The Purpose Of Difficulties

Know your purpose; Your life purpose

I’ve noticed that the Japanese word “ikigai” has surfaced a lot in the West in recent years. And for good reason because it can be translated as the reason for waking up in the morning. This reflection upon the purpose of (your) life seems to be growing as we realise that the ‘baubles’ of modern living (for example possessions, status, holidays) fail to sustain us on a deep level for very long, if at all.

If you wish to find your ikigai you could sit and ponder for a few minutes each of these questions each day for a week:
“Why are you?”
“What is a meaningful activity for you?”
“What gets you in the flow? What is so utterly engaging and enjoyable that you lose track of time?”
“What stops you from sleeping well?”
“When do you feel most alive?”
“What advice would your twenty year older self give you today?”
“Why are you alive at this time?”

Everyone experiences both difficult circumstances and people in their lives. Here’s a thought on this: difficulties appear to teach you something about yourself at the time you need to learn this lesson. If you allow them to do their work on you they will galvanise you to do things differently, to think differently and thereby to be more fully you.

If you’re not sure about this idea, spend 15 or more minutes a day for a couple of days being still and bring to mind one such difficulty you have faced in your life. Allow this to come back to you in as much detail as possible and ask yourself what it was trying to teach you. Repeat this for at least three different difficulties. You might then see these times as offering you the opportunity to see the value to you of patience, understanding, compassion, tolerance or some other trait you might need to develop.

Completion is a longer but, I think, a more powerful technique. To do this you need to be still, be quiet, bring to mind a topic and allow your mind to go where it goes and see what appears in your mind and body. Just let your mind and memories wander for 20-30 minutes a day at about the same time for five days. The same topic for five days. Then look at another topic. This is a big effort, but worth it.

The topic can be whatever you wish, but good starting points to assist resilience are success, failure, stickability, flexibility, money, possessions and feelings. You might consider where your ideas about this topic have come from. For example, do you think success is measured in monetary terms? Do you think you are good enough and deserve to be successful?

This exercise helps you complete the programming you absorbed when you were younger about success, failure, feelings or whatever areas of focus you target. Much of this programming was undertaken before you were seven years old as at this time the brain is especially susceptible to sub-conscious communication. Completion gently allows you to look at your relationship to a topic and to adopt a view on it that is truly your own. It completes the process started many years earlier.

Create your reality

There is much written and spoken about the power of positive thinking, but I want you to go beyond this. I want you to use your will power to envisage your future reality. This might sound rather odd, but I hope you will suspend judgment until you have tried it.

I want you to sit for about 10 – 20 minutes and create a mind movie associated with your hopes for your emotional strength. A mind movie is simply a film you have made and can play in your head whenever you wish. It needs to be as detailed as possible and use as many of your senses as possible.

For example: “Today is the first day of my programme to become more emotionally resilient. I have planned out the techniques I am going to bring into my everyday life – the small ones I can do at my desk and the longer ones I will do when still. Those I’ll do when I wake up and those I’ll do in the evening. My diet, sleep, stress and exercise regimes are also planned. I have the whole period all planned out. I’m smiling and feel great – confident and relaxed. In fact I feel pretty amazing! I’m focused on overcoming anything that comes along to disturb my intention to be stronger emotionally. I know I’m going to keep to my programme for at least 80% of the time. I’m excited to start.

“I’m sitting here in my chair in the evening surrounded by pleasing, relaxing scents, sounds and in comfort. It is wonderfully peaceful. I know what I’m going to do in the next hour. I close my eyes and practice the techniques I have planned to do in this time. I’m still, serene and capable of doing what I want to do and to keep doing it.

“Now I see myself being confronted with a difficult circumstance or person. It really is awful and I can feel my heart race, palms sweat and so on. Then I see myself smile lightly as I remember all that I have learnt: to breathe mindfully, to not be entangled with it, that I am supported by all those lovely people I know, to be grateful for everyone and everything in the past, present and future, and I see and feel myself knowing what this difficulty is there to teach me. I smile deeply and my body and mind are content. I even feel grateful for the experience.”

Design your mind movie, write it out and read it every night before you go to sleep. Really see it as you close your eyes. Really imagine being there and seeing it from the inside, from being there if you can. Ideally do this daily for at least three weeks.

A concluding thought

Think of a stick. One end has been dipped in animal excrement and is dirty, smelly and revolting. The other end of the stick is clean. Here’s the thing: If you focus on the dirty end of the stick, that’s all you’ll see. It’s all life will appear to offer you. But if you turn your attention to the other end and keep doing that no matter how much and how often you’re drawn to the dirty end you will eventually not be aware of the dirty end. You are then emotionally resilient.

When difficulties appear, and they will, just remember the stick with two ends.

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About the Author Nigel Lowson

I loved teaching and loved working in schools because I learnt so much from my colleagues and the students. They never failed to inspire me and make me laugh! My curiosity in what makes people tick moved me into pastoral care and I was privileged to be in charge of a school's pastoral care and co-curricular programmes for 18 years. Here I saw first-hand the pressures on both staff and students (and their parents) and learnt so much about human nature, especially under stress. My focus has always been on offering practical, easy, quick solutions that work which are supported by science.

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