When the mother of my son was in the throes of labor pains with him in the delivery room, it was really scary and really awful.
The thing that helped us push through what seemed like unbearable suffering was that our son would be born and that very soon, we would be able to hold him and see him and love him.
During this global pandemic, with all of the suffering that it’s causing, I’ve thought back to that experience and connected it in my mind with a famous quote from Viktor Frankl:
“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”
– Viktor Frankl
As you have probably heard me say before, I am not one of those people who believes that “everything happens for a reason” and that this “reason” is some mysterious secret of the Universe that we may or may not ever get to discover for ourselves.
Instead, it has been my experience that meaning is something that we create.
How do we go about doing this?
Well, meaning is very closely tied to intention.
So, one powerful way that we can begin to create some meaning is by getting clear on what matters to us in a given circumstance. When we know what matters to us, we can then set our intention accordingly for how we want to be or how we want to show up or act in the situation.
Now, before I go any further, I want to be sensitive here and careful not to give the impression that I’m somehow trying to turn this global pandemic into this sunny, global growth opportunity which minimizes the tremendous suffering that many are experiencing right now.
Instead, what I’m pointing to is the fact that adversity is often a chance for us to become better people, better versions of ourselves, and to grow. It has consistently been the fertile soil from which most of my growth has come.
This idea of “Post Traumatic Growth” can happen when we shift to connect with meaning and intention which can carry us through times of great suffering in transformational ways.
Jack Kornfield was interviewed in a recent New York Times article, and he spoke to this very idea:
“It’s time to make a vow, to sit quietly, rest your heart and ask, “What is my best intention, my most noble aspiration in this difficult time?” If you quiet yourself, your heart will answer. The answer could be simple: “I vow to be kind no matter what.” And when you find the answer in yourself, write it down and place it somewhere you’ll remember. Then when you feel lost or confused, take a breath and remember that vow. Because it’s time to become the lamp in the darkness.”
He goes on to say:
“When you live in speculative thoughts — “How long is it going to last?” “Will I make it through three more days or three more months?” — how does that make you feel? … you can either spend your time worrying, which…doesn’t actually help, or you can say: “I don’t know how long it will be, but let me do the most magnificent work I can do.”
We all find ourselves wondering how long this time of uncertainty and restrictions and fear will last. Of course, we want suffering to end.
When I catch myself starting down that road, I pause and remember that this is life and the nature of life is that growth happens not when things are easy, but rather when things are hard.
These circumstances are a portal to awakening and growth. Ram Dass called difficulty “grist for the mill”. Former guest of the show, Mary O’Malley, says “what’s in the way, is the way”.
And it’s really helpful to remember that life doesn’t resume again when this global pandemic is over – inferring that we just need to wait this out as if we’ve hit some kind of pause button on life. Life is always and only – now.
Part of not just coping – but growing – amidst this difficult time is rooted in orienting around a deep intention. If we can connect with what really matters to us, then when the intensity of things ramps up and the difficulty level is acute, we can remember our greater purpose – the one we’ve set for ourselves – and we can find the strength to weather the storm.
So, I invite you to pause for a moment if you can. I’m going to walk you through a brief inquiry that will set the stage for a simple Spiritual Habit which I’ll share with you – one that’s based on Jack Kornfield’s wise words. You can practice this Spiritual Habit when things feel difficult and intense to ground and steady yourself.
Take a few full, deep breaths and pay attention to what comes up for you when you consider these questions – pick whichever one works best for you:
- How do I want to be through this difficult time?
- What really matters to me amidst all that is happening?
- What is my deepest intention for how I want to move through and come out of this season of suffering?
- When things get really difficult, what do I want to remember about what is real and true for me?
When you sense that you have gotten an answer from your heart to any of these questions, capture your intention by writing it down somewhere – on a piece of paper, in your phone or anywhere that you’ll be able to see it when you need to remember it.
All Spiritual Habits have a trigger or prompt to practice them and your trigger to practice this one is when you find yourself really suffering amidst this global pandemic.
When that happens, call to mind this intention that you’ve set for yourself. Find the note you made of it and read it or remember it and say it quietly to yourself. Remind yourself of what matters to you and align yourself with this intention in the moment as best you can. Feel a shift inside as you touch into what you can control, which is, how you relate to what’s happening.
And that reminds me of another great Viktor Frankl quote:
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
– Viktor Frankl
To go deeper with these ideas, check out this mini-episode in which I talk a bit more about this idea of Post Traumatic Growth.
To help support your growth during this difficult time, I’m offering free and discounted coaching in a number of ways right now:
- Free weekly group coaching calls on Wednesdays at 12pm Eastern Daylight Time
- Free 1-on-1 coaching for frontline healthcare workers
- Discounted 1-on-1 coaching services (The One You Feed Personal Transformation Program, The 1-on-1 Spiritual Habits Program or a blend of the two programs)
To learn more about how to take advantage of any of these resources, head to our COVID-19 Support page.
If you would like to see if working 1-on-1 with me as a behavior coach is right for you, I offer a free 30-minute intro call to see if we’re a fit to work together.
On the intro call, there is no pressure to sign up to work with me. Instead, we’ll spend our time on the phone talking about the specific challenges you’re facing and we’ll explore how I might help. Whether or not we decide to work together, I’ll offer my thoughts on how you might work with these challenges to overcome them and make some progress in the areas of your life where you’re feeling stuck.
Need help working through difficult feelings or thoughts? Maybe you know you could use support figuring out how to prioritize self-care (meditation, exercise, healthy eating habits), or you need to learn how to break through procrastination, or structure your days to remain productive despite all the challenges?
Bring me what you’re struggling with and let’s see if we’re a fit to work together to get you past whatever is blocking you.
To take advantage of this discount on my 1-on-1 coaching services, click here to book your free intro call.
Take good care,
I really appreciate this discussion about intention. Covid 19 has shaken up all of our worlds. Yet, we have to remember that we get shaken all the time. Right now is more intense but still an example of how our intentions can ground us. With your podcast, weekly Wednesday phone calls, and blog, I’ve been able to reflect on my intentions and work on returning to them each time I lose my course. I’m having to return over and over again. But that’s part of the practice!