A reader writes: I read in one of your recent posts a quotation from The Road Less Traveled about accepting the fact that life is difficult. I'm trying to understand the author's words but failing.
Is he saying that if we accept that life is difficult, it is no longer difficult? Does that mean that the loneliness, sorrow, emptiness, the tears of grief will end? Or does it mean that the pain of our loss continues, but is no longer difficult? Is this something like the concept of "mindfulness"? That's another concept I'm struggling with. I wish I could make these concepts work, I really do. I'd love to move beyond this pain and resume something like a life.
My response: To me, Scott Peck's statement is all about expectations. Whether we're aware of it or not, we Americans often have the naive expectation that life should be easy or comfortable or wonderful, that bad things won't happen to good people, and that happiness is just around the corner. My own life experiences have taught me just the opposite: Life can be quite difficult and unfair, and many times, no matter how "good" I've been, or how hard I've tried, or how much I may deserve for it to be otherwise, things don't always turn out the way I expect or want them to be, and life for me continues to be ~ in a word ~ difficult. (See, for example, the Introduction on my Web site's Articles ~ Columns ~ Books page.)
I think Scott Peck is telling us that when we accept the reality that life is difficult, we can stop fighting it, and we're no longer focused on the unfairness of it all. We can choose instead to make the most of the life we do have, and do what we can to prepare for and meet its challenges along the way.
In her wonderful book Tough Transitions: Navigating Your Way through Difficult Times, Elizabeth Harper Neeld explains it this way:
One of the creative and victorious outcomes researchers tell us we can expect when we have navigated our way through a tough transition is increased wisdom. One piece of that new wisdom has to be a recognition that we will never be finished with tough transitions. Yes, we will work our way through this particular difficult time and that particular change. But we'll never get to a place in life where there are no more transitions. We aren't going to a place in life where there are no more transitions. We aren't going to get so good at the skill of navigating through hard places that the changes don't show up for us as a challenge.
Even though I've studied, thought, and written about tough transitions for almost twenty years, I still have to be reminded from time to time by people who love me that I will get through a particular difficult transition. My husband will sometimes jokingly say to me, "You need to sit down and read your own books." There's no life insurance policy one can take out and certainly no author one can catch on to that will bring freedom from the hard work of dealing with transitions.
What can we come to understand through our gained wisdom? That there is a process that can conclude with victorious outcomes and a sense of Renewing. That I can make the decisions and the choices that allow us to navigate as smoothly or as roughly through a hard time as is possible at that moment. That a transition is about so much more than what appears.
Yes, circumstances and situations around me change, and that launches me into the necessity to navigate myself through a difficult time. But something much more profound is taking place. I am being changed myself. And those changes in me stand to make me more capable, compassionate, and increased in my capacity to put life's ups and downs in perspective. When I begin another tough transition, I have all these learnings and all these valuable experiences at my disposal (pp. 272‑273).
You also say that you're struggling with mindfulness, which is a useful tool that helps us to manage intense waves of emotion. It teaches us to slow down, to bring our awareness fully into the present moment, to focus on just one thing at a time, and to pay attention to our experience with an attitude of openness, kindness and acceptance.
You may find this video with Dr. Jon Kabbat-Zinn to be helpful in your efforts to better understand the concept:
I also encourage you to read Mary Friedel-Hunt’s comprehensive article, Meditation: Helpful to Those Who Grieve.
You’ll find additional resources on meditation and mindfulness in the Meditation thread in our Tools for Healing Forum, located in our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups.
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- You Aren't Here Now: How Grief and Mindfulness Don't Mix
- Do You Feel As Though Grief Is The End Of Your Story?
- Learning to Pay Attention: 5 Steps to Mindfulness Meditation
- Mindfulness Series from eHospice
- Life Is Difficult, But Discipline Makes It Easier
- "There Is No Finish Line"