What about when life is really hard? When it feels really rough?
Today, I want to share one of the things that helps me.
We have lots of choices about how we identify – different ways we can think of ourselves, different concepts we can hold of who and what we actually are. For me, often the key to lessening suffering lies in changing the very way I’m thinking of myself.
Here’s what I mean:
There’s ego identification: being identified with all your ego/personality/life biography characteristics and thinking of yourself primarily in terms of those.
For me that means: I’m Tara, the woman in her thirties with brown hair and brown eyes, about five feet tall, who writes and teaches and lives in San Francisco and is married to Eric, who has these friends and these interests and this life history…
That seems normal, right? How else could you possibly think of yourself?
Well, there’s another way I can identify. I can identify as a soul (feel free to use the word “being” or “consciousness” here if you don’t click with the word “soul”). A soul that is not of this world but is temporarily in this world. A soul that is here to learn and to bring light via the life experience that is playing out in front of me.
I know for myself this is true: When I am thinking of myself in that first way – thinking of myself in terms of my ego/personality/life story, I have lots of complaints about how things are. I always want this or that aspect of the story to be different. There’s a sense of never being quite enough. There’s more comparing myself to others, more mean voices rattling off critiques of me in my head, more striving and more pressure to accomplish.
Most important, when I’m in this mode, the hard stuff hits me very hard. It feels more devastating, overwhelming, frustrating. It’s an invasion on my biography! It’s an attack on a frail egoic self that is oh-so-afraid. It’s an unfair assault.
But if I am thinking of myself as a soul who has been around for a very long time, and is here in this particular life to learn, experience, and bring light where there is darkness, well, then the hard stuff feels different.
I can approach it with a little less gripping, less intensity, because I’m connected to a part of myself that is bigger than what is happening, and bigger even than this lifetime. It’s like widening the camera lens, so that what seemed really big starts to shrink into proportion – even if that proportion is that its an excruciating, unwanted experience I’m having in this life. But the camera lens is much wider than “this life.”
When I think in this second way, I can replace my immediate judgments of what’s happening with curiosity: How is this here to help me learn, and to help me serve? What is this experience really about – in terms of my soul’s learning?
This is not about dissociating. Emotions still come, big emotions. But the emotional drama, and the emotional looping lessens.
Do I know that this second way of thinking is “true?” No, but I believe it is true, and I know it relieves suffering.
Making It Practical
If you’d like to try this, here’s what I suggest:
1. Place your hands on your heart, and connect with a place in your chest that feels like your soul, or like the heart of your being. Just connect with it. Feel how it is vast, wise, and connected to something much bigger than you. Feel how it’s existence in time is much longer than your chronological age.
2. Try on the idea that the real you, the core of you, is a spark of being here to learn and serve. A being that came into this biography for just those reasons. Consider the idea that whatever life is presenting you is for that learning, and service.
3. Return your attention to a painful or difficult situation in your life. Ask, “What is this here to teach this soul, or allow it to experience?” Ask, “What opportunity to serve is this calling me into?”
You can do this right now. It only takes a minute. And I’d be honored if you share what you discover.
photo credit: Felix Russell-Saw