Transformation: No Pain No Gain

This past 12 months I have been blessed…yes blessed..with a whole series of challenging situations. First, in January 2008, my wife of 15 years and I decided to live in separate houses, without any sense that we might ever get back together.  My next great challenge was a diagnosis in December of prostate cancer–slow-growing and small in size, but cancer nonetheless.  Then as January, 2009 came around–after a very good 2008–revenues for the organization I direct fell precipitously, causing us to reduce all staff salaries and consider laying people off.

As I contemplate all this, I say “thank you” to all the wisdom teaching, inner work, meditation and practices like yoga and qigong that have kept my heart in peace and helped my overall sense of well-being to not be diminished. Each challenge brought its own test to deal with a range of emotions and thoughts (anxiety, anger, resentment, apathy, escapism). But simply being mindful in the moment, and knowing that all these negative states are like clouds passing in the sky, there came a deeper sense of inner ease that grew throughout the year.

It is said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Another way to think of this is like an athlete–to reach peak performance, you have to stretch and go beyond what you think you are capable of.  I also like the term St John of the Cross gave us: the dark night of the soul.  If we do not have those dark nights that challenge us to the very core, I am convinced that our growth will be limited.

Life is wonderful like this. It seems we get just the right challenges to make us bigger, more courageous, compassionate and wise people. And my life over the last year is no exception. My wife and I are re-uniting and now have a wonderful, deeply loving relationship. I’m right in the process of reviewing my lifestyle choices in food, work hours, stress levels that play a role in cancer, and am pursuing a natural/organic mostly fruit & vegetable diet, and planning cutting out work & volunteer situations that cause me to over-commit. We are also right on top of our financial situation in my organization and have all the resources we need to weather well this current economic downturn.

I likewise view the global economic crisis  not really as a crisis, but as an opportunity to re-evaluate, reduce, become simpler and appreciate again the basic things that life are all about.

It’s all in our attitude. We say “no pain no gain,” and this comes from a view that something unwanted from one perspective, is painful, or a hassel. On the other hand,  what is thought of as painful or undesirable is just that–a thought. Adverse thoughts when clung too and strung out into a whole story determine much of the reality–the drama–we experience.  Saying to ourselves “Oh my God, how terrible it is that I no longer have a wife,” or ” I might die of the big C,” or “I’m going to go broke” powerfully affects our state of mind and quality of life.

Why not instead ask “What good can come from this?” or “How is what is happening now just perfect for me?”  I believe this is not mental manipulation, but a truer assessment of what we would call unfavorable situations.

The fact is that real faith is about seeing everything in life as a sacred blessing. There is no “good and bad.” Those are just colors we add to experience.  Can we go beyond duality, and just say “thanks” for what is?

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