One of the world’s greatest examples of how to survive difficult times is Nelson Mandela, the first president of modern South Africa. After twenty-seven years of imprisonment in Robben Island Prison, he remained unbowed and dignified, gracious, tender and kind, and curious about everything that was happening around him. The one who knows inside him never took what was happening to him personally. In this way he was able to maintain his freedom even while in bondage, to retain his dignity even in the most degrading conditions, to continue practicing compassion in the face of hostility, and to respond to the hatefulness that surrounded him with an unwavering love. Although a solitary man jailed in a distant country, Nelson Mandela has become an inspiration for millions of people suffering through less dramatic but equally challenging situations. Yet the one who knows in Nelson Mandela is the same one who knows inside you. You were born with the same potential for wisdom, the same insight, the same strength and love, all that you need to carry you through the difficulties that you encounter.
To heal you must remember who you really are. Then no matter what happens to you, you can rely on this innate courage, you can trust your own wise heart because nothing and no one can take them from you. You are free like Nelson Mandela.
One of my spiritual teachers, the Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah, used to ask me: “Which has had more value in your life, where have you grown more and learned more, where have you become more wise, where have you learned patience, understanding, equanimity, and forgiveness—in your hard times, or the good ones?” When we come to understand the paradox that what we most value in our lives was often born out of conflict and struggle, we can begin to get a glimmer that perhaps one day we may begin to embrace our difficulties and give thanks for them, even if that day is not today.
You may not see it now, but
this very difficulty will strengthen you.
Your heart will grow wiser, your spirit stronger.
You already know this.
You can even begin to see the ways this is true.
Even the worst losses become workable over time. They become part of your life story and destiny, they become an important part of who you have become. Through surviving our difficulties, tenderness and compassion naturally arise. Our hardships are not only something intensely personal and intimate but also something we share with the entire world. Everything you have survived is responsible for who you are today. They strengthen you. They are part of your heritage and cannot be taken from you, the same mysterious way that everything and everyone you have ever lost remains alive and present in your heart.
It’s important to remember that even with the best of healing practices, your personal healing may not be easy. Turning to face difficult times can bring us face to face with the larger pains and fears beneath our grieving, or opens the well of loneliness we have been running from our whole lives. But the practices in this program are designed to work with it all, to return you to acceptance and forgiveness and compassion, especially for yourself—so that you can hold everything in yourself with great mercy through these difficult times.
This excerpt is taken from the book,
“A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times”