A Few Small Theories about Managing Challenge


stormcloudI don’t know anyone that has not had to work through a challenge. I’m sure there are a few people out there that don’t think they’ve been dealt any big blows, and good on them. Perhaps this is due to their super-human ability to overcome difficulty, or maybe they have simply been very blessed. Nevertheless, eventually, but inevitably, life will catch up in some way or another, and throw in one or two presents to remind us of what it is all about.

There are small challenges and big challenges, but in essence, the only thing defining what is small and what is big is our perception, and that is based on what we have experienced in life to-date, first and second hand.

Theory Number 1: What you hear can and will affect you, if you let it.
When working with hardship, what other people say, including, friends, doctors, employers, and enemies alike, will change your perception about the challenge you are faced with, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Sometimes a kind word or suggestions may make what you are dealing with seem easier, or give you false hope. Other times we are met with unskilled communicators that leave a negative remark in vulnerable hands. In sanskrit, there is a term viveka, meaning discrimination. It is best to use this discrimination to filter out what side comments are useful, and which to simply let go of. At the end of the day, all these remarks should be handled with a grain of salt, or vairagyam, dispassion. No attachment, no re-play button on the message recorder. It may sound easier than it is, but truly, if you are holding on to something that is only increasing the challenge,  it is using up energy stores that you may need to get through the challenge ahead. Only you have the power to create a filter of what you let in to your world vision. Choose the helpful bits without getting too attached to them, and let the rest go.

Learn also, to discriminate fact from fiction, and stick with fact (and a pinch of dispassion). Even when a ‘fact’ is coming from a doctor or an employer, they are also doing the best they can to use their viveka and buddhi, sanskrit for intelligence, to communicate their best estimate or guess given the knowledge they have at the time. It doesn’t make it true, only true in their experience, which proves very important as they need something on which to base their work. An element of trust is involved, which is why it is so important to involve yourself in relationships based on reverence and trust.

Theory Number 2: The fear factor. Even fear is preferred to the unknown.
As a culture, we thrive on fear. In times of challenge and hardship, the mind craves a storyline that it can evolve and embellish; any hardship is nestled in a good strong dose of fear. It doesn’t take much looking around in the media to see that we gravitate to stories based on worst case scenarios, and celebrate those that overcome great risk, even when it ends in tragedy. The question is, if we didn’t have fear, how much sweeter would life be, and how much less painful would it feel when moving through our own cliff-hanger moments?

How do we manage fear? I can only say from my own experiences, having meaningful things to do goes a long way in sating the mind Whether it is taking up an instrument, caring for a friend, cooking, finding a good boxed set, or diving into work that you are passionate about, dwelling in fear speculation for too long is unhealthy. Am I recommending escaping the challenge rather than dealing with it? Yes, at least in small measures, I am. Making time to escape and finding small pleasures will help to renew energy stores you may need to face the challenge head on in those times when you can actually make decisions that make a difference. The moments in the evening or during slow points in the day when we tend to bury ourselves in fear and worry are not those moments.

The perception of the challenge at hand is only as large as the fear that is feeding it. A wise Buddhist master once said (and I paraphrase) ‘fear and hope are our two biggest mental obstacles. Fear leads to worry. Worry never solved anything. Why worry? If you have a problem, you can fix it instead of worry. If you have a problem and you can’t fix it? Don’t worry, you can’t do anything about it anyway, just don’t hope it goes away. Hope? Hope leads to let down. Make hope a belief, then it will happen. Hope without belief is fear in disguise.’

Theory Number 3: Enjoy this one while you’ve got it. There will always be another.
It is widely understood that being in a time of difficulty leads one to want to be anywhere other than there at that moment. Learning to stay when times get tough is an important lesson. One challenge begets another, and while the size, form and circumstance may be different, when we learn to stay, the misconceptions and tethers of tension and adversary tend to fade away and we can see the situation more objectively. Life is a rich and diverse landscape, and the more we can accept there will be patches of rocky cliff line that tumble and open onto a soft, grass-feathered plain, the more we might be able to accept all of it in good measure. The preparation for the journey comes with discernment and intelligence, not fear and worry, about what lies ahead.

Theory Number 4: Get out of the mind and into the body.
Even when the mind is full and rife with worry, the body is available. The body is an enormous resource that we largely take for granted as a vehicle there to serve us, only to get from point A to point B. Don’t get me wrong, getting from point A to point B can be important, however, the body has an extraordinary ability to settle and to clear the mind. Taking even ten minutes a day to come back to the breath, to lie on the floor and link some simple movements to the inhale and exhale will bring great satisfaction and clarity. Moving the body with the breath gives the mind a focus that is not on the hardship at hand, and can be done in a way that is accessible to every body, whatever the limitations may be. The key here is to make each movement meaningful so that you are not just going through the ‘motions’ but you are really inquiring to how it feels to be in the body, what is happening when you move, even a finger? Undoubtedly you will find that you don’t just move the finger, but you might relate this particular movement up the arm, into the shoulder, the jaw, and so on. The body is an interrelated organism just as we are interconnected with all of life. These movements have the potential to unlock tension from within the body and bring about a new perspective to the mind. A mental shift is all it takes to make magic.

Back to Love


Lord_Krishna_1yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi
yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam
-Bhagavad-gītā 9.27

Whatever you do,
whatever you eat,
whatever you offer or give away, and
whatever austerities you perform —
do that, O son of Kuntī,
as an offering to Me.

Being human can be a bitch. It means that no matter how wide or open our hearts, we are susceptible to the flood of emotions, the unpredictability of life, the mental tug of war that reminds us we are alive.

The past week or two have been challenging for me in the hospital because the floodgates of emotion were unexpectedly filled and opened, and the trajectory that the doctors envisioned for me was inaccurate. Just like all humans, doctors do the best they can based on the information they are given and past experiences, but the body and its internal chemical lab creates complex actions and reactions that, at the end of the day, nobody can account for, even the world’s most renowned and brilliant doctors.

While the doctors were challenged with the factual numbers of my blood trying to decide what was going wrong and why, I was challenged with the abstract questions of “Why can’t I just feel grateful and happy?” “Why can’t I get back to letting go of sadness and frustration?” “Why can’t I get back to Love?” The answer didn’t come immediately, and I had to sit with my sadness, my discomfort, my frustration, until something shifted. This is not unusual, in fact, I’ll bet if you ask ten people how they get rid of feeling any of these emotions their answer would is some way be related to time, and finding an outlet to vent those emotions. Some may say something about learning to stay; a few might even use the word ‘surrender’.

The above quote is from the ancient and renowned text called the Bhagavad Gita meaning the “Song of God.” In the text, God is in the form of Krishna, a Hindu God whom among other Awesome things is Love itself. He is talking to Arjuna, who is a warrior prince about to fight in a battle. Arjuna represents you and I; a human being who has let life take him at least somewhat unconsciously to a place where he ends up on a battlefield with people whom he knows and loves on both sides of the impending war. In a moment of clarity he wakes up and realizes he doesn’t want to fight. What will he do?

Luckily, Krishna is his charioteer and tells him he must participate in the battle. If he does, and if he is able to place all his trust in Krishna, Krishna will show him another way to live, another way to be in the world.

You and I are Arjuna, and our battlefield is the daily life we are confounded with. According to yoga philosophy, our thoughts, words and actions of this life and past lives determine the battlefield and who we confront in the war. When we come to a point that we are aware of what we think and how we behave in response to those thoughts, it also becomes easier to remember how to change our intentions and actions. This can act as a trigger to remember Krishna, or God, because at some stage in awareness building, we start to understand the only way off the battlefield is to surrender. Surrender to Something, to Someone; surrender to God. To offer our intentions and actions to God is to experience God because in the yoga philosophy, God is Love. It goes further to explain that we each have the same, limitless potential for God within us, and in fact, we are God. We are Love.

Throughout these weeks when my mind and emotion have gotten the best of me, I’ve thought a lot about God. I’ve thought about how lucky I am; I’ve also thought a lot about those who have it far worse than I do, and the wonderful aura of Love around me in the form of friends and family. As life would have it, the shift back to feeling God and Love is sometimes not as simple as it seems. When the mind gets a firm hold on emotion, surrender means learning to stay. Staying with the sadness or whatever emotions come up is like forfeiting the game of tug of war with the mind (the mind always wins). There is no opposition of force with which to initiate the game, and the ropes go slack by disengaging, by surrendering. Eventually, the ropes fall away and there is no longer a battle to fight, there is no longer a battlefield. At this moment it’s back to Krishna; back to Love.

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