May 17, 2015

When Bad Things Happen to Good People: 10 Ways to take the High Road when Life gets Messy.


Sometimes, no matter how good a person you are, no matter how much you live with integrity and intention, you may still find yourself in a situation where someone treats you badly and there is a lot of negativity coming your way.

Recently I had my heart broken by some people who I loved and trusted. They seemed to get so stuck in their way of seeing things that my experience no longer mattered. I felt so unseen, vulnerable and powerless. At first all I could do was cry. I stayed in bed for an entire day choking on my tears and suffering the crushing pain in my chest.

I watched as conflicting impulses paraded through my awareness. One moment I could find gratitude for the gifts of the whole messy situation and the next I would curl up in fear and frustration. I questioned what I could have possibly done to deserve being treated this way. Feeling how much was out of my control, I fantasized about everything from filing lawsuits to moving away. Yet, tempted as I was, I resisted the urge to put on my fighting gloves and make things worse. I knew there had to be a high road somewhere and I was committed to finding it. I also knew that, for me, biting my tongue, being inauthentic and forcing a smile on my face wasn’t going to cut it.

Unable to sleep that night, I lay awake and wrestled with my options. I wanted to handle this gracefully, but I also wanted to be real. Finally, I knew, I just had to let go. I gave up trying to figure everything out and I surrendered.

By some grace (which is still a mystery to me), I woke up the next morning with great clarity and a deep knowing. As the soft light of the new day began to wash over me, I was filled with deep compassion; both for myself and for those had been treating me so unkindly. It was as if I could simultaneously hold the tender complexities of our shared humanity while seeing the bigger picture. Ironically, the experience that had taken me head first into darkness, opened me to invincible light.

10 Ways to Take the High Road When Life Gets Messy

1. Feel your feelings fully. Chances are pretty good that if there is a lot of negativity coming your way, you’re going to feel a wide array of emotions in a short amount of time. Let’s face it, negativity hurts. At first, diving into your feelings may seem counterintuitive. How can going deeper into anger, fear and grief possibly make things any better? For starters, it keeps us from spiritually bypassing. If we try to jump too quickly to forgiveness, and to seeing the big picture, there is a good chance the feelings we skip over will eat away at us. Eventually they may slip out unskillfully and do more damage. The only true way to find freedom and get to the other side of emotions is to go right into them. To be clear, I am not talking about indulging or wallowing. It’s about opening to what’s alive each moment and letting it flow through. When we resist emotions, we get stuck. The energy behind the emotion gets blocked and in addition to making us feel horrible, it
drains our vitality. On the other hand, when we stay present to the sensations of each emotion, we unlock potent life energy. Each emotion can be an opening, a yogic opportunity, if we let it. I always find that things flow through much more quickly when I don’t resist them.

2. Stay in the moment. Nothing can stick in presence. When you feel wronged by something in the past, remember that it is not still happening. Often times we simply replay painful moments over and over again in our awareness and we only end up feeling worse. Practicing mindfulness and taking things one breath at a time can help us to let go of the past and embrace new possibilities.

3. Be the witness/observer. Don’t exclusively identify with what is happening to you. Even as dramatic events may play out around you, you can be the observer and avoid getting caught up in things. Metaphorically, it is like going from being a passenger on the train to sitting in the station watching the trains go by. You can still feel your feelings—you can still take the right action—but you remain open to all possibilities and not attached to any one outcome.

4. Take responsibility for the part you played. It can be so tempting to want to blame others, especially when you feel clearly wronged. The problem with blame is that now you’re really giving all of your power away. If you can own whatever small part you may have played in creating this disharmony, you can get out of a victim mentality. Know that if you had enough power to create it, then you have enough power to change how it affects you going forward.

5. Put your energy on what you want. Be aware of the fires you’re feeding. Are you fanning the flames of your fears and doubts? Are your words and actions adding more negativity to the situation? Or can you keep turning your attention towards the eventual outcome you desire? What we put our attention on grows, so you might as well direct your energy where you want it.

6. Ask yourself the question: do I want to be right or do I want to be happy? When we fight to prove our position, no matter how justified we may feel, it often takes a toll on our wellbeing. If we can instead focus on maintaining our inner equilibrium and know that it is not up to us to police the universe, then something inside us can relax. When I had a hard time completely setting down my point of view, I found it really useful to agree to disagree. I reminded myself that it’s perfectly normal for different people to experience the exact same situation in very different ways. When I stopped trying to make them wrong, I started to tap into a peace that was unshakeable, regardless of the external circumstances.

7. Remember that what others think of you is none of your business. One of my biggest concerns when all this negativity started coming my way was how I was going to be perceived both professionally and personally by my community. I wanted to share my side of the story so that nobody got the wrong idea. It was not easy but I had to keep telling myself that even when they knew my side of the story, there would still be some people who would get the wrong idea. There is simply no way to control how people are going to perceive us. I had to learn to trust that those closest to me, those who really matter, already knew me well enough to assume the best. My suspicions were confirmed when tons of emails, phone calls and text messages came flooding in from people who had heard rumors about what happened and knew there must be more to the story. This proved to me that consistently showing up with integrity and love in my interactions, overtime, has a greater impact than any stories told about me from another source. Ultimately, I am realizing that even had things not unfolded that way, my only choice is to stay aligned with the truth in my own heart.

8. Enjoy the burn. If you’re truly on the path of awakening, there will be times when the ego gets challenged. When things get heated and you start to feel your former sense of self dissolving, remember that nothing essential can burn. As things fall away, trust that what’s leaving you are the things that block you from greater love, freedom and joy. It’s relatively easy to remain centered when things are going well but, when challenges arise, there is a real opportunity to grow. We can choose to relate to the burn as a purification process that is ultimately going to serve our heart’s awakening and bring greater depth to our practice.

9. Trust in the greater unfolding. Sometimes it’s so hard to see why things are happening the way they are until we get a little distance from them. There have been so many times my life where I have been confused and nothing seems to make sense, but then when I look back years later it’s so obvious why everything needed to happen exactly the way it did. The key is to relax into the unknown and trust that someday it will all be clear. Besides, sometimes the most challenging things we have to face are the ones that cook us into our exact flavor of humanity. They are part of what makes each of us unique.

10. Practice forgiveness. If you can, try to find it in your heart to forgive those who hurt you. Try to remember that they are doing the best they can or they wouldn’t be doing it. When we hold onto things, it rarely makes a difference to them and only harms us. I love the quote: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” It is an amazing practice to not let anything, or anyone, close your heart or cast a shadow over your light.


My hope is that those of you who have also felt frustrated and wronged by situations in your life will remember that while we can’t control the outer world, we can choose how we react to it. I know that taking the high road isn’t always easy, but in the long run, I’m guessing, we’ll be glad we did!

Author: Kirsten Warner

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Flickr

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