“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them — that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” — Lao Tzu
Suffering occurs when we expect life to be according to our thoughts and when it doesn’t work out as we expect, sorrow ensues.
What comes to mind when you read that passage? Do you hold certain expectations of what life should be like? Ponder these questions as we explore this further over the coming paragraphs. For a long time I believed life was against me. Do you ever get the same sense? That the forces of life are constantly waging war against you? It’s a relentless battle you cannot win and so it’s easier to give up than keep trying.
Whilst I don’t mean to paint a grim picture, struggling and resisting is futile because we are like a tiny boat tossed around in a storm at sea. Mostly, all we can do is hang on and hope the storm passes and that we emerge unscathed.
I empathise with those who have written to me outlining a similar narrative of their life. The reason being is, I have experienced similar instants and felt powerless compared to the forces of life. It is once the dust settles that we realise the lessons contained within the experiences. I must remind myself and those I coach that everything in life is temporary, even our pain and suffering. That means unpleasant experiences will pass through our lives quicker if we give up attaching ourselves to it.
I don’t have all the answers and sometimes this is frustrating for my clients who are looking for guidance to solve their problems. It would remiss of me to give them advice to assuage their fears because what if the advice does not work out as they planned? What do I offer however, are resources to help people navigate life, knowing what they experience will no doubt recede to give way to the lessons that follow.
A Strong Back And Soft Front
“Being in the flow means being aware that the river of life is flowing to us at every moment. Being in the flow means accepting whatever comes and putting it to good use, before passing it on. Going with the flow means allowing whatever comes to move on freely, without holding on in any way.” — Anonymous
I mentioned losing my father to type II diabetes in my first book, The Power To Navigate Life and later being diagnosed with a serious illness. When you’re vulnerable and have little choice over your mortality, life appears bigger than you. It is during these times, we experience a greater depth to our lives if we are willing to give up our resistance to what is taking place. I learned that when I feel helpless, the greatest act I can undertake is to yield to the forces of life instead of oppose it.
I am reminded of a supple tree blown around in an intense windstorm. The tree yields to the forceful winds by bowing to the wind to avoid being uprooted. When the windstorm eventually passes, the tree is still left standing even though it looks worse for wear. While a rigid tree is likely to be tossed around in the wind and uprooted. These metaphors serve as the foundations for the way we ought to think about our life circumstances. We can let go of our fixed ideas of how life should unfold or we can stand firm in resistance believing we are victims.
Is this something you’ve experienced? If so, how did you feel during those moments when it seemed impossible to make it through? It is natural to feel defeated and insignificant at certain moments, yet they can also prove to be humbling periods of growth. If we are lucky to survive the experience, we will bear the scars of having endured our challenges. In the process of yielding to life, we are softened by the forces imposed upon us. Many people who are uncompromising later develop a humbleness in the aftermath of their ordeal.
It is what the Buddhists call a strong back and soft front, meaning to develop the resiliency to stand tall and confront our challenges with openness and compassion. To quote the Zen Buddhist Joan Halifax who explains in Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet: “In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing choiceless compassion.”
What is keeping you stuck in resistance? Have you taken the time to sit quietly and explore why you feel this way? What needs to take place to let go? Whilst these are difficult questions to answer, they can give us a glimpse into our pain.
Underlying all suffering are erroneous thoughts about the way life should be. As Albert Einstein once declared: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” We must adjust our thoughts and flow with the forces of life so it takes us where it needs to. After all, trusting in life means to trust in the infinite intelligence that guides the moon and the stars. How could it possibly be anything less than perfect?
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