One of the questions that seems to recur over and over again is “Why is this happening to me?” or “Why is life just so damn painful?” I don’t have a simple answer to that question. Sometimes it is part of our soul’s journey into experience. Sometimes we are learning and growing through it all. Although I don’t personally believe it has anything to do with what we traditionally call ‘karma’ and the working out of the accumulated wrongdoing of a previous life.. although I do believe in the law of sowing and reaping – what we put out has a habit of coming back to us and biting us in the backside…
I do know that what we think about tends to find expression in our lives. If we fear disaster, then disaster may well befall us. (When I took redundancy a friend of mine pointed out that I was using the phrase “I can survive for three years on my redundancy” – and indeed, it became a matter of ‘survival’ and not ‘thriving’ for me – until I learned to change my language). I do know that if we block the flow of good from our lives (perhaps by withholding it from others, perhaps by holding on to our wealth or by not letting love out) then we stop the flow of good into our lives. If you continually confess that life is tough and painful, then that’s exactly what you’ll get.
“But it’s not happening because I’m creating it – it just seems to be happening and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
When I see someone going through a difficult time, someone who seems to struggle for no good reason, then I tend to pay attention. Because I have learned in these moments that something significant is going on that’s worthy of closer inspection. You see, I have found that our leaders and our true heroes have had their lives forged in the furnace of discomfort, of trauma, of difficulty. It’s those that have seen pain up close, that have felt their heart shredded beyond anything they felt they could bear – the people who have learned to sit with their own disappointment and struggle, the ones who have felt betrayed, abandoned, lost.. the ones who have kept going when life is simply about putting one foot in front of the other, in faith that this too shall pass. It’s the people who have found the very core of their beliefs torn from them, who have learned to cling on to that one sure truth – that one thing that they know for sure. It’s those that have found every element of security, every comfort, every safe place taken from them.
It’s those who have set out to achieve something spectacular – and those who have the sense that something spectacular is calling to them. It’s those who have dared to dream and then carried on fighting for that dream – even beyond the point that they lose hope and begin to despair of ever seeing those dreams come true. It’s those that have been forced to re-evaluate their deepest beliefs, their understandings. It’s those who have felt the rawness and loneliness of their experience and have won through to the other side.
“The most beautiful people we have ever known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have pulled themselves out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross)
Many years ago, a respected spiritual leader said to me that true leadership always comes with a price.. and I have seen that replayed so many times. One of my life teachers battled for many years through nervous breakdown and bankruptcy until she broke through into an amazing and beautiful understanding of Spirit, of Love, and of Heart. Another of my friends found her marriage fall apart and custody of her children taken from her – only to find herself a loved and respected authority on relationships – and now she is stepping into a new role in support of women who have found themselves going through similar experiences. Another friend has recently struggled through depression only to find herself on the verge of a whole new chapter in her life – one that sings to her heart. I’ve seen many of my friends battling difficult life situations, and I know that those situations are the preparation for something greater, something truer, something more incredible. Another friend has taken the pain and trauma of a ferocious divorce and used that to step into a new world of beautiful and inspiring creativity.
I know in my own life that, having battled through divorce and painful love affairs, through business failure that brought me to the edge of bankruptcy, through disappointment in building my leadership role – as I look back I can see the divine handiwork in using those times of mental and emotional pain to place me ready for the next part of my own journey. Even if I didn’t welcome those experiences at the time – when I look back I can marvel at what they have done in making me more prepared for my future path. It seems that looking into that emptiness has allowed me to see the shape of my own soul and helped me understand more of the nature of the Universe and my place in it – and reignited my friendship with God that had been left to one side for many years. Like many of you, I’ve walked through the fire.. and it’s made me who I am.
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
I take courage from the Old Testament story of Job – a successful and God fearing man who had to deal with the loss of pretty much everything he held dear – his wealth, his prosperity, his family, his health.. even his closest friends advise him that it must be all his fault, and he feels utterly, completely alone – forsaken by everyone,including, it seems, his source of faith and hope on which he had based his life. And yet his trust is vindicated, and he ends the story 140 years later with his fortune and family restored as ‘a man who lived a long, full life’. Job went from failure and despair to success and influence because he held on to his faith that everything was working out for good – his experience laid the foundations of his future prosperity.
So, if you’re finding yourself in the middle of a maelstrom of trouble, where difficulty seems to come from every direction – pay attention. Be prepared to listen. There is nothing more important in this world than the preparation of those people who will help lead – who have met with themselves in the darkest night. As Oriah Mountain Dreamer wrote in ‘The Invitation’: I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.
We have learned, you and I, to keep going, no matter what. To continue to pursue our destiny, our purpose, our path despite disappointment, pain, heartache. We have learned, you and I, to push through our fears. We have learned that we cannot be defeated, and that what was meant for our harm only serves to create new inner strength. And in that process, we have found others appearing in our lives that are attracted to that same determination, that see in us the wisdom and the sensitivity that the pain of learning has opened in us. Because through all of that hurt, we have become more transparent, more real, more true.. as you have discovered more of the truth of your own being, then you have also discovered more about others, and have become a source of love and joy.. there is something truly attractive about the sense of ‘this is who I am’ that can only be discovered through the fire, as we let it burn away anything that is not truly authentic.
Your greatest success always comes one step beyond defeat. That’s where I find the leaders.
Today’s picture is © Hazel McNab from 366 Hearts : one of a series of 366 beautiful, unique and original heart designs. Check out the rest at http://inspiringhearts365.wordpress.com/ and maybe even buy one of her original heart designs for yourself – or someone you love!