck
Adversity is a part of life. How’s that for an obvious statement? I don’t want to be trite or cliché, but it’s no secret that everyone has problems. If difficulties are a fundamental part of human experience, why do we struggle so against them? Why do some people overcome while others break apart against the rocks?
Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I would like to be quoted as saying that on this point, Nietzsche was a liar. Obstacles, adversity, and problems do not, by default, make us stronger. Just look around. There are plenty of tired, overwhelmed and broken people in the world. Two different people can experience the same challenge. One will come out stronger and more secure while the other will fall into depression and defeatism. What is the difference between the two? It wasn’t the obstacle, but rather the content of their character. I would like to offer you a more truthful version of Nietzsche’s thought: Lessons learned from obstacles, adversity and problems make us stronger. Lessons unlearned are repeated until learned.
We’ve all heard the cliché “trial by fire”. It originates from the process of smelting – a form of metallurgy in which pure base metal is produced from ore. Metal ore is full of impurities leaving it of little benefit in its current form. When the ore is smelted, it is exposed to extreme heat to decompose it. The impurities are driven off leaving only the pure elemental metal. The adversity of life is our trial by fire. The purpose is to burn off the impurities – the false beliefs, diversions, and clutter that keep us from living our highest and truest lives. If we learn the lessons, we are left with a stronger and more pure self. The challenge is that we often have strong attractions to the impurities, the slag, and so we resist the process and attempt to hold on. The more we resist, the higher the heat goes. Additional reducing agents are added to help release the bond. And we wonder why things go from bad to worse? Didn’t I have enough on my plate already?
All experiences are lessons that God would have us learn. The more we resist the lesson, the more we hold on to the impurities, the stronger the lesson becomes and the more often it is repeated. Are you feeling overwhelmed by adversity? Do things keep going from bad to worse? If so, what impurities are you holding on to? Fear? Anger? Guilt? Unworthiness? Shame?
How to Learn From Adversity
All of that is great, you may be saying, but how can I understand (and learn) the lesson when all I see is this crap? I hope these tips will help you begin that process. But first a disclaimer: I am not talking about legitimate life and death circumstances. When those occur, feel free to take immediate and drastic action if necessary. I’m talking about those circumstances that only feel as if they are life and death. Those we can take some time with and learn from.
- Think differently. Open your mind to a new possibility – a new perspective. Having problems is not the problem. Challenges are necessary in order to grow, improve, and more importantly, discover who you really are and what you can do. Be willing to consider the possibility that all experiences are lessons that God would have us learn. Obstacles are teachers.
- Get some perspective. Where does this obstacle fit within the grand scheme of your entire life? We often see the emotional shadow the obstacle is casting and not the obstacle itself. See it for what it really is – no better and no worse. Don’t react prematurely or overreact. See it for what it really is.
- Seek to understand the curriculum. Be with the obstacle. You can’t learn from a teacher that you are trying to battle or eliminate. Feel the situation. See it. Ask, “What is this obstacle trying to teach me?”
- The lesson is in the emotion, not the circumstances. We tend to think of unpleasant emotions as bad. Instead of experiencing them and learning from them, we often seek to repress them or medicate until numbness arrives. Don’t try to evade the obstacle or wish it away. You have to feel it to heal it. Negative emotions do not die when they are buried, they resurrect in new forms. Acknowledge the emotions you are experiencing and experience them fully. What do they tell you about yourself? What can you learn from them? In the process of experiencing emotions completely, we learn valuable life lessons. We also discover how resilient and strong we are.
- Now ask yourself, “What is the next step?” Take that step, however small, and then ask again. Repeat. You don’t have to solve the problem in one fell swoop. Just take the next step. Trust your intuition to guide you. Ask for guidance from a higher power. But take the next step. Before you know it, the obstacle will be a distant memory and you will be a stronger and better version of yourself for having faced it.
Carrots, Eggs or Coffee?
Many of you have heard, read, or seen this beautiful fable. It’s worth another look.
A young woman went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one would pop up.
Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire, and soon the pots came to boil. In the first pot she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”
“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The grandmother then asked the granddaughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the grandmother asked the granddaughter to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma then asked,
“What does it mean, grandmother?”
Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter.