The Test of Trying Times: Being Kind to Yourself When Circumstances Are Not
by Rob Brookler
We’ve all arrived at those moments when we feel overwhelmed, even under siege, by trying circumstances within our life. We’ve done all we can, bearing up as best we can, but without great success or relief. And in our frustration and fatigue, we’ve probably looked up to heaven and asked: “How can you possibly ask more of me?”
If we could hear clearly through our distress, we’d probably hear heaven lovingly reply: “We are not.”
And this is a most compassionate and instructive answer, for our lessons are never sent to punish or defeat us. So when we find ourselves truly anguished by our challenges, we can be sure that it is we, and not heaven, that need to be reminded we’ve done enough.
In other words, while our circumstances and life-lessons will certainly make demands on us, it is the “added” weight of our own self-judgment – our impatience with ourselves and our life, our “sense” of failure or injustice, our fear – that actually depletes our strength and overwhelms us.
Heaven knows that we learn, grow, and heal best when we’re balanced and light. This balance and lightness, however, is largely our responsibility. And while there is great “higher” support for us during our times of personal challenge, not even heaven can remove a strain we are actively imposing on ourselves. So when we feel pushed to the breaking point, it is we who must ease up on the pushing.
When the road is rough, balance is the test
Now, heaven also appreciates that facing trying times – uncertainty, loss, wounded feelings – is disturbing and potentially “unbalancing” for us. But as we grow more powerful, more of the responsibility for maintaining our balance, despite our fear and distress, is given to us – is entrusted to us.
It’s a bit like removing the “training wheels” so we may venture out farther and have more freedom of movement. But (to continue the metaphor), when we encounter a bumpy road – when life challenges us – we must have the discipline and the wisdom to attend first and foremost to our personal balance.
In other words, we’re not expected to move rapidly or gracefully on this challenging stretch of road. And no one expects us to relish this part of the ride. But we are expected to pace ourselves, monitor our strength, and respect our needs and our limits. And it is the mark of wisdom, not weakness, to stop regularly, get off the bike, and say: “I’ve done enough climbing for one day. Think I’ll rest by the road or walk for a bit.”
The ‘lesson’ underlying every lesson
Likewise, because it’s an uphill climb, we simply can’t afford to carry the extra weight of self-judgment and blame. Indeed, it’s at these challenging times that we must be particularly patient and compassionate with ourselves. And, as we’ll shortly discuss, we must take deliberate measures to ensure we give ourselves rest, acknowledgement, and other activities that “counterbalance” the strain and pressures these times impose.
When we fail to do this – when we “push” ourselves to exhaustion and “judge” ourselves into despair – passages that are meant merely to move us forward become punishing and oppressive, even damaging. So, as much as we would wish heaven to simply “lift” us out of this desperate state, this would actually be a disservice to us.
Why? Because learning to honor ourselves, our needs, and our balance even when we’re challenged – especially when we’re challenged – is a fundamental component of all our lessons and life-passages. It’s an incredibly powerful and liberating understanding. And in a time of accelerated growth and change, it’s a skill we cannot afford to miss.
It’s the choice we make in every moment
In fact, this understanding goes to the heart of who we are. Because how we treat ourselves is our choice and a statement about our worthiness, it’s not a power we want to defer or surrender to anyone … not even to heaven. It’s a power we want for ourselves. And it’s a power we can and must exercise on our behalf … in good times and especially in not-so-good times.
Why is this “choice” so critical? Because it’s the choice we make at every moment and the only thing we can ultimately control. In other words, as powerful and wise as we may be, we cannot, for the most part, choose our lessons. We cannot choose not to have loss or change or past wounding. These are simply realities of life and, like it or not, part of how we learn and progress. Moreover, being human, we cannot even choose not to feel an amount of fear, anger, or sorrow associated with our losses and wounding.
But we always have the choice about how we treat ourselves when we encounter these challenges. And this choice means the difference between a merely demanding and a truly painful passage. If we are “unrelenting” with ourselves when circumstances seem unrelenting, we are doubling our burden. On the other hand, if we are patient and supportive towards ourselves when our life seems not to be, we are balancing our burden.
Now, treating ourselves well when the world isn’t is no small feat. Nor is it easy to be patient with our lessons and processes when we’re experiencing pain or fear. So we must be practical. We must make it a conscious “practice” – a regular, daily discipline – to care for ourselves and acknowledge ourselves in equal measure to our challenges.
So, for example, if we’ve spent a difficult day job hunting or building a new business, we must follow this with an activity that gives us joy or rest. And we give ourselves this reward regardless of whether our day’s efforts proved immediately rewarding. Indeed, we must be all the more considerate toward ourselves when the world has not been.
This practice applies equally to our “internal” growth and healing. Confronting and processing fear, loss, and wounded feelings require a great deal of our strength. So, during these times, it’s our responsibility to balance these “heavy” feelings with activities that “lighten” us, that give us a measure of peace, rest, and expansion.
As well intentioned as we may be to “finish” our healing or “solve” our circumstances, there is definitely a point of diminishing return. When we’ve pushed ourselves beyond our balance – when we’re simply “struggling” in pain or “stuck” in self-judgment – we’re no longer doing ourselves any good. It’s time to stop, rest, and focus not on self-improvement, but on self-care. It is our responsibility – it is our lesson – to do this. Again, no matter how daunting and demanding the road seems, it’s absolutely up to us to “get off the bike” as often as we need to maintain our strength, our balance, and some measure of lightness.
Whether the struggles are internal or external (or both), we’re not meant to “carry” our challenges with us round the clock. Doing so is neither wise nor efficient. Unfortunately, difficult times can make us feel unworthy and somewhat forgotten by the world (or forgotten by heaven). And this can lead us to treat ourselves unkindly when we most need to support ourselves. We must watch for this. And if life has, for the moment, failed to recognize our value and our needs, we must not fail to do this.
Our life-lessons and circumstances are never meant to call into question our value and our worthiness. Again, though they may challenge us, our lessons are never sent to punish us. We are just as worthy, just as whole, just as loved, on the rough road as on the smooth. During difficult times, our power lies in remembering this and practicing it in our lives. And when we do, that extra self-imposed burden and pressure will “magically” lift from us. And heaven will smile seeing that we answered its prayer for us.
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