The difficult events in our lives come bearing opportunities for growth and transformation. Each time we are faced with a loss or painful experience, rather than treat this problem as an unwelcome visitor, we can be curious, open to the gifts it may bring.
When I became a mother, one of my worst fears had been that something terrible, either physically or emotionally, would ever happen to my daughter. In 1989, when she was eighteen, Heidi was diagnosed with two debilitating and painful chronic illnesses. The experience stretched me over the next few years as her symptoms escalated, and we struggled to find the right treatments for her. In 1992, following a particularly challenging period, I became aware that I’d grown more over the past four years than I had from over fifteen years of spiritual practice and study. A list started to form in my mind of qualities that I’d been inadvertently developing since the onset of her symptoms: presence, empathy, courage, strength, acceptance, resilience, trust, and compassion. “This is what spiritual practice is all about,” I realized. I saw that just about everything about me had changed: my understanding about what’s important in life, my beliefs about who I was, and what I’m capable and not capable of, old patterns, illusions, ways of being in the world and with others, and beliefs about health and healing, life, death, and suffering. I saw that the events of the past four years had put me on a spiritual fast track.
Adverse experiences in our lives are soul events. They change us. We grow. We access feelings that may have been buried for years. Our priorities shift. We become more authentic; entrenched coping strategies fall away. We are humbled. We often tap into spiritual resources within ourselves because we’ve been brought to our knees. We find that we must turn to something greater than our limited, egoic selves. We learn to show up for all of life, not just the pleasurable experiences. This is the spiritual growth that happens in the trenches, not just on the mountain top.
Finding the gifts in adversity doesn’t mean we put on a happy face and deny painful realities. We need to acknowledge how sad or afraid we are that we are ill, our child is suffering, or we lost something or someone we cherish. There is, though, more than the pain. Discovering the teachings of these life challenges can shift us from feeling helpless and resistant to seeing ourselves as participants in a greater field of meaning and possibilities for transformation.
If you are currently facing a difficult challenge, pause for awhile to reflect. Take a few deep breaths, relax your body, and pose some questions to your inner wisdom. What am I learning at this time? What are the opportunities for growth? How is this a soul event?