How to apply your learnings to life's challenges

I’ve spent years doing personal and spiritual growth, learning deep lessons in life, training to understand people, what motivates and drives them, what wounds them and how to heal from suffering. I’ve learnt about compassion, empathy, love, non-judgment, acceptance and respect and how important it is to cultivate these qualities in our relationships with others. 

But let’s get real. Compassion, empathy, tolerance, love and respect are easy to draw on when you’re around people you like and get along with. 

The hard part, rarely discussed in personal and spiritual growth circles, is how to apply these qualities to the people that rile you, are openly judgmental, offensive, rude, disrespectful or intolerant. 

How do you apply the learnings from the growth you’ve done to the areas in your life that challenge you the most?

This question has fascinated me for years. A few years ago, after I’d learnt to reach a blissful inner state during meditation, I emerged from a meditation to find myself 5 minutes later boiling over in a frustrating parenting moment. Such a big contrast in a short space of time showed me I had much to learn in applying my learnings in spiritual growth to my closest relationships.  

We face challenging situations more often than we'd like, in our workplaces, parenting, relationships, friendships and extended family. This is the hard stuff. Bring to mind anyone who’s triggered you or caused you pain and you’ll know what I mean. The interesting thing is, the challenging situations in your life are where you will find the most resistance to facing it and the greatest potential for growth. 

On a broader level, this is where humanity is at. We are becoming more aware of these incredible higher qualities we have within us, and our great capacity for love, compassion, forgiveness and tolerance and the potential for more peaceful outcomes when we apply them. And many of us are working hard to cultivate these qualities in ourselves. 

At the same time we are becoming more aware through media, politics and world challenges of our great capacity for hatred, disrespect and intolerance and the potential for further separation and suffering. 

The irony is we have all we need within us for peaceful outcomes and greater suffering. And that’s why we struggle so much to apply it personally (and collectively) because we have and are both. You can be compassionate and patient with your best friend and highly judgmental and intolerant of your boss. In the same hour.

Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are
— Pema Chödrön

Pema Chödrön, the well known Buddhist Nun, is one of the wisest relationship teachers on the planet. She teaches we need to lean in and open our hearts in precisely those moments when every inch of us wants to shut down, react or retreat to lick our wounds. That's a huge ask, but we are capable of doing it. It's a choice we have each time we face darkness in others and within ourselves. 

We always have a choice. It’s much harder to take the higher road as there’s far more vulnerability and risk of hurt involved. And it usually means being willing to put your own needs and hurts aside, for the sake of the whole, not just one individual’s (your) perceived experience. 

It's worth noting too that leaning in and staying open doesn't always eventuate in a perfect 'happy ever after' outcome. Sometimes the highest road is to walk away. Sometimes it's to forgive. Sometimes it's to recognise an honest conversation is needed without any attachment to the outcome.

Only your heart knows the truth, which comes when you've moved towards the discomfort and been able to see what's true, what your part has been, where you're in illusion with yourself, where you're blaming another rather than taking responsibility. That can take time to uncover, but the key lies in the heart, for the heart is wise in ways our ego cannot fathom. 

So how do you apply your learnings to the areas in your life that need it most?

You practice! There's always an opportunity to practice and see what happens when you choose the higher road and stay open to what's happening. When you bring love to pain, patience to the part of you that wanted resolution yesterday and empathy to sense what it's like for the other person. And tonnes of self-compassion because we don't always get it right.

Above all kudos to you for being willing to grow, learn from your challenges, and keep trying.

If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.
— Pema Chödrön

Love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to share and leave a comment below.