Photo: Alan Turkus on Flickr

Got Problems?

‘Zen Types’ Use This Secret For Coping With Life’s Downs

Life is made up of ups and downs. Nothing unusual about this statement. It’s a statement of fact that most people would agree with.

It almost seems like life is designed to present us with challenges that range from minor to major. Just as one issue gets resolved or sloughs off, the next thing we know, another one pops up unexpectedly.

Is anyone immune? Take a quick profile of yourself and of everyone you know. You’ll probably quickly agree that the answer is a definitive “No.”

No one escapes life’s twists, turns and the surprise obstacles that suddenly appear on the path before us.

That said, there are people who don’t seem nearly as phased by life’s problems. Let’s call them the “Zen” types for purposes of this article. The Zen types are not luckier than everyone else and somehow spared their fair share of life’s challenges. The rain falls on these people just as it does on everyone else.

The catch is that Zen types don’t look at life’s challenges as problems — whereas everyone else does.

Usually, when something unexpected, unwanted or unpleasant pops up in life, we view it as “a problem.” And naturally, when something is seen as a problem, the knee-jerk reaction is to hate and struggle against it. How does this look in practice?

· Self-pity
· Complaint
· Blame
· Telling stories and rehashing thoughts about the offending situation or person
· Attempting to force, control or manipulate the situation to our desired outcome

While all of these are common and natural reactions to life’s downs, the real question is, how often do any of the above actually solve the problem or serve us in any constructive way?

If you genuinely ask yourself this question, you’ll see what I’m driving at here.

Rarely, if ever, does struggling against an unwanted situation in the above ways (otherwise known as resistance) succeed in getting us the outcome we want. And if/when it seems to, rarely if ever was it worth having achieved the desired outcome in the face of all that mental resistance.

Resistance sucks, and it’s draining.

So why is it that so often when we’re experiencing a life difficulty, we treat it as something abnormal that isn’t supposed to be happening and struggle hard against it?

The difference between the Zen types and most people is that the Zen types are clear on the fact that life is comprised of ups and downs. And they also deeply realize that it’s futile to want life to be free of problems and challenges, much less to fight and struggle against them. So very simply, they drop the struggle.

Image: Id-iom on Flickr

If we could just remember that the downs are normal and are designed to be part of the game, then maybe we’d no longer be so bothered by them when they happen. Maybe they wouldn’t seem like such a big deal anymore and take up so much of our attention.

I’m not suggesting that we should intentionally put ourselves in upsetting and uncomfortable situations. But when these do show up on our doorstep, neither is it necessary or beneficial for us to resist them.

It’s important to distinguish here between mental resistance and other types of resistance (i.e., steps and actions that may be called for to change or improve a situation.)

Refusing to play the mental resistance game does not rule out taking action and doing what naturally needs to be done when a situation calls for it. What it does rule out is mindless reaction.

Self-reflection is strongly called for to be able to distinguish between the two. It’s not easy to avoid going down the path of mental resistance, especially for the uninitiated. It takes the ability to look hard at yourself and your emotions around an issue.

If you can do this, though, any action you take will be born from a much more grounded and authentic place.

Next time you catch yourself resisting something, take stock of how the resistance feels. Are you tormented by thoughts about the situation or feelings that you shouldn’t be going through what you’re going through? Are you physically tensing or contracting some part of the body? Are you holding back the breath?

Do any of the above do anything to improve the situation?

Of course not. Which is exactly why it’s just not worth it to struggle with closed fists against life’s curve balls.

We’re so habituated to resist life’s unpleasant moments that when they come along, we often immediately move into “resistance mode” without realizing it.

But when you catch yourself in resistance enough times you’ll start to see that the resistance itself is almost as or equally as unpleasant as whatever you’re resisting, if not more so — and may actually be what’s at the heart of how bad you feel.

The Zen types understand that challenges and difficulties are a natural part of life, so they don’t see life’s challenges as something to get bent out of shape about.

The Zen types also don’t immediately struggle to eliminate life’s problems. They’re able to live with challenges and difficulties without bowing to the compulsive need to instantly come up with a solution. They’re able to simply allow the difficulty, and whatever difficult feelings result from the difficulty. Then any action they take is usually right on target.

Such acceptance doesn’t block, prevent or exclude the arrival of a solution. In fact, when we aren’t busily running after and attempting to prematurely force a solution, what’s needed for resolution often suddenly becomes obvious.

“Problems” often naturally and effortlessly have a way of getting resolved on their own when we’re not anxiously trying to evade them or do something about them.

Even difficulty and unpleasantness have their place in the dance.

The downs are as valid as the ups. They’re supposed to happen. They’re part of life’s perfection. And yes, they, too, shall pass.