Cooper was lying down, relaxing on his bed. His much-loved tugging toy lay beside him. His little brother (from another mother) crept towards him, eyeing his toy. Cooper cast his eye upon him lazily and continue laying there. As the little dog crept closer, he let out a low growl of warning while still eyeing him beadily. When the toy was at arm’s length from the little dog and Cooper could see he was going to make a dash for it, he stood up to his full height and snarled with his hunches up. The little dog backed up a few steps, yelped and turn tail to run away. With that, Cooper relaxed and laid down again, this time tucking his toy between his front feet.
In life, it is better to live in peace than to go looking for fight and strife. However, how do you react when the fight is brought to you? Or when you have to face a difficulty? It could be a confrontation, an accident, disappointing news, a mishap, an unexpected situation (COVID comes to mind!) or anything that disrupts your tranquillity and calmness. How do you react when something happens that requires you to stand your ground, maintain your composure and test your inner mantle? Are you able to exhibit your best self, filled with rationale, logic and character? Or are you thrown off course, falling back on human reflex reactions that may not empower you or the situation?
President Garfield was a great man – raised in humble circumstances, self-educated, and eventually a Civil War hero – whose presidency was cut short by an assassin’s bullet. In his brief time in office, he faced a bitterly divided country as well as a bitterly and internally divided Republican Party. During one fight, which challenged the very authority of his office, he stood firm, telling an adviser: “Of course I deprecate war, but if brought to my door the bringer will find me at home.”
How ready are you when you are facing (usually unexpected) difficulty? Do you live a life of calmness with a huge capacity for events that may need more attention and focus? Is your emotional tank full and abundant to take on any challenge on top of daily living or is it empty and any unanticipated event will clearly wipe out your tank and bring your emotional bank account into the red? Can you cope with your present life while allowing for variations (some people call them ‘problems’) to occur?
It is natural to stay where you are and display inertia. You like your routine. Yes, surprises are nice but only in the way you like them. For surprises you do not like, you call them problems! Too many unexpected undertakings result in uncertainty. Uncertainty, while healthy and essential in various doses depending on the individual (that’s why we love surprises!), creates chaos, inefficiency and stress if prolonged. That is why you like your routine. It provides a predictable outcome and thus, settling.
However, it is also possible to get too comfortable especially when you are in the groove. When life is good, it is normal to try to sustain it as much as possible. After all, we like to feel good, right? Even when life is tough, it is more comforting for many to stay in the known difficulty than to explore the unknown possibility even if there is a chance of a better outcome. Basically, as mentioned, inertia is strong and many like to stick to what they know. It is useful to remember that being in a groove, whether in pleasure or an acceptable discomfort will eventually lead to being in a rut. Over an extended period of time, the rut may be getting deeper to become a grave.
One of the human needs to attain fulfilment is to grow. To grow means to change. It can be difficult to change especially when there is no need or no pain. When life provides valuable lessons like presenting you with a difficulty, it is actually an opportunity for you to step into becoming more. It is a blessing disguised as a problem. The question is are you able to see the lesson and opportunity? Or do you only see the difficulty? To be able to see the former, your mind and heart must be prepared so that when it arrives, you can acknowledge its presence (understanding it is through Grace) and welcome it into your life. With this acceptance and embrace, you can then start your journey of becoming more.
It is not easy (nor is it meant to be). However, with the practice of Gratitude and not getting too comfortable in life, understanding that everything is indeed transient, including our external treasures, inter and intra personal relationships and our very being of character, attributes and personalities, you can start to see that instead of keeping them the same, the ability to improve every aspect of them is not only possible but also desirable. Difficulties in life provide a great platform to elevate each aspect to a higher level such that they are not merely changed but changed for the better.
We would be crazy to want to face difficulty in life. But we would be equally crazy to pretend that it isn’t going to happen. The only constant in life is change. Life can be unpredictable regardless of the finest and most exquisite preparation you can make. Whether it involves your professional life, personal relationships, family, health (yours or your loved ones), unexpected global events or simply in your immediate environment, things will change and things will happen. This is why when it knocks on our door – as it very well may be this morning – let’s make sure we are prepared to answer. Not the way we are when a surprise visitor comes late at night, but the way we are when we are waiting for an important guest: dressed, in the right headspace, ready to go.
Cooper was not interested in a fight. However, he was ready when the situation was upon him. When you are faced with an unexpected difficulty, how ready are you to convert that into an opportunity to escalate your soul?
‘I may wish to be free from torture, but if the time comes for me to endure it, I’ll wish to bear it courageously with bravery and honour. Wouldn’t I prefer not to fall into war? But if war does befall me, I’ll wish to carry nobly the wounds, starvation, and other necessities of war. Neither am I so crazy to desire illness, but if I must suffer illness, I’ll wish to do nothing rash or dishonourable. The point is not wish for these adversities, but for the virtue that makes adversities bearable.’ – Senaca, Moral Letters, 67.4