Life, to a degree, is dualistic in nature; we experience ups and downs; we have “good” days where life goes according to plan, and we have “bad” days where life doesn’t. This is the nature of life, always fluctuating.
So how do we deal with these bad days? How do we use them to our advantage?
Either you’re going through the turbulence of life right now, or you’re bound to sooner or later. It helps to know how to turn these rough rides into an experience that is meaningful. How do we become alchemists of our moments magically turning our misery into wisdom?
There are a couple techniques I have found to be useful:
Confront the situation
When we come face to face with adversity and difficulty, there are some of us who cower, run away, and sometimes even try to anesthetize ourselves to the situation, hoping it will go away in the mean time; we watch television, get high, drink ourselves numb, go shopping, have sex, eat something tasty; we try to flee from what we dislike, to things we like. (Or think we like.)
Stop. Face it. Embrace whatever you are going through fully. Know you have the strength within you to persevere through it. It is only when you face life with clarity and sobriety will you be able to extract its raw wisdom.
Facing hardship is obviously never easy. If it were, life would be a breeze. But life isn’t a breeze. It is a series of bumps, bristles, and blisters.
Practicing equanimity is a great tool for dealing with these situations. The fundamental principal of equanimity is acceptance; of the good, and most importantly, of the bad, without clinging or aversion. Clinging to things we like hurts us when those very things are taken from us (by life), and aversion to the reality that is produces suffering within us because we wish to change what we cannot. Remaining equanimous allows us to stay balanced within our peace, neither drowning in turmoil, or delirious in our passion.
Because we perceive life from our subjective point of view, we tend, out of habit, and out of a lack of self-awareness, to take life personally; a moody glance looks to us like our significant other is falling out of love when they actually didn’t sleep well last night; a conversation with someone whose tone towards us we don’t appreciate is them actually having problems at home, and their inner turmoil is bubbling up to the surface; an asshole cutting us off as we drive home is actually a father rushing to the hospital because his child had a severe asthma attack.
Don’t take things so personally. See things clearly, not as you think you see them. Look long and look “deep”. Penetrate past the superficial veil of life to see the potential meaning inherent in each moment.
Open up to your feelings
You’re a human being. You have the capacity to experience a colourful palette of emotions. Don’t run away from them, no matter how miserable you feel. Face them. Be with them. I find this is the best way to “heal”. To babysit your emotions until they mature and move on on their own. So open yourself up to your feelings. Don’t judge them or think about them. Just feel them and allow them to pass. I often find I can turn this into a kind of meditation, enjoying even the most sorrowful of emotions as they pass and make space for healthier, happier ones. Not only will you live more lightly, but you will develop grit and perseverance.
Have faith that all is working out for the best
I have had countless experiences where, on the superficial level, it seemed like life was a disaster, but, upon waiting and attempting to make the best of the situation, have found out that the disaster was a necessity for greater things to come.
For instance, on January 16, 2014, I had no choice but to withdraw from a potent drug which would leave me suffering with severe symptoms, some of which I still suffer from, 2+ years later. But would you think me insane to say that I would do it all over again to be the person I am today? One month after my withdrawal I discovered my passion for writing. And since then, I’ve used writing as a tool to heal and create myself and my life. It has literally transformed me and I owe it to past events which at the time were tumultuous, but I never lost faith that things were working out as they should.
The lives we live are bigger than we can ever conceive. Trust that fact. Live with faith and persevere!
Find the positive
There is no problem like perception. If a problem exists, it is because of perception. If you do not want problems, simply shift your perception, or the way in which you see the world!
Likewise, you can train yourself to be an optimist; to always see life in a positive light.
When faced with an arduous and difficult situation, you have the power to see your experience however you would like to see it. You can take a debilitating illness and view it through a negative lens where you see yourself as a victim of life, or you can see it as a positive and come up with an infinite number of ways to turn your experience into a creative opportunity for growth. And I know this works because I’m speaking from experience.
Imagine you died
This is an exercise that’ll really get you focused on what’s important in life and whether or not you’re living in a way that is aligned with your values: imagine you’re 80 years old, on your deathbed, and absolutely filled with regret and misery because you didn’t live fully, love fully, take your chances, weren’t bold enough, weren’t kind enough. You were fearful of being true, of actually living, and now it is time to pay for your life as we all inevitably will have to.
Wake up! That vision is a potential of your future. Seize the day. Seize the moment. Live now. Love now. Change your destiny. Life gets rough sometimes. Do not let that harden you. Stay soft. Stay kind. Stay loving.
Use your situations as fuel
Sometimes the most negative experiences can be utilized as fuel to kickstart much needed change in our lives. A difficult breakup allows us to learn to love and build up ourselves. A layoff from work allows us the opportunity to make our dream careers come true. An illness gives us time to re-evaluate our lives.
Motivation vanishes as quickly as it appears. Utilize it wisely.
As a writer, I have found writing to be an immensely liberating tool. Whenever I am going through things, nothing heals me better than writing about it. Writing allows me to take the situation from my life and trap it in the prison of the page so it no longer torments my spirit. From there, I can dissect the situation until I am free from it. I can create solutions. I can change my behaviour. I can write out my destiny. I am the author of my life.
Sometimes the changes we need to make are not so apparent to us because they dwell deep below the surface of our conscious minds. Writing, over time, helps us unearth them.
Write out your feelings, especially the ones you would rather not feel. Writing is cathartic, it will help you heal. Write out who you want to become and the kind of life you wish to live in extraordinary detail. Write out how you’re going to make that vision a reality.
Ask yourself the question “What is life trying to teach me right now?”
Asking yourself this question compels you to search for the lesson that is most meaningful and relevant to you in this moment. Then, when you’ve found it, pay attention (:
Life is a dualistic whole of both up’s and down’s. We can, if we choose to, enjoy life. The bad’s don’t have to be bad. We can get through them, utilizing them to our benefit, knowing that tomorrow may not be as bad as today. We must learn to be like rainbows, wielding the nature of both the sun and the rain to be what we are in our nature—beautiful.
Christopher Tan is a writer who passionately explores the human existence for what it means to live and live well. He writes regularly at his blog The Art Of Life. Sign up for his free newsletter to get a free book and follow him on Twitter to keep up with where his creativity and heart is taking him next.