Life is never without challenges. Challenges make life interesting and allow us to expand and grow. They can feel playful or exciting, and they can feel devastating.
I’m speaking today about the challenges that bring us to our knees, stopping us dead in our tracks and making us wish we were someone or somewhere else.
Perhaps adversity is a better term for what I’m talking about. After all, a challenge can be any kind of “call to a contest,” and this might be exhilarating for us in some circumstances. Adversity is a condition of misfortune, hardship or stress. Adversity is still a challenge, but it’s a particularly difficult challenge that we often don’t wish to take up.
I’ve spent the last year immersed in significant adversity, dealing with a health challenge that I thought for sure as of last June (2018), I was finally done with. I won’t go into the details of it, but you can get a sense of my “Steeply Pitched Story of Self Empowerment” in this video.
That video was filmed in June 2018. In October 2018, I re-injured, and have been dealing with an even steeper journey, filled with adversity.
When I first re-injured, I wanted to be anyone but me. I wanted to run, hide, escape. I fell into a depression, which felt extremely difficult to admit, as I’ve never thought of myself as being “depressed.” Truth be told, I had many moments in this last year when I simply didn’t want to exist.
I believe adversity is the ultimate catalyst for learning to show up as the most authentic, true version of ourselves.
While I knew in my heart that I clearly wasn’t done with this particular challenge in my life, that I had more to learn, more strength to cultivate, more ways to experience being my truest Self, etc., having dealt with this health challenge for so many years, and then having believed I was finally done with it, I simply didn’t want to face it.
Now, nearly a year later, I’m only beginning to grasp all that I’ve gained and am still gaining from this experience.
I want to share with you some key factors I’ve learned are critical for moving through adversity in our lives.
We Must Make Space for Grief
When we’re faced with adversity, we’re triggered. Emotionally, all kinds of things come up. We’re disappointed, angry, sad, frustrated, upset. We’re likely asking, “Why me?” We might even pretend it’s not happening for a time.
These are all elements of grief.
Most of us are familiar with the five stages of grief…denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. But how many of us actually allow for grieving?
In today’s fast paced culture we’re taught to, “Be tough!” or “Stay strong!” or not let others see our vulnerability.
Too many of us attempt to move through the grieving process far too fast, refusing to allow ourselves the time, space and attention grief deserves.
We believe we have to get back to work, take care of things quickly, and move on with our lives. We attempt to rush through the grief, dismissing it, being irritated with it and trying to “fix” it.
Grief can’t be “fixed.” Grief is a calling from our soul for much needed attention.
When we consciously allow grief to move through us, we can move forward. When we resist grief, it will paralyze us.
Resisting grief is one of the ways people stay stuck in victimhood, and are never able to create the life they long for. We fear allowing grief because we fear being stuck in it, yet not allowing grief is exactly what keeps us stuck!
The first thing to consider when adversity strikes is that we must allow ourselves space to grieve and process what has happened. We must acknowledge the pain we feel. We can notice all the ways we long to deny what has happened, notice the anger and sadness that come up, notice ourselves wishing it away, hoping to trade it for something else. Only in allowing space for grief, and grieving consciously can we truly move to acceptance.
When I was re-injured, I didn’t want to believe it. I hesitated to go to a doctor. I was terrified of what I might be told. I tried to rationalize that it wasn’t that bad, so much so that the technician reading my CT scan wrote that there was no issue in the report (an example of how powerful our thoughts can be in creating our experiences…but that’s another topic), even though later, other radiologists looked at the scan and confirmed the severity and reality of my injury.
I became depressed, even saying out loud that I was depressed. My Grandmother used to say, “I don’t get depressed because I choose not to.” I talked to my Grandmother, who is in the Spirit realm now, so often, begging her to help me “choose not to” be depressed.
The only thing that helped me was to allow myself to acknowledge my pain, and move through it with awareness that I was grieving.
I went through all the stages of grief, visiting them multiple times over the last year, sometimes for a long while, and sometimes a short while. I was finally able to come to acceptance, understanding what was happening, and entering the opportunity to learn the lessons the adversity is there to teach me.
Acceptance is NOT Agreement or Resignation
Moving into acceptance does not mean that we’re agreeing with what’s happened or resigning to our circumstances.
Acceptance is actually about presence.
It’s about honoring where we are and what’s happening in this moment, and knowing that what is in front of us is what we have to work with.
Acceptance allows us to be with what is, maintaining peace so that we can determine our next steps.
I knew in my situation that while I could see and accept what was in front of me, I had many steps to take before my learning and growth would be complete with this challenge. I had a long journey ahead with many actions, experiences and encounters.
Resignation or simply agreeing with my situation were not going to help me take those steps.
Openness Is Critical
Once we’ve accepted our circumstances, we must remain open to what wants to come of them.
In my coaching work, I’m regularly sharing ways of centering and grounding so that we can tap into our True Self and stay open to what’s emerging in our lives.
When we’re open, we’re receptive to the lessons we’re meant to learn, and the guidance we can be given.
This is a time of asking questions and being curious, without necessarily needing answers.
I practiced my tools of presencing daily as a way of staying open. I recommitted daily to not having any attachment to outcomes, keeping judgement and bay, and moving beyond fixed perspectives.
Openness is often a process of reminding.
It’s not easy to stay open when we’re inundated with so many opinions, so many emotions, and perhaps even physical pain. Reminding ourselves that we want to be open for the sake of learning and discovering is helpful, while also practicing great self-care, boundary setting, and self-compassion.
Research Can Bring Discernment
In our state of openness, we can explore, question, see other options, and research the possibilities that may support us.
In some adversity, research may not be helpful, as it could trap us in trying to make things go away or justify what’s happened. It’s important to ensure that research is for moving us forward and not keeping us from doing so.
Research can be a very helpful tool for bringing discernment that allows us to make wise decisions for moving forward in our lives.
Perhaps we’ve lost a loved one, and we have to determine how to move forward without them. Once we’ve allowed for grieving, and stepped into a state of openness, we can research next steps that help us take action toward settling their affairs, and taking care of those that have been left behind, including ourselves.
My research in my health challenge has been extensive. I’ve interviewed 15 surgeons. I’ve read books. I’ve been testing new treatments with my homeopath. Taking time to do this has also allowed for other things to emerge that are important. Had I not taken more time to research, and had I not stayed open, I might have lost so much learning.
Catch Yourself When Slipping into Grief Again
When we start researching options to help us move forward, we might find ourselves saying, “Why didn’t I do this before?” or “How could this be?” We might make startling or shocking discoveries in our research.
These findings can be very emotional, and might send us right back into grief, wishing our adversity away, feeling depressed, or getting angry.
First of all, this is normal, and perfectly ok to experience. It’s not a step back. It’s just a step on the path. The key is to catch ourselves and stay consciously present.
When we catch ourselves, we can be compassionate, patient and loving toward ourselves. We can remember that our process is helping us to practice getting stronger, exercising the resilience we’re longing to cultivate.
It’s important to again allow for any additional grieving, while remembering that we’re further along in our process and in our learning.
Adversity Gives Us Gifts
Once we’ve researched our options, and have caught ourselves in any temptation to run for the hills even though we’ve come this far, we begin to see the gifts that come from our adversity.
The conscious work we’ve done to face what is before us and stay present to it, in addition to discovering new possibilities, allows us to gather what we’ve learned and begin to see a new path ahead.
Our new learning becomes a gift not only for our personal life and how we can move forward, but also for those around us.
Perhaps our adversity makes us a better parent, friend, partner, or leader because we now have information that makes our role more effective.
Perhaps the fruits of our adversity become a beacon in the dark for others facing similar challenges.
My adversity over this past year has helped me to see and learn so much.
I’m able to bring this wisdom to my mentoring work and writing. I’m also discovering new paths that I may be called to explore. I’m still learning, and experimenting with new solutions.
My courage and confidence have been boosted tremendously.
My learning and discovery has the opportunity to benefit many others, and for that, I am grateful for the gift of adversity.