Life As It Is

By Kathleen Hartman Blackburn- January 2011

I remember well the first time I read the opening sentence in M. Scott Peck’s classic The Road Less Traveled:  “Life is difficult.” I was in my late twenties and had just received a cancer diagnosis in the same week that I had confirmation of a pregnancy.  I was experiencing shock, fear and dismay, wondering how this could be happening and why it was happening to me.  I found some answers and comfort in Peck’s words which echoed the eternal wisdom found in the Buddha’s first of his Four Noble Truths – life is suffering. I experienced life as difficult and the subsequent suffering of this stance because I thought my life should be other than what it was. I somehow thought that life should be easy! Learning the meaning of this truth by letting go of any expectations about how my life should unfold would free me to experience life as it is, thus making the perspective of life as difficult or life as easy, irrelevant.

I’d like to say that I learned this wisdom once and for all thirty years ago. The truth is that I am still learning what it means to accept life as it is. At times, life presents huge challenges that interrupt our usual ways of being and often these challenges are painful to deal with.  I certainly had my share of painful experiences, which in reality provided numerous opportunities to see that I was still clinging to the belief that life should be easy. There are moments of clarity though, and in those openings I can see that my relaxing into the present moment of what I am experiencing, including feelings of fear or panic or hopelessness or joy or love, can reveal something much greater than myself, or a part of me that is much more spacious and free. I no longer have to resist what I am experiencing or wish it to be different.

Although the big events of loss or death or life-threatening illnesses shake us out of our usual way of being and invite us to see how much we think we are in control of our lives, our day-to-day existence and the relationships that we have at home and work, with family and friends, can provide similar opportunities. In truth, we cannot control what happens to us; we can only control how we respond to events and situations, both big and seemingly small. Our response will indicate the amount of resistance we have.  We can increase our awareness of how much we are resisting life as it is by examining our attitudes about what is occurring.  We notice our thoughts, feelings and actions especially around situations or people that stimulate a reaction in us. We ask ourselves reflective questions that may assist our discovery process and support our self-awareness as we honestly answer, such as:

Do I expect my parents, children, partner, friends, or co-workers to be different than who they are?  Do I secretly (or overtly) wish they could be more like me? Do I expect myself to feel other than what I feel? If it’s a so-called negative feeling, do I censor, judge, ignore or deny it? If I wake up feeling sick, how do I respond to that? Do I give myself permission to take the day off of work? If I do decide to stay at home, do I rest or do I subtly punish myself? What is my reaction to traffic congestion or a long line at the grocery? What happens when someone decides a course of action that differs from what I think should happen? What do I do when I make a mistake or someone else makes a mistake? How tolerant am I of a change of plans?

Living this life holds no guarantees and often unfolds in ways we least expect.  It is possible, however, to begin to challenge the beliefs and expectations we hold, as we become more aware and honest with ourselves. We learn to use the opportunities provided by our lived experiences to see the expectations and beliefs we actually hold about how things should be. Letting go of these limitations opens us up to the possibility of so much more life and more freedom, more of what is truly here. Learning to live life as it is will be one of the most challenging tasks on our journey towards wholeness. It will be worth it.

 

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