Friday, November 9, 2012

Finding Gratitude in Difficult Places

This post has been percolating in my mind for months. But this is gratitude month, and it is time to finally write it out in full. I have tried to write it numerous times, but it just sits on my computer, awaiting the words that never come. But the universe has sent enough my way that the words are ready to flow.

We all have our “difficult” teachers. They come in many forms. They are the people and experiences that test our practice. They are the people that pull us out of a reflective mentality into clenched fists and anger spouting. They are the people at work who gossip about us behind our backs, our friends who betray us, and our family who is just so close they know how to push all our buttons.

Usually our difficult teachers are people who know us best. While there is a lot to be gained while practicing deep breathing while driving and not getting mad at the people who cut us off, the real practice is sitting with the people we see all the time when they have done something we do not like. The practice is learning to engage with them. And it is also learning to see our experiences and our pain in new ways.

The question is, how do we learn to be grateful for these people and experiences and learn what we need from them?

The first iteration of an attempt at this post was a post called, “When the Body Does Not Behave.” But what I left out of that post was the underlying truth. I am, and have been for several months, in physical pain. And this is different than my hamstring injury during teacher training. This is ongoing pain. It is pain that interferes with doing yoga. It interferes with teaching yoga. It interferes with a lot of things, actually. It has become my teacher.

Living in the world takes some give and take. America just had a major election, and since Tuesday, my facebook feed has been full of people lamenting the anger and vitriol that remains post-election. Social media is an interesting experiment. Perhaps we say things there we would not say directly to a person, but we are willing to just spew whatever comes to our minds. But the people with whom we share it are ostensibly our friends. Apparently a lot of my friends have unfriended others, or been unfriended, because of their political leanings. It sounds trite to mention facebook, and I feel a bit silly for doing it, but it is a perfect example of these difficult teachers.

It is far easier to unfriend a person than face our deepest selves. But that is where the beauty lies. It is in those deepest places, when we are forced to see them, that we are able to connect the most with other people. But first we have to face the difficult teachers.

And that is not easy. That is why they are difficult. Most of the time I just get frustrated. All the yoga goes out the window, and I get annoyed, my breathing gets shallow, and the physical pain gets worse. But this month, November, I invite you to try something new along with me. I invite you to find a sense of gratitude in these experiences. They are leading us to something greater.

It is no easier to deal with an email from opposing counsel than it is to deal with intense physical pain, but both of these experiences are opportunities in our lives to stop, reflect, and practice. They are opportunities to ask ourselves what we could do differently and what we could learn from one another. It is much easier to be calm and reflective when we are away from the world. But the truth is that we live in the world, and that means we face these issues.

One caveat: I have heard a lot of people say that our greatest teachers are those who are the most difficult in our lives. Until very recently, I sort of blindly agreed with that statement. Now I see it a bit more nuanced. We need all sorts of teachers, and difficulty teachers play a significant role in how we interact with ourselves and one another, but we need supportive and loving teachers as well. That can be a post for another day, but that is why I did not start this post with comments about our greatest teachers being our most difficult. They are necessary, but so are so many others.

We may not be able to make the difficult situation disappear, but we can change our reaction to it. And what if we just said thank you? Thank you for allowing me to see where I still need to work. Thank you for bringing me closer to my humanity and compassion. Thank you for opening my eyes and heart to the full extent of the practice.

How are you grateful for difficulty in your life?


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.


  1. I just had such an experience: my spouse and I were working together on a project where she was the leader. We scheduled a meeting and talked through how it would go. When we arrived at the meeting 2 weeks later, she decided to do things differently. Well, I lost my cool and embarrassed myself with my behavior. When I was remarking to our minister about it, she replied that this is where the spiritual rubber meets the road. AFTER processing my anger I was actually able to feel my gratitude.

    1. Yeah, the anger often comes first. Thanks for sharing. I think we all actually need these reminders. All of us.

  2. this is an insightful post. i'm sorry you have pain and am inspired that you are trying to gain something from it, to grow :)