How to Use Challenging Times as a Means for Awakening
By Jair Lucena
“Existence is suffering” is not really a statement that comes from a negative belief system or a nihilist perspective. It’s the first noble truth that Gautama Buddha taught his disciples shortly after his awakening.
Everyone has suffered. Our closest relatives have died, friendships have vanished, and relationships have ended. Pain, loss, and grief are common ingredients in this flavorful experience called life.
However, challenges and difficult moments in our day-to-day lives can also become opportunities to awaken to something vaster and more profound than our limited perspective of ourselves. George Gurdjieff, the great Armenian master, stated: “Suffering endured on behalf of a great cause ennobles the spirit whereas aimless suffering is waste.” So, how can we transform suffering into meaning?
A Broken Heart Is an Open Heart
There are moments when death takes us by surprise, and situations that we consider stable beforehand change drastically from one instant to another; the beautiful dance of life teaches us the ever-changing nature of our experience.
Such instances take us from our known realities, our comfort zone, and our fixed conceptions about the world and ourselves and drive us toward a sacred place where all is uncertain, the night is dark, and dawn seems far away. Challenges and difficult periods are commonly seen as experiences that we should avoid at all costs, yet, they could become masters that help us to go beyond our self-limiting beliefs and endure the bittersweet wholeness of life.
A heart cracked open by life events has the potential to become available and present for it all if we decide to look at the challenge and recognize the beauty, meaning, and intelligence behind it.
The Mind Zooms In, the Heart Zooms Out
Charlie Chaplin said: “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” We often encounter unfamiliar circumstances that bring emotional turmoil, and we can’t control this. Moreover, our mind’s capacity to focus on unpleasant experiences can make us lose the recognition of the eternal aspect of our innermost nature.
Annica (impermanence) is one of the most renowned Buddhist precepts, and it exemplifies the constant and ever-changing nature of existence. When we resist change and don’t surrender to it, we don’t only suffer more than necessary, but we lose our connection to life itself.
Accepting and embracing change is a treasure. Learning to recognize change as a divine vehicle will help us trust life and become more in tune with its natural rhythms. Life becomes an art rather than a curse.
As Lao Tzu said: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
The Spandic Approach
Spanda, the sacred vibration of the Heart, is ever-present, no matter what experience we are going through. This means that even the most uncomfortable and undesired emotions are divine. The tremor of the Heart takes different shapes and forms, as varied and as vast as the Universe itself.
Living in an attitude of constant transfiguration is meditation. Recognizing God even in what appears to be a challenge, a moment of suffering, or a traumatic imprint helps us get in touch with the absolute loving awareness that we are. It allows us to develop a sense of wonder and amazement even when the most challenging situations happen.
Such an approach enables us not only to handle difficult situations in a more centered way but to cultivate a deep faith that can take us from personal conceptions into the absolute unity of all existence.
As Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Atma Vichara, or Self-Inquiry, as a Way to Embrace Suffering
Ramana Maharshi left a legacy of practical wisdom for our everyday experience. His Self-Inquiry method, based on the question “Who am I?,” directs us to a place within ourselves so pristine and sacred that not even suffering can alter it.
At first, some practitioners may feel that Self-Inquiry is a way to deny our limited perspective to open to something vaster, cutting through limitations and recognizing our Divine Nature. Yet, with practice and patience, those practitioners will start acknowledging that Self-Inquiry does not deny personal experience but is an invitation to fully embrace it, welcoming every flow of emotion and energy with total availability and equanimity. In simple terms, we recognize its divine origin, allowing the feeling to pass through us without letting it become us.
By asking “Who am I?,” we open to a universal version of ourselves, a more profound perspective than that of a person who experiences suffering. This allows us to accept every emotion, thought, and challenging situation as it is, letting them shape us to become more present and available to life, transforming an apparent poison into sacred medicine.
By getting in touch with our suffering without preconceived ideas, we begin to understand its spiritual purpose, enabling us to cultivate self-love and self-compassion while embracing the pain of those around us and the beautiful world in which we live.
Jair Lucena is a Hridaya Yoga teacher serving at our center in Longeval, France.