Recently, I met up with a friend whom I have not seen for almost 20 years. It was nice to catch up and share how our lives had evolved since we last saw each other. We reviewed the lessons we learned, celebrated our successes, and encouraged each other for challenges that we still face. As we parted, he left me pondering about a statement he made. He said, “I understand it intellectually, but I pray that one day I can see it as clearly as you do. Maybe then, I can get out of my chrysalis and become a beacon of hope to others.”
Challenges in life can be daunting when we look at the formidable path laid out in front of us or when there is a thick fog that blinds us to what is ahead. The daily battles that impede our advancement to the finish line can be exhausting. Oftentimes, it is the persistent seemingly minor nuisance that causes us to quit or fail. “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom (Song of Songs 2:15).” There is no one solution that fixes everything and there is not one philosophy that will address all things. Life is very complex, we are all unique, and situations are extremely variable. We need to have different tools in our toolbox to deal with the different nails and screws that keep us bound where we are.
Accept and let go. Sometimes we sleepwalk through life; we simply exist. We go to sleep, wake up, eat, go back to sleep, and repeat. We are blind and numb to what is going on around us. Sometimes, it is because we are so deeply focused on what we want, what we think life should be, how bad we feel, regrets about past mistakes, and anxiety about how little of life is left. Every now and then, we get a fleeting moment of awareness and realize time has gone by and we have not really lived. To feel alive, we have to accept life as is. We have to accept everything and everyone it brings, acknowledge that what has already happened cannot be undone, and take every experience and person as is without judging whether they are good or bad. The alternative is to resist life and ignore reality, which does not change things regardless of our decision whether to acknowledge them. Because we are not busy trying to stop reality from happening, our minds are calm, and we are not exhausted. Hence, we have strength and time to tackle the challenges of life and have the fortitude to determine what we can and need to fix and what we cannot and need to let go. Holding on to hurts, frustrations, regrets, and anger is hoarding unwanted and unneeded baggage that only weigh us down and keep us from moving forward. The quicker we can accept reality, the sooner we get to decide what to let go. The better we are at letting go, the freer we feel. We then achieve this state of being okay even if life from the outside does not seem to be.
Be grateful. It would be nonsensical, and even outright hypocritical, to tell someone that they should be grateful when their loved one just died, their marriage failed, they fell ill, or their friend betrayed them. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, St. Paul encouraged us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” It may be hard to give thanks for all circumstances, especially when they are negative, but it is possible to be grateful in all circumstances, whether they are easy or difficult. Being grateful is a state of mind and spirit. It cannot be achieved by forcing ourselves to mechanically come up with a list of things to be thankful for, especially at a time of despair and depression. During those bleak and gloomy moments, we would not even have the energy to think. The objective is not to suppress negative emotions, but rather, to elevate our hearts and minds into the realm of faith. In this zone, there is calm and hope in the awareness that we are loved by God whom we can depend on to protect us, care for us, teach us, encourage us, and strengthen us. Even if all that we come to know in this world were to leave us, God’s love for us remains consistent and permanent. It is this assurance that gives us the reason to be grateful despite our dire circumstances. In our grief, God will show us the depth of our love for someone, and how blessed we are to have had someone to love and be loved equally in return. He will allow us to experience the profoundness of the comfort He gives. In our failure and despair, God will reveal to us our dependence on Him. He will heal our toxic pride, grow our character, and lead us to a life of humility. How else can we learn that? In our loneliness, we experience intimacy with God that no human relationships can give. In the pain of abandonment and neglect, we come to know that God never leaves us even when we turn our backs on Him when it was inconvenient to be faithful to Him and the world at the same time. In sickness, God gives us an opportunity to learn how to trust Him alone. In frustration, He teaches us patience when all other means He tried had failed. In allowing us to experience regret and shame for our past mistakes, God helps make it easier for us to overlook the faults of others and forgive them. And when God still loves us when no one would, we learn to forgive ourselves. We reckon that it does not matter what the world thinks of us or what we think of ourselves. All that matters is that it does not matter to God how bad we have fallen. In all these sufferings, we gain wisdom and develop a grateful heart. We learn how to be thankful for what we once had, even if they are now reduced to but a memory. We are thankful for what we still have and for everything we continue to receive. Being alive in itself is more than enough reason to be thankful. Even if we were to lose everything and everyone in our lives, we are thankful in the assurance that we will never be without the love of God. “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).” As our gratitude for our blessings overflows, especially if we did nothing to deserve them, we naturally become generous to others. It is difficult to be grateful and generous and be negative at the same time. Hence, inner peace and joy eventually follow regardless of our circumstances. To achieve this state of gratefulness, we first have to live consciously and be fully mindful of every moment. In this condition of focused awareness, we experience reality which includes feeling the presence of God who is always with us. We experience His love with every breath we take and even with every tear that trickles down our cheek. Our eyes start to see extraordinary in the ordinary, and we witness miracles where once there was no hope on the horizon. Each experience brings us closer to the summit of our mountain.
Eyes on the ball. In tennis, we are trained to keep our eyes on the ball. When the opponent hits it, I do not have time to pause and analyze where the ball might go in the midst of the fast-paced action. I cannot stand around and just pray for God to direct the ball where I want it to go. I cannot afford to dwell on the last shot I hit lest I miss the next ball coming my way. I cannot worry about how the opponent will play and what kind of ball he will send me. All I can do is keep my eyes on the ball every time it is live and bouncing on the court. I must say that life imitates sports. When trying to climb the mountains we face in life, we need to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. We cannot be overly concerned about getting to the summit when we still have a thousand miles we need to cross. We have to be fully present in the moment we face. There is no time to argue in our minds about how things should be or try to manipulate them to become what we want them to be. We simply need to do what is needed given the circumstances at the moment. It is unwise to just sit back and worry about what might happen or insist that God changes His will to suit ours. We can only control ourselves and change what is in the present. Focus on the ball. Always accept and pay full attention to what is currently going on. The past is a distraction, and the future is but a fantasy. Take one step and then the next. If we can take one more, there is no reason to stop.
Pray and meditate. Like my friend, we often understand intellectually what we need to do in life to conquer our mountain. However, to reach the point of enlightenment to where we truly get it and able to apply what we know to how we live on a daily basis, we need time and practice. We need to develop a habit and lifestyle of prayer and meditation to achieve that goal. Prayer increases our awareness of God’s constant presence, and meditation enhances our awareness of ourselves in relation to the world that surrounds us and the things that are happening to us. Walking in God’s presence helps us make the right choices and gives us courage to withstand difficulties. Understanding that there are many things in life that we cannot control and are going to happen regardless of our wishes, and what has happened cannot be undone, teaches us to accept things as is, and hence, live in harmony with the world. There is really no pinnacle of enlightenment, as we will quickly realize we are not, the moment we think we are. Life on earth will always have its ups and downs. We will succeed in something and soon after, fail in another. There is always something to challenge us to keep going higher. Prayer helps us find the strength to keep going, and meditation calls our attention when our minds wander off. They both keep us calm and motivate us to repent and circle back to our original intention.
Sir Edmund Hillary said, “It is not the mountains that we conquer, but ourselves.” We created the mountains we are trying to conquer. Mountains created out of our flaws, imperfections, wounds, and scars. We can choose to stand at the base and gaze up at it with despondency. We can also blame others for putting us in this predicament and settle in complacency right where we are. Or we can take the first of many thousand steps, and keep going one step at a time, learning, growing, changing what we can, and making amends as we go. We trip, we slide, and we fall along the way, but we keep getting up and pushing ourselves forward with the help of God and the people He sends our way. Our goal is not to wish our problems would be gone, but rather, to conquer ourselves so we do not create the same mountain for us to climb again. When we get to the summit, our view of the world will be broader and much clearer. Hopefully, with this new vision, my friend, we can truly be a beacon of hope for others.