What would it be like if you understood that the deepest of challenges in your life are for you? They are not here because you have done something wrong or God fell asleep on the job. Challenges are a part of life and they will keep on coming: too many things to do, miscommunication in relationships, health issues, financial difficulties, a stress-filled job, anything that causes you upset. Discovering that your challenges are for you is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.
In this journey through life, you have and will come across challenges that seem almost impossible to bear. Rather than seeing them as something that you must fight with, you can learn to bring the power of compassionate attention to each challenge as it comes and learn to trust that your soul knows what it’s doing. You can use your challenges as an opportunity to see more clearly all the parts of the fear-based storyteller in your mind. It is a process and it takes practice.
1. Unhooking From Your Storyteller
You can learn to use your mind as the wonderful tool that it is rather than being lost in reaction. You are not the stories in your head. They are conditioned beliefs you took on when you were very young. The storyteller in your head – that commentator that talks all day long – is always trying to do life and do it right. It constantly struggles with life, cutting you off from the meadow of your own being. It manipulates, tries, expects, wants, rages and resists. It generates all sorts of feelings such as fear, sadness, self-judgment, anger, doubt, confusion, irritation and despair. It is happy when it is getting what it wants, and when it doesn’t, the stories run rampant. This is where most people live … lost in their stories about life rather than the direct experience of it.
The storyteller believes that everything will be okay when we can get rid of the parts we don’t like and hold onto the ones we do. We have the strange idea that we are the only ones with these undesirable parts, but we all have them. We are just very good at pretending that we don’t – both to ourselves and to others! There is nothing inside of us to be ashamed of! We can begin to get to know our storyteller and learn to relate to all of its parts. They deserve kindness just like we do when we have had a difficult day.
As you begin to unhook from your storyteller, you become more spacious and open—the opposite of the low-grade struggle that you are accustomed to. In the unhooking, you discover how to use your mind for the exquisite tool that it is rather than letting it run you.
2. Getting To Know Your Fear
Most people guard against their fear and will do anything to get away from it. Fear can be very subtle. It can be a chronic unsettled feeling or it can totally take over our lives. We all have fear. Even when our lives are going well, it is still there, concealed in the core of our inner story that is running us from underneath our everyday awareness. We fear the unknown. We fear failure. We fear the darkness within us. We fear what others think of us. We fear death. We fear life. We fear it all. When fear in our minds really gets going and we are lost in it, the sympathetic nervous system gets stronger and more receptive to the fear, which feeds the fight or flight response, and we get caught in this painful world of fear.
Getting to know fear is a powerful part of your awakening. It is one of the core teachers for waking up to life. Notice how fear runs through your mind all day long. It is powerful when you begin to notice it and say “Oh, that’s fear.” You can get to know fear without trying to fix or change it. This is where the healing is. If you think about it, 99.99% of the fear-based stories you tell yourself never happen. Look back on your life and you will see that they just don’t come to pass. If you can allow a little bit of space around the fear and see it for what it is, even for just a moment, you will realize that it’s just a story. That is a moment of consciousness. Eventually, you will come to be with the fear and you won’t be run by it anymore. It will just pass through. This is the ease and peace that we all long for in our lives.
3. Breathing Yourself Back into Life
The benefits of belly breathing are profound. To breathe deeply into the belly brings your center of gravity out of your head and back into the safety of being grounded in your body. When your attention is mainly in your head, you are like a top-heavy tree that is vulnerable to the winds of life. When you ground yourself in your belly, you discover a wellspring of deep knowing, wisdom, and trust.
Deep belly breathing will calm you when you are agitated, help heal you when you are sick, open the door to wisdom when you really need it and energize you when you are tired (more powerfully than caffeine and no side effects!). Deep, conscious breathing turns on the calming aspect of your nervous system, allowing you to rediscover, over and over again, the place within you that knows how to respond to life rather than react.
When you are caught in your mind and you relax into your breath, you can feel how calming it is to pull your attention out of your busy mind and invite it instead to simply ride the waves of your breath. You can actually relax into its rhythm enough that you allow yourself to be rocked by your breath. And, you can make one more radical step – let go of breathing and allow yourself to be breathed by Life.
In my new book, What’s In the Way IS the Way, there is a wonderful saying that is a reminder that our challenges in life are for us:
“Life is set up, to bring up, what has been bound up, so it can open up, to be freed up, so you can show up for life!”
Your challenges can became doorways back into an intimate, open connection with life. What’s in the way IS the way! When you can stay open to your challenges, no matter what is going on in your life, there is always a doorway.
Mary O’Malley is an author, counselor and awakening mentor who resides in Kirkland, Washington. In the early 1970’s, a powerful awakening led Mary to begin changing her relationship with her challenges, freeing her from a lifelong struggle with darkness. For over 30 years, Mary has been helping others heal their fears, anxieties, shame and confusion. Eckhart Tolle says, “Thank you Mary, for your contribution to the evolution of human consciousness.” www.maryomalley.com