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Dealing with Difficulty

This week's posting is taken from Rick Hanson's weeekly blog "Just One Thing" (October 31, 2013 entry), modified by my own observations and suggestions.

"Sometimes things are difficult. Your boss picks this afternoon to micromanage a report you're preparing, forcing you to stay at the office until 8:00 so you wind up having to cancel dinner plans with a friend. You love a child who's finding her independence through emotional distance from you. A long-term relationship could be losing its spark. It's finals week in college. You're trying to start a business and it's struggling. You've got a chronic health problem or a disability. You're being discriminated against or otherwise treated unjustly. You've thrown out your back just when you vowed to return to regular exercise.

Plus there are all the little hassles of everyday life. You're in an airport and can't get wifi (the injustice!). You're at home looking for the ice cream and someone ate the last of it. You're talking to your partner and realize he or she isn't really paying attention.

To observe that life contains unavoidable difficulty is not to minimize its impacts or to suggest that we should give up trying to make life better. But people - me included - add a lot of unnecessary frustration, anxiety, and self-criticism by resisting difficulty - often with an underlying attitude of 'it shouldn't be this way.' The emotional / mental energy expended in railing against the way things are could be so much better applied!

Try the attitude of accepting difficulty instead of getting aggravated by it. As the sage author and speaker Byron Katie suggests, "Love What Is" (in other words, try to accept that whatever is going on at the moment is a fact, and one doesn't argue with facts. That's a lot more peaceful approach to life than is wishing things were different and railing against present reality.


In the moment, start by acknowledging any stress, weariness, frustration, anxiety, or pain. Open to the impact on your body and mind of whatever is difficult. Let the experience be whatever it is. Try to step back from it and observe it. Let it flow . . . flowing through you . . . and flowing on out the door.

For sure have self-compassion, the simple wish that a being not suffer applied to yourself. Say to yourself things like:ouch, this hurts, I wish it didn't . . . may I not suffer.

Then step back. See if there is any resistance to things being difficult, and see if you can let it go. Perhaps there's a belief deep down that life should be fulfilling, peaceful, buffered from pain. Wouldn't it be nice if it were! But that's not the reality of existence. Keep softening around the inherent difficulties in living, dealing with them as best you can but not struggling with them. Notice that when you stop resisting a difficulty, it starts feeling less difficult.

Try on the attitude: I signed up for this. Not to discount your stress or weariness, but to establish yourself in a relationship of choice toward whatever is difficult. For example, stuck in traffic toward work, remind yourself that this is part of making a living; awakened yet again by your baby, feel in your body yet again your choosing to be a parent. Say to yourself: this is difficult and that's OK . . . I accept the difficulty here . . . yes, it's difficult, and so what?

It's OK that things are difficult. That's part of what gives them their savor. Not all fulfilling experiences are grounded in some difficulty, but many are (from running a marathon to mastering a foreign language to furnishing a home to losing ten pounds). Honor yourself for the hard things you're dealing with. And be aware of the things that are not difficult in your life, including the things that do support you.

In particular, keep up your personal practices during difficult times, such as exercise, meditation, moments of gratitude, protein at every meal, and doing things that nurture you. The more difficult your life, the more you need to take care of yourself.

Difficulties come and go. Meanwhile, your own good qualities and the good things in life persist and remain."


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