Life Gets Harder, Not Easier
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
-M. Scott Peck
There is a phenomenon which seems to be happening around me, that I have noticed especially in the past few years. Friends and colleagues, passing the 30 year mark are in various ways having breakdowns and finding themselves in some form of struggle. One coming to grips with addiction. Another having multiple children and in a quiet moment away from the family staring at the floor with a hollow look describing the overwhelm and feeling alone. Another going through bankruptcy. Another dealing with a parent falling ill and dying. I would notice that amongst old friends and people I have known for a long time, they seemed less happy and more somber. The look on their face was wearier than it had been and there was a great sense that we were now finally adults.
There is something now, in certain strata of the culture (class, ethnic background, etc.) where adolescence extends far into the 20’s. Life is golden and open and innocent. Eventually however, the transition happens to all of us, where we face an initiation into our adult lives and a death of sorts occurs to the child like way of being that we have been living with. I remember one morning waking up and having the sobering thought that I would never likely be a baseball player (and I was never even good at baseball) and noting the transition to a place where life had seemingly less options than more.
Around this time period for me, things began to stack up ending with a significant stress breakdown that mirrored a change in career and a personal growth odyssey that brought me to my knees. I thought I had multiple and various diseases. At one point I thought I was going to die. I was, in fact, although it was metaphorical and not literal. This transition, which included getting married, leaving my (until then) dream job, moving, and having my first child, was on the surface bewildering and intense. Underneath, I came to grips with my own ego, my naive sense of immortality, embracing anxiety and family patterns I hadn’t seen before and finally finding through it all a fuller, more grounded sense of adulthood and maturity. It was terrifying, and as the illusion of life was stripped, I too took the archetypal journey that the Buddha took leaving the compound. Life is indeed full of immense pain and suffering and is incredibly fragile and fleeting. It was almost too much to bear.
This continued as Evolution grew into a legit business and my wife became fully engaged in her career. Amidst this, we had our first child, a beautiful baby daughter. This added immense stress to our household as we tried to cope with a new baby as transplants in a city without any familial support and very demanding jobs. I found myself in highly reactive and less evolved places more and more, struggling to stay on top of the new and complex roles I had to play in my life. My wife and I would fight more or less over who was more depleted or working harder, our coping strategies not healthy as we would retreat to forms of soothing that were not sustainable in the long term (mine: video games). I threw tantrums that I am not proud of. However, something happened in this transition: I grew deeper. I built internal capacity. I grew up.
For many, having a child does this but is certainly not the only way. “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” and in fact, in the moments that life is seemingly breaking us, and as Pema Chodron says if we open and walk through it consciously we actually build capacity to handle even more. That painful drop of water into the bucket now falls into an ocean (or at least a pond?). As this happens, we like the heroes of all time initiate into a new way of being. We undertake a journey through the underworld, through the crucible of some struggle and find ourselves victorious on the other side not in glory, but in the humble sense of reality. We are Neo emerging from sleep, looking at the starkness of how things can be, happy to be awakened, at peace with the truth of things.
From this place, we act consciously and we find that waking up, sometimes slowly and sometimes painfully does have its benefits. We discover that we have capacity to deal with pain and that “pain is inevitable but suffering is optional”. There is no denying that life generally becomes more, rather than less complex and more, rather than less difficult. However the gift in this is the opportunity to lean into it, to let it break us and become a greater vessel to hold the experience. When we can do this for ourselves, we can do it for others as well. Eventually, if we make it there, there is a promise of ease, wisdom, and peace at the end of life that is hard won from the endless journey of opening and integrating struggle, by holding complexity and finding the grace and direction through it for ourselves and others. This is the path of awakening, that is open to all of us, and those of us that have learned carry the burden of responsibility to help others through their own valley. The garden is on the other side, although for most it is not the one we had imagined.