The process of personal growth is a type of alchemy. If engaged with consciously, it is possible to transform the pain of life into great strength. Illness, loss, divorce, death, financial ruin, career failure, family issues, depression -- everyone has experienced suffering of some kind. Many people are mired in the story of their personal hardship, reliving it over and over. Yet while some stay stuck as victims in the mud of their lives, others emerge as radiant as the lotus flower from murky waters, victors over adversity, reaching for the light.
The seed of our healing lies deep in the darkness of discomfort, waiting for us to allow pain and suffering to teach us, not define us. The challenges we face and overcome determine the strength and resilience of our character. The secret alchemy that turns life's difficulties into blessings lies in the following five steps.
1. Practice Acceptance
Where we are is where we are. What is happening is what is happening. If we resist this basic truth, denying or pushing away the reality of a situation we find ourselves in, we actually perpetuate suffering. If our hands are tied with a knotted rope, the more we struggle, the tighter the knot becomes. It is a complete waste of time and life force energy to avoid the truth of our lives, wishing something was not the way it is, or wondering why it came to be. Our face does not change by our unwillingness to look in the mirror. It is still there, exactly as before, waiting for us to turn and look. Moments or decades, it will wait for us to greet our own gaze. But acceptance does not mean resignation. We gain no blessing by giving up in defeat. We must accept the challenge of our predicament and ask a new question. Start now with these. Where do I need to meet myself today? What do I need to face? What could life be trying to teach me through this challenge?
2. Change the Focus
Although we may not be able to change an external circumstance immediately, we can change our focus. Rather than blaming that which is around us, we can shift our attention inside - taking personal responsibility for whatever we now must face. In this way we claim our power as the creative beings we are meant to be. Change begins as soon as we commit to it. In the instant that we decide to live more consciously, we start on the road to recovery. We can put our willpower into sorting out and overcoming negative patterns of thought and action that have been a part of past suffering, and create space for a new seed of potential to take hold. We can reprogram our minds with new beliefs and new behaviors that draw us closer to joy. In this way, we change our life from one lived in reaction -- to one lived in creation. We are the designers, programmers and writers of our lives. Take a moment and pull your focus inward. If you stopped making someone else wrong, what could you be responsible for doing today? What negative belief is it time to reprogram?
3. Become Humble
As soon as we accept responsibility for our experiences, thoughts and actions, we begin to emerge like the lotus flower from the muddy pond bottom into the light. Through self-reflection and accountability, we learn that we are not determined by what life delivers from the outside. As we introspect, we can acknowledge our flaws, and see challenge as an opportunity for personal growth and transformation. Humility waters the seed of potential transformation. Our capacity to change is unlimited, if we allow it. By gently and compassionately opening the areas within ourselves that have become shut down due to loss, failure, fear, and unfulfilled need, we free ourselves from dis-ease. We can let go of self-destructive ways of acting and relating and we can encourage our disabled spirits into full spectrum living. What is a situation in your life you know you should change but haven't? Can you invite the humility to change even if you haven't the faintest idea of what to do first?
4. Learn to Forgive
When we have been wounded or betrayed, it not only takes acceptance, focus and humility to move forward, it takes the massive leap of faith called forgiveness. Crying "tragic and unfair" just keeps us stuck in what hurts. Although someone's action against us may have been wrong and terribly hurtful, there is not a human alive that is not doing the best they know how to do, given the awareness they have in this moment. Depending on their own inner wounds, current stressors, karmic imprints or general ignorance, many people are not living lives of love. If they knew more love in their hearts, they would make more loving choices. Instead they are trapped by the darkness of fear, defensiveness, and hatred. We cannot change others but we can free ourselves through forgiveness. We do not forgive wrong actions. We forgive the soul of the person who has hurt us. If we choose to come into each day with an attitude of open heartedness and belief in the healing power of forgiveness, no matter what has come before, we send the Universe a message that says, "I will not surrender to fear, hatred or sorrow." What or whom do you need to forgive today? Where are you holding energy in the past? How does this prevent you from experiencing joy today?
5. Be Willing
Healing comes on many different levels of our being. We cannot reach the state of being 'healed' until we are willing to move out of the old story and into a new one. However what lies between the old and the new is a space of un-knowing, which can often feel like a very deep, dark chasm or void. Preventing us from entering this unknown, uncharted territory is fear. We feel unsure, alone, and doubtful that we can succeed at change and actually reach the light of new life. Now we must be willing to move courageously forward through fear. We must be willing to consider a new possibility, to show up to life in this moment, to not know what is coming next. We must be willing to look straight at what prevents us from full aliveness. We must be willing to trust the process of self-discovery, willing to feel the full spectrum of feeling, and willing to eradicate beliefs and behaviors that keep us stuck. We must be willing to completely accept what is, and at the same time be willing to move out of our comfort zone and onto the edge of personal growth. We must be willing to stop avoiding pain and start opening the heart to whatever it has to deal with. What edge of fear or un-knowing are you willing to explore today? Are you ready to transform vulnerability into power? By calling a part of your darkness into the light, how might you become free?
Like the blacksmith's fire that melts iron to create steel, pain can melt our rigid hearts to create healing, if we let it. Through the alchemy of acceptance, focus, humility, forgiveness and willingness, we can all turn suffering into blessing and experience life anew.
Photo credit Jennie Lee