I was losing everything--and I mean EVERYTHING--being hit from each direction. Near daily, the loss was coming at me. My career, my relationships, my reputation, my sense of self. Circling the toilet. I just wanted to the pain to end.
I was sitting in my car, my wife in the passenger seat, tears streaming down my face, my body convulsing in sobs. "I just want it to stop..." I said.
She didn't answer. She just sat with me.
Later my truth came.
Learn what I found out that revolutionized my life...
I was praying for relief and for release from the struggle--but what I needed to do was to learn to LOVE THE STRUGGLE.
I began to realize that most of my beliefs had been shaped by the Abrahamic faith's (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and the Buddhist belief concerning escaping Life to a sweet alternative—Nivrana, Paradise, Heaven, etc....
What if this moment was eternally all that I had? What if, instead of a desired escape-hatch, I had to learn to love this one wild and precious life, and not only the long walks on the beach, the tender flowers, or the cloud free days? What if true joy came not from avoiding the challenge but from living it fully and deeply?
Nietzche's concept of "Amor Fati" or ‘loving your own fate’ became a helpful one.
"I want more and more to perceive the necessary characters in things as the beautiful:—I shall thus be one of those who beautify things. Amor fati: let that henceforth be my love! I do not want to wage war with the ugly. I do not want to accuse, I do not want even to accuse the accusers. Looking aside, let that be my sole negation! And all in all, to sum up: I wish to be at any time hereafter only a yea-sayer!”
My great challenge became falling in love with LIFE, not my fantasy about it. And my determination was to deeply and fully experience that love in the face of full adversity. I had become, across a lifetime, a “No-sayer” to life. I had staked out a claim on what I thought life should be. I was turning my face away from the ugly, the intense, or the shadow—the difficulty.
My question to my wife, and my demand to my wife, was a valid one from that perspective: When will the good stuff start?
From a psychological perspective happiness is what happens as a consequence of targeted behavior. We evolved this emotion to tell us that we were on the right track. When we do something that is congruent with our values, or connected to our highest intentions, or best outcomes, we experience happiness as a way of reinforcing that we will repeat the behavior or event. Happiness is state dependent. It requires other causes in order to occur.
But what happens when your life is shit? What happens when you’ve been dealt a poor hand? What goes on when you didn’t do what you needed to, couldn’t do it, or wouldn’t? What about when your best efforts amount to failure? Happiness, in that moment, isn’t the option. And we leave despondent, depressed, and empty handed. By making happiness our aim, or the pleasant experiences of life out end, we inadvertently deny ourselves a pantheon of other experiences and negate those parts of living. We literally close ourselves off from Life itself.
While suffering may very well be inevitable—avoiding pain is unlikely, if not impossible. In fact we have more or less been sentenced to this life, replete with pain. We can negate it as little as we could negate our own birth.
Part of the answer I found was that IT WILL NEVER END...there's no good stuff to get to. The struggle, the pain, the grudge match with living is never over. There's nothing on the other side, no shiny object that will make you feel better or pacify you condition. This. Is. It.
My conviction became the robust belief that "the good stuff" WAS in fact the hard stuff.
Making the hard decision when the hard decision is the right thing to do actually builds a literal muscle. Your left prefrontal cortex. Exercising that muscle creates HUGE gains. "It is in difficulty that we find our strength to fly."
THE GREAT ESCAPE
Most men I know have hit a similar wall. When a marriage suddenly collapses, a faith life crumbles, a career takes a topple, a loved one is lost, or a reputation is ruined, we want to move on. If we are willing to fight through the pain, its only to get to the good stuff beyond it. However, this isn’t done out of endurance. Its a fragile movement. The most necessary thing in that moment is not to plot the Great Escape but rather to invite a resoluteness.
The heroes of old with the Norse tradition were towering figures. They also seemingly learned to love the tussle, the pain, the wrestle. Although merely a movie and highly divorced from reality, one of my favorite scenes in The 13th Warrior, shows a band of Vikings in the North Sea in the midst of a storm, laughing in the wind and the rain. Why? Because this was what it meant to really live.
“Suffering, struggle, work, death are, world over, considered objections against Life—something that ought not to last, for which one requires a cure.”
However, the great escape from pain, isn’t searching for a cure—its realizing that pain is inevitable and a part of existence, and ALL OF EXISTENCE IS SACRED.