In order to study the art of happiness, we have to understand the significance of suffering. Even those situations that make us feel heavy and as if life is being unfair. In every situation, including the darker ones, there is something to be taken. It may be a lesson, a memory, awareness, or a reminder of how truly fragile this human experience is.
Adversity is an inherent part of the human condition, yet the issue lies in that we live in a culture that does everything in its power to run from, protect against and numb the uncomfortable, often painful, parts of the human experience. The vast majority of our victories and achievements, first involved us sitting and mucking through some significant muddy patches.
“There is happy, and then there is equally crappy.” –Dr. Marie “Chitra” Bailey
Not one of us is jumping to sign up for a dark night of the soul. And yet, when did one ever really learn anything from a rose-pedaled path? Transformation often happens in the dark, ugly muck of reality when illness strikes, we suffer a terrific loss, feel particularly alone, or spiritually lost. But the story doesn’t have to end there.
“No mud, No Lotus” –Thich Nhat Hanh
This phrase has been stuck in my mind lately. There is so much truth in it. We get so bogged down by the hard, by the suffering that we are going through in our day to day life, that it is sometimes hard to see the potential beauty that we are reaching for. Or the inverse, we see the end result that we want, but we struggle to find the motivation or to take responsibility for the work that we need to do to reach that goal.
Recently, it has become a conscious practice to use this a mantra:
When I am feeling frustrated at a situation with my children —no mud, no lotus.
When I am avoiding an uncomfortable situation or conversation—no mud, no lotus.
When it is difficult to find the motivation to unroll my yoga mat and practice—no mud, no lotus.
When the weight of running my own business seems unreasonably heavy— no mud, no lotus.
When facing hard times, coping with a loss, reeling from bad news or recovering from a failure—no mud, no lotus.
“Breathing in, I’m aware of the painful feeling in me. Breathing out, I’m aware of the painful feeling in me.” This is an art. We have to learn it, because most of us don’t like to be with our pain. We’re afraid of being overwhelmed by the pain, so we always seek to run away from it. There’s loneliness, fear, anger, and despair in us.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
The lotus blooms out of the mud, and the phoenix rises from its own ashes. Richard Rohr says we must trust the dark periods of our lives as our mightiest teachers. Barbara Brown Taylor reflects, “Pain makes theologians of us all.” Adversity, struggle, and defeat (the hard work of being human) proves the secret alchemical equation to producing deep and sensitive, resilient and compassionate, worthy and admirable human beings.
“Beautiful people do not just happen.” -Elizabeth Kubler Ross
Try it Now:
Instead of ‘turning away’ from pain in avoidance we can learn to gently ‘turn towards’ what we’re experiencing. We can bring a caring open attention towards the wounded parts of ourselves and make wise choices about how to respond to ourselves and to life.
It’s a paradox that we all must understand: It is by turning towards negative emotions that we find relief from them – not by turning away.
Simply find a quiet place where you can sit for at least five minutes, in silence, and focus on the breath. Acknowledge that the emotion is there. See if you can be open to feeling what you feel.
Acknowledge that all emotions are impermanent. They arise, stay for a while and then disappear. They come and go in you, like waves in the sea, cresting and receding.
Your task is simply to allow this current wave to be and to witness, with patience, as it continuously changes form and eventually disappears.
It can be helpful to say to ourselves, “While this is a temporary feeling, it is here right now, how can I care for it? What do I need?”
Once you have reached a calm state, you may then reflect on how you want to respond to what is happening. This may take the form of simply realizing that your thoughts are not reality and therefore don’t take them so seriously.
It could be that the simple embracing of the emotion is all you need to do for now, or it could be that a response is needed to a situation.
“Surrender to what is, let go of what was, have faith in what will be.” -Sonia Ricotti
Mindfulness takes practice. It demands that you set aside some time for you to get to know yourself better. Give yourself some quality time. Learn to control those emotions so that you can respond better, even in the face of difficult situations.
With a Grateful Heart,