On Surviving Difficult Times


I found the following excerpt in Jack Kornfield’s new beautiful book, “A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times.”

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 on Robben Island, 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 on who knows inside of 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 … Ajahn Chah, used to ask me: “Which has had more value in your life, where have you grown more and learn more, where have you become more wise, where have you learned patience, understanding, equanimity, and forgiveness—in you 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 find grace in them, even if that day is not today. 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. It is part of your heritage and cannot be taken from you; it lives in you in the same mysterious way that everything and everyone you have ever lost remains alive and present in your heart.

Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.

Originally published on Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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