I counsel a lot of people these days who are going through hard times. By hard times, I mean that they want their lives to be different.
Some common themes that seem to be highlighted during election years, probably because we’re facing the inevitable cycle of a changing of the guard. Anxiety, worry and other negative emotions seem to surface more often when our world is about to change and we don’t know what’s going to happen.
We get bogged down in our own little worlds and either forget or need to learn some bigger lessons.
Astrologers point to full moons and eclipses as an opportunity to create growth and change in our lives. Give me a national election any day, and I’ll show you the soft underbelly of people who otherwise seem to have it all together.
This particular presidential election reveals the hidden fears, deceit, anger and violence lurking just below our thin veneers of civility. I have never witnessed such continuing and nasty personal attacks each candidate seems to relish against the others. As the reach and breadth of the internet expands, personal responsibility and integrity seem to be inversely proportional.
It struck me this morning that we need to pay attention to our darker side, because it is becoming more and more public.
If this presidential election is showing us our darker sides, I started looking at how other complaints might be showing us something we rarely consider in the heat of the moment.
When I compare the lessons I have had to learn to the themes running through my clients’ lives, I notice some commonalities between the lesson and what people are experiencing. Here are a few themes with the bigger picture attached:
While the rich are getting richer and everyone else is getting poorer, I talk to many people who are experiencing money issues for the first time in their adult lives. People who have never faced dwindling funds or budgets are having to forego that week-long workshop in a destination resort, because they don’t have the money. That can be extremely cathartic, and many people who give lip service to the notion that we are the creators of our reality suddenly start talking about how unfair the universe can be and become victims. As I have been through times like, I have come to understand that we either learn that money has nothing to do with happiness or we don’t.
The Lesson: The only way we can truly learn that money has nothing to do with happiness is to be broke. Then we have to apply what we know to be happy, even though we may be going through a temporary crisis. It is not the end of the world; it’s simply the lesson that money is not required to be happy. The sooner we learn this lesson, the quicker we don’t have to be broke.
Second only to money is the complaint of being alone. I am 62 and I’ve been single more years than I’ve been married. It seemed that I would never find someone to share my life with in peace and love. All of my relationships had ended unpleasantly with blame and shame enough to go around.
The Lesson: We give lip service to the concept that we have to love ourselves before we can love someone else, but the quickest way to learn how to love ourselves is to be alone. It’s not punishment to be alone; it’s an opportunity to work on what’s important and what isn’t. I have learned that nothing is important in a relationship other than respect and kindness. Now I am engaged, and it’s looking pretty good.
One of the most overlooked spiritual principles is a saying by Buddha: “we are not our children’s parents and we are not our parents’ children.” This means that we are only responsible for our own actions, and we have to empower people to take responsibility for theirs. My mother graduated to the next adventure in 2007, and my father in 2015. For people who are co-dependent and attached to their parents, the loss of parents can be devastating. I have two sons, both of whom had behavioral issues when they hit puberty. The younger kept ending up in ICU rooms due to drug overdoses. The loss of a child is purportedly the most painful event in a parent’s life, primarily because we don’t let them be individuals and stand on their own two feet.
The Lesson: Losing a parent or a child (or any loved one) can be devastating if we don’t understand that we can’t control any life other than our own, and even that can be out of our hands. We sometimes have to deal with our family’s pain to understand that we are not responsible for anyone’s pain other than our own.
We all know that, along with the gift of life, no one gets out of here alive. We either understand that death is an illusion or we don’t understand it. It is a habit that we just can’t seem to break. When someone dies, that is the lesson we have to learn. Grief is a natural part of losing someone, but if we experience guilt with that we only create pain and suffering. We simply need to process the loss of our beloved and keep living.
The Lesson: Death is not unfair; death is a part of life. We experience the death of others to learn to accept that. It makes life sweeter and more precious. We have to learn that when our time comes, as it will for everyone, it is not our fault. We can be grateful for the departed for giving us that lesson.
It is important to always be looking for the bigger picture. The bigger picture is not unfair, capricious or arbitrary. Everything in life is a gift (A.K.A. the present).
When we accept the fact that everything happens for us, not to us, we can begin to make sense of a senseless world.
When the presidential candidates misbehave, we can be grateful that we are reminded that we need to pay attention to our darker sides and heal them. When we learn to look at life as a wonderful adventure, it becomes more fun.
It’s like we are standing one inch from a painting, and we can only see one small part of the canvas. When we step back, we can see the whole thing as a beautiful, complex and masterful work of art.
Author: James Robinson
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Jose Murillo/Unsplash