#55 Trust in the Hard Places

The sun was setting as I sat on my usual rock in the sand. Baker Beach in San Francisco, CA has become a spiritual respite for when the traffic and noise of the city become overwhelming.

The beach has become a place where an oasis of thoughts cascade through me and onto my note pad. My thoughts begin as questions. I ask myself the usual:

Why am I here?
What is all this that we call life?
Why is it so beautiful?
Why does everything we love eventually go away?

After a few minutes of interrogating myself, I’m reminded of the many spiritual teachers I learned from. A voice within me speaks, “‘Be present, Anand. You only have this moment. Everything else is an illusion. Focus on now. Enjoy this gift because every breath is bringing you closer to the unknowable again…'”

I listen and focus on the now.

I watch the deep blue ocean as the light winds carry a refreshing mist to my face. I find calmness as my ears feast on the inconsistent notes of the thrashing waves.

To my right, I see a few hipsters roll up their skinny jeans to touch the cold waters of the pacific after downing a dozen or so Pabst Blue Ribbons.

To my left, I see a family. A father holds his daughter who is itching to go into the water but the friendly onslaught of dogs keeps her glued to him.

In front of me and closer to shore, sits a woman. I can only see the back of her and she never once withered her gaze from the sun and ocean. As she stares into the beautiful ocean accompanied with the sunset’s red glow, I wonder. I wonder what brought her here today. I wonder if she had some hard times in life. I wonder if nature was her salvation during times of uncertainty, anguish, and fear. I wondered.

Tough times

All of us have dealt with tough times in our life. I view these hard places differently now.

The moments where life throws me the proverbial curve ball, I relish in it. It’s in these moments of unease, challenge, and fear that I’m alive. It’s in these moments that I have found my spirituality.

It’s easy to have moments of tranquil peace in nature’s abode, find serenity in the ocean’s remote sanctuary, or to feel stillness in the fervent open meadows of spring, but to find peace in the hard places can pose challenges. To show gratitude while tough times penetrate your life can be inconceivable. But, it’s from these moments that strength, fortitude, vigor, and passion are born.

I would not be who I’m today without those problems. If my life was cookie cutter perfect, then perhaps I wouldn’t have this obsession to help people find their own spirituality. Perhaps it’s a reason why I started this blog. I feel alive when I can extend compassion to everything and everyone. Writing has become a vehicle where I can share my passion with others.

If my past was different, then perhaps I wouldn’t have cultivated the love I have for myself. This type of love sees everyone and everything in this universe as an extension of I.

Our teachers are those closest to us

“’If you think you are so enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents.’” — Ram Dass

I love my father. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for this man. With that being said, he’s also been one of my biggest teachers. Not so much in the advice he has given, but more so in his actions. He has tested my patience time and time again, but it was these actions that made him a more formidable teacher than any I’ve ever had. From him I learned about addiction, betrayal, loyalty, hardships, joy, sorrow, and most important, love.

The incomplete puzzles in his life completed mine and I hope I completed some of his. I’ll take a quick line from a Netflix original movie I recently saw called, The Fundamentals of Caring. It’s when supporting actress, Selena Gomez learns that her father followed her as she hitchhiked across country. He wasn’t the perfect father (who is?), but made it a point to follow her until she safely got to where she needed to go. One of my favorite lines of movie perfectly describes my father, “‘My dad is a heaping mess, but he’s my heaping mess.’”

Our loved ones can be a mess at times, but through their hardships we can find refuge, solace, knowledge, growth, and tremendous strength. When we evolve, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.

True spirituality

Spirituality is more than just about being positive or spending meditative moments in quiet places. It’s more than just being around the people who bring the best in us. In hindsight, all these things are great, but those precious life events that have tested us the most is how true spirituality is cultivated.

To be next to a babbling brook in early spring emits feelings of serenity and joy, but to remain in this state when confronted with challenges is how we can gauge our self-awareness.

I don’t stray away from negative situations when presented. Instead, I embrace them and understand that there really isn’t anything negative. Negative situations are simply teachers in disguise. The game of life is beautiful when you start to look at it this way. Everyone is here to teach you something. Are you eager and willing to learn with intensity or would you rather be a victim and negate growth?

Pain and pleasure

When you’re running up the hill, doing that difficult yoga pose, or studying really hard for a test, a beautiful respite awaits you. That’s the bliss after the storm. That’s the tears after the sweat, and the love that comes after heartache.

Think about a mother’s pain as she goes through labor. As a man, I can try to be empathetic to what it means to produce life, but I will never truly know. However, I see this miracle as a parable for life. A mother’s pain brings about new life and similarly every pain we encounter brings about something new and beautiful. Be thankful for the moments that challenge you because these are the lessons that no textbook can teach. Rather, it’s sharpening the most important tool in your repertoire of life, the conscious mind.

It’s important to take care of yourself and avoid negative situations when you can, but sometimes you just can’t. Relish in these opportunities because these situations build patience and character.

5 quick tips to deal with the hard places

  1. Presence — Forgo the need to look at an unsettling situation in your life and wish it never happened. If you are going through something tough, ask yourself if it’s bothering you this moment. Think about that question once more.

Right now and in this moment, is that situation doing anything to your health and physical reality? Is it distorting your view of the sky today? Look around you, hear the sounds in your home or office, and feel your heart beating. Take a deep breath and know the noise in our mind is simply an illusion.

Most of our problems never truly surface. We simply anticipate them with our thoughts and this creates torture that never need exist. Make this moment your default setting.

2. Label the problem — Question why you are feeling the way you are. Actually label the feelings in your mind and recite them out loud. Write them out if you can. Writing is confronting the problems and taking them out of our head. It’s done wonders for me.

3. Find stillness in the hard places — Sit with your pain like a ship weathering the rough and tumultuous stormy waters of the ocean. Know that calmness, stillness, and resolve are on their way.

Sometimes we are too quick to find a resolution to our problems. Sometimes those problems need to fester a bit and cause us some uncertainty so we can build stronger mental muscles.

4. Understand duality — It’s because of night that we appreciate the day. We know love because we have felt heartache. We know happiness because we have felt sadness. One does not work without the other.

5. Insert love into all situations — I call it divine love. My good friend Mary told me about this and I have not forgotten it. When situations are tough I ask myself:

How can I put love into this moment?

This simple question diminishes my ego (false sense of self), makes empathy my north star, and helps me access situations from a more enlightened perspective.

Life is a movie theater

There is a movie starring you and the movie is your life. It’s all happening in real-time. The person watching in the theater is you as well. You are the observer and the observed. The observer looks at all life with love. The good, bad, and ugly. The observer doesn’t judge but is simply a witness.

You are a witness to your life. When you can look at yourself this way, then you are not too focused on the problems (effects) of life, instead you are looking for solutions (cause) to make them better.

Every moment is new. Every moment is a chance to reinvent yourself into something better and hopefully you can become a vehicle that brings out the best in others.

A different outlook

We are lucky to have challenges in our life. At times we don’t know why certain things happen, but have trust my friend. Have acceptance without expectation and love in the moments your integrity and character are tested.

Trust that everything will work out and realize that it’s not the hard places that are tragic.

The real tragedy lies in thinking we need to remain there.

With Love,

Anand Swamy

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