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What Challenges Can Do For You

When you drop the interpretations about personal challenges and instead examine your thoughts around what has happened you then are on the road to self-understanding and a more peaceful and happier life.
07/30/2015 12:34pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Wisdom from 3 Modern Thought Leaders

Many of us dread challenges; it often means we are not getting what we want, we have to go the extra mile or we are wrong in some way. Challenges occur throughout our lives, and we never get to a stage, no matter how young or old we are, when we can say "I have arrived, I am done."

But instead of looking at challenges as something to avoid at all costs, we need to learn to embrace them.

After all, this is where the biggest growth is.

When it comes to using challenges as a growth tool, and for inspiration, I often turn to some of my favorite teachers who luckily are our contemporaries. They have dealt with their own challenges and not only have come out the other side, but are able and willing to pass on the wisdom of their individual journeys and outlook and offer perspectives on challenges that perhaps we have not considered.

"Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it... it's just easier if you do." -- Byron Katie

Byron Katie is an incredible teacher, a person who experienced her own dark night of the soul and came out of it with an unbridled sense of joy and generosity of spirit. Like most of us, she was caught up in a life of work, family and the attending frustrations of the modern world. After having a breakdown and realizing that life could not continue under the terms she had been living it, she checked herself into a half-way house and one day woke up there with a new sense of wisdom and profound joy.

She teaches us to question our thoughts, understand where our stories about ourselves, our lives and those in it are created and how we can use different perspectives on what we make the events in our lives mean.

"What a caterpillar calls the end of the world we call a butterfly." -- Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle is called a modern day mystic, a person who has a profound understanding of the damage that we cause to ourselves by not living in the present. When we live in the past, we often suffer melancholy and depression -- it is our attachment to an identity. When we live in the future, then anxiety and worry are our constant companions, or else we cling to an illusion of future salvation. It is by living in the present, moment by moment, that we can unravel all of the stories we tell ourselves.

Look at yourself now -- right now.

Do your thoughts reflect your current situation, in this moment? Most of the time, you will find that you are fine right now, and the things that challenge you in life mostly are your thoughts and what you make them mean about you. If you could capture each moment and hold it precious, as it should be held, then your perspective will be transformed forever. Eckhart tells us that if we could experience every event in our lives - whether good, bad or indifferent - as if we had chosen it, then we need no longer suffer. It is taking responsibility for yourself, your state and your actions based on your understanding. It is so freeing once you get this that you will literally change your whole biology and vibration.

"The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life." -- His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama is an exceptional human being, and is kindness personified. After experiencing dreadful persecution of his people, he does not have a bad word to say about the persecutors. He understands the human condition and the importance of lightness of being, laughter, joy, compassion and forgiveness. He serves as an example of how to live in challenging times and with challenging thoughts.

Where can we start?

If we emphasise compassion in our own lives, for others but equally no less for ourselves, then suffering unnecessarily has no purpose. When we experience challenging circumstances in our lives, having compassion for ourselves and others involved in that moment will help us to detach from controlling the outcome. As human beings, we love to assign meanings to everything that happens that we believe affects us - we are meaning making machines!

Drop the made-up meanings and adopt compassion instead.

When you drop the interpretations about personal challenges and instead examine your thoughts around what has happened you then are on the road to self-understanding and a more peaceful and happier life.