When Things Are Difficult

I wrote this piece when a man I loved walked out on me, completely unexpectedly. I doubt he ever read it, but it helped me to affirm my own values, and judging from the many people who have responded to it in the years since, it has helped others as well.  I am glad about that, and I still have days when I, too, am grateful for the reminder.

When things are difficult, don’t give up. Re-commit.  Progress is rarely linear.

Hold the big picture.  I have been working with clients one on one for almost two decades, and that is the most valuable lesson I have learned.  Any journey that is worthwhile is going to have bumps in the road, unexpected detours, moments when you feel that you are off track and want to give up.  It’s in these moments that it’s most important to remember this is the unavoidable nature of process.

Having difficulty is not a “sign” that you are on the wrong track and should abandon your efforts.  It is simply a small part of a larger cycle, one small phase of the wave.  Never take a slip or a backslide as definitive.  When we are in them, it is so easy to think “this is it”, but that is the moment to remind yourself that these times are merely a temporary and inevitable part of the process, not the whole process itself.

This applies irrespective of the challenges you take on. Whether committing to improving your nutrition, exercise, losing weight, meditation, defeating addiction, writing a novel, or working on a marriage, challenges will exist and must be met.  Relationship is relationship, whether it is with your food, your self, your partner, your mother, your body. Our work is our work; our issues are our issues, and they will pop up, demanding our attention, when we reach our edge, whatever forum we are working in.  To kindly and consistently return our efforts toward what we desire most, to pursue our desires through times of difficulty, is the essence of integrity.

A wise friend said to me recently, “It isn’t to make you “happy,” although that would be what you are striving for, but it can make you “holy”, a better person.  If I were in this to make me happy, I would have given up several times already.  It’s sticking with things through the hard times.  And ultimately that does make you happy.”  So true. If we seek the relief of the moment, we never achieve the satisfaction of achieving our most deeply held dreams.

For me, this is the essential transformative Power of Practice.  Our souls need this: to make a commitment and show up every day, whether it is for yoga, for meditation, for prayer, for exercise, regardless of whether we feel like it or not, regardless of the infinite number of available excuses and an always ready source of resistance.  Showing up makes the strong statement that “I am here, I am trustworthy, I am reliable.”  and is one of the strongest most powerful ways to develop self love and acceptance.  Sharon Salzberg talks about this in terms of meditation.  The magic is not in “doing it perfectly”.  Our minds will always wander. The magical moment is the one when we become aware that we have wandered and take the opportunity to kindly and without judgment bring ourself back to our intent.  That is the essence of the process of commitment, and it is transformative.

Cultivating this consistency, resilience and perseverance through difficulties is like developing a new muscle.  It may feel weak and give out easily at first, but the more you use it, the stronger it – and you – will be.  Develop this kind of capacity in one area and it will be there for you when you need it in another. Research proves it.

Another one of my wise and wonderful women friends says: “If it was about feelings anyone could walk away over and over again.  It is about deciding to be committed when the feelings aren’t enough.  Feelings are fleeting. But we stick it out. To make that decision takes an inner strength.  Each time we go through that cycle, we change and mature.”

So I encourage you, with all my heart, not to give up what you want most for what you want in the moment.  Anything worthwhile takes inner strength, resilience, desire and commitment.  Learn to persevere through temporary difficulty, and you will achieve long term victory, self-acceptance, and ultimately, happiness.

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