6 Ways to Make Friends With Struggle

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Struggle is inevitable. But the way we meet and deal with it can make all the difference in how happy and whole we feel.

There is no shortage of advice for creating more ease in life. Many of these messages can make us feel that we’re better off avoiding our struggles or worse, that something is wrong with us for having them in the first place.

At Omega, we take a different approach. We turned to six trusted teachers and distilled for you their approaches to struggle, all designed to bring more peace to your life. 

1. Acceptance: Knowing that struggle is an inevitable part of life and looking away from our often silent judgment can offer a shift in perspective. Living beings have always had to struggle to meet what Abraham Maslow defined as the first two levels of need—for food and shelter, and for safety. In contrast, our society often offers and expects the added promise of comfort and ease if only we get just the right product or quickly achieve the next level of success. However, in reality, there has never been a time when human psychological and emotional needs have been seamlessly and completely met.

The path offered by beloved Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön takes the idea of accepting struggle to the next level. She suggests “making friends” with it in order to open our hearts to ourselves and to others.

“It’s a slow path to make friends with the self-protecting armor,” she said in response to a questioner at last May’s weekend workshop.

“At its essence, it has to do with attachment that is outdated," she explained. "Your longing to wake up all together and be free of this armor is a very powerful place to be; it is the awakened mind, the essence of Buddha nature.”

Pema Chödrön shares how can you befriend the feeling of struggle in your life.

2. Give Yourself a Break: It may be also helpful to take a break from the images of suffering around the world—real and threatened—that come at us 24/7. Cutting down on sources of negative input by turning off the news and reducing the material, digital, or even emotional clutter that can drain our attention, can create a spaciousness that may allow other thoughts and feelings to arise.

3. Come Into the Present Moment: Taking a break from external noise can help set the stage for finding peace within by looking into the nature of the present moment, what Adyashanti calls “the end of struggle.”

“Stop chasing freedom or happiness, or even spiritual enlightenment,” he writes. “Stand in your own shoes, and examine closely: What’s happening right here and right now? Is it possible to let go of trying to make anything happen? Even in this moment, there may be some suffering, there may be some unhappiness, but even if there is, is it possible to no longer push against it, to try to get rid of it, to try to get somewhere else?”

4. Struggle Positively: There are ways to view the stress that results from our struggles that can make you stronger and happier, according to Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal.

"Viewing stress as harmful leads people to cope in ways that are less helpful, whether it's getting drunk to "release" stress, procrastinating to avoid stress, or imagining worst-case scenarios....In contrast, viewing stress more positively seems to encourage people to cope in ways that help them thrive, whether it's tackling the source of stress, seeking social support, or finding meaning in it."

5. Cultivate Joy, Not Happiness: When we look for outside situations, people, or events to align with our expectations, we’re seeking happiness that we may or may not achieve and that, if it arrives, is certainly fleeting. In contrast, joy is internal and comes when you make peace with who you are.

In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen writes, “Joy…seems to be far less vulnerable than happiness. Joy seems to be part of an unconditional wish to live, not holding back because life may not meet our preferences and expectations. Joy seems to be a function of the willingness to accept the whole, and show up to meet whatever is out there. It has a kind of invincibility that attachment to any particular outcome would deny us.”

6. Relinquish Preference: Author Tosha Silver’s take on how we struggle also describes this concept of letting go of attachment to a particular outcome. Silver argues that while there’s little use in trying to extinguish our desires, we can free ourselves from the struggle to control outcomes by turning our desires over to divine intelligence with a request for the highest good.

“This act of offering allows us to have the feelings that are natural because we’re human, but without being a prisoner of them or trying to manifest them,” she said. “If you take that longing, whether it’s for something mundane or lofty, and ask this force of love to let you feel whole with or without it occurring, that’s the secret to wholeness.”