Have you ever noticed how priorities never seem more obvious than after losing a loved one? When dealing with a loss, the important things in life just seem to get a little clearer. We declare, “I’m going to make some changes, and keep my mind focused on what really matters.”
And then life happens and we fall back into old habits. It’s curious how we have to experience the hardest moments in life to remember what we truly value about living.
IRONY OF LIFE
If you really think about it, nothing is more ironic than life itself. For example, we can’t appreciate the sun if we don’t know what the rain feels like. We don’t know how blissful love can feel without understanding how heartbreak feels. And oftentimes we don’t appreciate the full value of the people in our lives until they aren’t there anymore.
All of us strive for a joyous and happy life, but (I hate to break it to you) that’s unrealistic because life is full of inherent opposites. Without knowing disappointment and sadness we can’t appreciate what a joyous or happy life feels like.
So, what creates happiness and keeps us feeling fulfilled? Well, first off, we have to accept that in order to truly feel happy and fulfilled, we have to experience sadness and the feeling of being unfulfilled.
Frustrating, right? But we don’t make the rules. That’s just the irony of life.
ARE WE TRAPPED?
Ok, this might sound like a lot of bad news because none of us wants to have to feel sad just so we can feel happy. It feels like a trap. So how do we get out?
There’s a great book with a funny title called, “The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck” by Mark Manson. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth your time because he talks about the irony of life and explains why it's better to focus on how we suffer, rather than spending all our time searching for happiness.
As humans, we are bound to suffer, regardless of how hard we try not to. Nobody has ever gone through life without feeling sadness or disappointment or pain. Suffering is part of life just as much as happiness is. So instead of trying to avoid it and run from it, our goal should be to understand it and accept it.
For example; think about your family. Family can provide some of the most amazing memories and joy in any person’s life, but family can also cause a lot of stress and frustration. When most people choose to have children and start a family, they know there will be struggles, but they also believe it’ll be worth it. In some way, they are choosing their “suffering.” They understand there will be sleepless nights and frustrations, but the moments of joy outweigh all the bad.
It's the same thing with every job you will ever have; you ultimately end up in a place where the good outweighs the bad. Maybe at your last job there weren't opportunities for growth but you had awesome coworkers, or maybe you hated your boss, but the money was good. These are just a few ways we choose where we are willing to sacrifice or suffer.
So, what happens if we accept that with every situation in life there will be some form of suffering?
ESCAPE THE TRAP
See, if we can understand the irony of life and experience it more openly, the sucky parts aren’t as sucky. Sometimes we feel like we’re victims of our own lives because we don’t accept suffering or don’t want to deal with negative emotions. But those are also major parts of life. Acceptance and awareness are the keys to escaping this negative emotional trap as well as dealing with many other issues.
We've all heard of it, but another term for living with awareness is called Mindfulness. What that really means is - you're bringing more focus to each and every moment in your life.
For example, if you're a parent, you're probably aware of the frustrations children can sometimes cause, which leaves you two options on how you choose to respond:
1. You can get lost in the emotional trap and allow your mind to focus on how annoyed you feel which ultimately makes you more annoyed, OR
2. You can choose to accept this is part of being a parent, understand why you’re annoyed, and let it go.
You can’t change the fact that kids are annoying at times, but when you’re aware that you’re starting to get triggered or annoyed, it doesn't drain your energy as much and you can control how much it affects you.
Ultimately, we control how much energy we spend in any given day, we just aren’t used to being aware of it. So if you can accept that suffering is going to happen no matter what you do, and you choose to live more mindfully (or with more awareness), you will begin to notice that you have more energy and more appreciation for the daily blessings you experience all the time!
ACCEPTANCE AND ENERGY
Acceptance is a game-changer. Think about how much energy gets drained when you grieve, but the last stage of grief is Acceptance - why? Because once you accept something for what it is, your mind is no longer trying to make sense of it. Acceptance allows your mind to let go and relax. So if you accept you have to suffer, you naturally stop wasting energy dealing with it.
When you live more mindfully, you get to choose HOW you suffer and HOW you prioritize your time. That makes the suffering you inevitably have to face not as bad because you expect it to come, thus allowing you to harness more energy to overcome your suffering.
Mindful living is a practice. It isn’t something that changes overnight, but with practice, it will transform how you naturally think about life. This blog began by exploring the way we process what we really value when we deal with a loss. What if we could understand what we really value without having to endure loss? That is the truth about what living mindfully can provide.
Living with more awareness (ahem, mindfully), allows us to be more awake in our day-to-day lives. It allows us to take in all of life experiences and make decisions with more awareness. We don’t have to feel loss to appreciate who each person in our life is to us because we are aware of who they are in each moment we spend with them. This allows us to love more deeply and appreciate all aspects of life more. Being mindful is most challenging when encountering the inevitable suffering of life. It’s hard not to fall back into old patterns and listen to our internal dialogue. But, that is when it’s most important to practice mindfulness.
Because the negative moments of life, the suffering, those are the greatest learning opportunities. You can’t change the bad stuff, but you can be aware of how it makes you feel and why, and accept it’s going to happen. That helps you reach a level of freedom. It’s your choice; you can allow the negative emotions to cause your mind to spin, which ultimately makes those negative emotions stronger and drains your energy, OR you can practice being mindful. Be aware of the negative emotions, greet them like an old friend, work to understand why they’re there, accept you can’t get rid of them, and let go of the negativity…and find your FREEDOM.
SIMPLE AND COMPLICATED
Don’t try to move mountains, and expect yourself to be mindful all day and then get frustrated when you aren't. Accept that learning to live mindfully is a process and that “failing” will happen. That way when it does you won't beat yourself up, you'll expect it. Once you’ve accepted that, start small. Next time you notice any emotion try to understand it.
Why is that emotion popping up for you? Where did it come from?
Understand it and then let it go. The more you practice that, the more you learn about yourself, and the deeper your understanding will be, allowing more freedom to choose how to fill your life.