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How to Reveal the Gift in the Undesirable

Last week my son, Griffin, started kindergarten and had an interesting assessment of his teacher: “She’s nice, but says ‘not-nice’ things.” Like him, I also noticed that she issued a lot of stern commands, and I had noticed that the teacher in the next classroom invited her students to do things in a friendly tone and used words like “Let’s…” in order to elicit cooperation.

The two teachers have the same challenges (class size and makeup), but very different approaches—one based on authority vs. one based on partnership. After two days in the “authoritarian” model classroom, I asked the principal if Griffin could be moved to the “partnership” model classroom. She was happy to do this, and the “partnership” teacher, Ms. Ferris, was happy to have him. And now Griffin is very happy with school and says Ms. Ferris only says nice things. (Although he is under the impression that he’s now in 1st grade since he “left his kindergarten class.”)

You know, I was never an advocate of sending Griffin to school (my preference was to “unschool”), but Griffin said he wanted to go, so I’m grateful that the staff has been willing to help us find creative solutions to make his experience happy and successful.

Now, I’m leaving out a lot details surrounding his first week, but suffice to say there were many (for me, tough) challenges. At one point my husband said, “It’s great that the universe orchestrated things so that Griffin could be in Ms. Ferris’ classroom.” “But why,” I asked, “didn’t the Universe conspire to have him in that class in the first place?” And my husband replied, “Maybe so you could appreciate the school more.”

And so once again I learned that life’s challenges always contain meaning—even a gift, if you are willing to look for it. I think wanting to have control over the outcome (and I face this most often in parenting) is rooted in the false belief that to make a mistake or to fall short of one’s expectations is a bad thing.

It reminds me of a great quote, “You either succeed…or you learn.” Whatever we’re doing, we’re either succeeding or we’re learning, and either option is great.

So today, if you find anything particularly annoying or upsetting, consider this:

Your current reality is not what’s really upsetting you. In fact, the state of your emotions aren’t caused by the present situation, though the reverse is often true. In Eckhart Tolle’s (for me life-changing) book, A New Earth, he writes, “External reality always reflects back to you your inner state.“ I take that to mean that everything occurring in our lives is a result or reflection of our thoughts and feelings.

So if you don’t like what’s happening in your life, then the cause is something within you, not in external circumstances. In other words, you’re the problem. But that’s no reason to despair! By creating such undesirable “circumstances,” the Universe is actually doing you a favor. It’s giving you an opportunity to take full responsibility for your external reality.

What’s more, we can derive meaning from any experience—no matter how “bad” it is or how much pain it involves—if we’re willing to look for the hidden meaning, or the gifts it’s offering us.

You don’t even have to figure out the cause of the challenging emotion or “fix” it. Just allow yourself to feel it, and see what comes up. The next time you feel a negative emotion, try the following approach:

* Place your palms gently over your eyes, carefully sealing out stray light. Allow your breathing to become steady and observe your thoughts and feelings.
* Try not to judge or react to your thoughts and feelings; just be present with them, and let yourself experience them, even if it hurts.
* At this point, you can also acknowledge and offer appreciation for the challenge that is playing a part in your growth and positive transformation.
* Now ask yourself, “What is this here to teach me? What is the possible gift in this situation?

Don’t have time to do the full exercise? Then just ask yourself that last question. In fact, you might want to memorize the question and imagine yourself asking it the next time you’re facing a challenge.

Finally, one gift you can always find in a negative experience is that it sharpens the contrast between what you do want and what you don’t want, giving you an opportunity to focus more powerfully on your desires. (Which is another reason why it’s important to carve out time to sit with your negative emotions.)

It sometimes also helps to acknowledge that any gifts that may arise from adversity might not be apparent to you for some time. After all, such gifts are almost always more obvious in hindsight. So at the very least, you can derive comfort from knowing that you can expect—very soon—to see the bright side, even if you can’t yet.

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