Spirituality and Dealing with Difficult Situations

One of the common topics that comes up for people is how to bring spirituality into difficult situations. A lot of people who are doing spiritual work find that life still has lots of hard moments. And that won't change. Being awakened won't make life easier, per se. It makes it easier in the sense that we're not resisting what's happening in our lives or making up as many stories about what has happened. But being awakened doesn't change the feeling of being hungry when there's no food. It doesn't stop your boss who has control issues from abusing yourself and other colleagues. It doesn't turn life into a rainbow filled, fluffy bunny prince and princess world. If you want that, go to an amusement park--but then again, you'll be "paying" for that experience as well.

The Path of Limited or Non-Resistance
I decided to put "limited" in this subhead because I think there's just something so ingrained in us about resisting the present moment when it isn't to our preferences. Preferences, by the way, don't necessarily go away when you wake up. Instead, they become more optional. I prefer to not be yelled at by colleagues and other people. If it happens, it's not as activating as before. I understand that 90% of the time those situations aren't about me. I understand this from a very deep and powerful place within me. However, I still don't particularly want that experience in my life.

So you may have some part of you that still tries to resist as you do your work, and wherever that resistance is, you have something to work on releasing. But you're not trying to be perfect. You're not trying to get out of life without any kind of difficulty. The more deeply you embody awakening, the less you describe life in terms of difficult or easy, good or bad. It is simply life, and whatever is happening--including your three year old screaming at the top of her lungs at 4am--is simply life...neither good or bad. So how do you bring more awareness to yourself to let go of resistance at 4 in the morning?

Meditation and Spiritual Practice, Practice, Practice
I think that for the last couple months I've been beating the drum for discipline. Spiritual discipline helps us to make space for ourselves--our true selves. Without that space, things can get real messy, real fast. Thing get messy even when we have that discipline. I was hardly without tools when I had my awakening several years ago, but it took quite a few years to really figure out how to let go and re-engage with life from a totally different way of being. A lot of people want to run right into awakening, and I have people asking me about how to wake up their Kundalini. I patiently explain that most people don't really want this, and they're not ready for this yet. It's like turning on 400 volts of electricity when you haven't set up all your wiring yet. You're going to get fried.

Subsequently, building a practice and focusing on how you bring awareness to difficult situations goes a looooonnnnng way towards clearing out issues in your life that would immediately get activated with awakening or even with an iddy biddy opening into your deeper self. Everything gets lit up in awakening. So if you have big power issues and have attracted a controlling boss to show you how you give up your power in life, in awakening, you'd be even more freaked out about your difficult work situation. It can be unbearable all at once, and everything else that you haven't worked through gets lit up as well. It incapacitates some people.

Your Work Is Your Own: Don't Expect Others to Change
I think that for many of you working on the spiritual path, you think that everyone will now love you because you're doing this stuff. It's another ego game to somehow manifest the perfect world in our lives. That won't happen. Certainly, people will flow in and out of your life, and right now, I am attracting many amazing and wonderful people that is absolutely awe-inspiring and humbling. The more you act from that deep space of integrity and love, the more you can attract others of the same energy vibration. I wouldn't quite call it law of attraction, but some of that applies (Ultimately, I don't believe everything that comes into our life is because we specifically attracted it into our lives. I also believe that people get into not-so-subtle levels of manipulation by trying to attract "good" stuff and avoiding "bad" stuff. Life is far more vast than any philosophy).

Yet, many people who stay in your life won't change. They still won't get you, and some will want to take out their frustrations with themselves on you. This is when the immature ego in you that's still holding on starts wailing like the 3 year old at 4 AM, "Why doesn't everyone love me?" Sorry. They've got their own stuff to deal with. Instead, pay attention to why you're having this reaction. Very simply in this scenario, we can see an underlying approval issue. Looking for approval from others is usually a shell issue for needing to approve of and love ourselves.

Into the Frying Pan: Deepening Your Awareness When the Heat Is On
Since difficult situations won't go away, I encourage you to use them. When I first suggest this to students and others who connect with me, I'm sure the initial response in their minds is something like, "But I can't do that." Yes, you can, and you're the only one who can do that for you. You need to deal with any avoidance tendencies that you have to stand in that frying pan. Now, the point is not to go looking for difficult situations to prove yourself either, but if you've got lemons, you might as well make lemonade. Having a meditation practice and other practices helps you to become aware of yourself and how to be fully present in these difficult moments so that you fully learn what ever lesson is in them for you.

Building up your awareness and general calmness helps you to take a deeper level of presence out into the world when the situations aren't so serene and peaceful. This, of course, is where deeper awareness is most needed. We can't hide this stuff in monasteries and Sunday meditation groups. We need it in the world...desperately. So if you've got a little bit of an altruistic spirit, think of being in difficult situations mindfully as being one way that you're changing the world. I won't say to enjoy the heat, but pay attention to it. See what is there for you that is making it so "hot."

Martyrs Not Allowed Here
There have been enough martyrs in the name of religion or spirituality, so I don't want you to think that you're just supposed to hurl yourself into the teeth of vicious gossip circles, companies, relationships, and whatnot. This isn't a take-one-for-the-team situation. This is about learning what you need to learn from difficult situations and making the changes that you need within yourself. In some scenarios, you will quit your job, or you will take your power back by sending in your resignation to your boss. In others, it'll mean speaking your voice to your boss (or whoever the abuser is), or perhaps in another, it'll be a mindful, well-documented report to HR about your boss. There are many, many avenues, and there are many, many ways that things can work out.

But most importantly, don't react initially. When things are getting hot, give yourself the extra moment and extra breath to gather yourself. Allow yourself to assess the situation, and then trust your actions. Later on, it's time to journal and delve even more deeply into how you responded and what happened. You may even bring in a trusted friend or co-worker for an outside perspective. And don't expect a perfect solution. There may not be one. As I said, the spiritual path doesn't necessarily make things easier. It is the path through pain and difficulty, not away from it. But I assure you that the more mindfulness and awareness you bring to any difficult situation, the better the chance that something positive results as opposed to going through another cycle of pain and dis-ease.


  1. This is a great post. I was nodding my head in agreement all the way through! I know from my own practice that when some challenging things happened earlier this year, my "habits" kicked in and I got through the difficulties so much better. In fact, the challenging events became my practice in a way, and my faith was deepened over the year. And the difficulties became blessings.

  2. Thank you for sharing, Galen. It's so wonderful to hear others talk about how deepening their spiritual practices has helped them to transmute difficulty into blessing. Awesome.

  3. Thank you for the reminders...my faith too has deepened as a result of "difficult" transitions.

  4. You're welcome, Laura. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hi Jim, thanks for sending me this link. The article comes at hand for the many situations in life.

    Resistance seems to be the key word. I realised that some time ago.

    I don’t offer much resistance to nature’s surprises of bad weather or worse. But when somebody else might have been involved, not doing what is expected, the resistance grows.

    I think that by adjusting ‘expectations’ a lot of resistance can be avoided.
    Resistance against the forces of nature seems pointless, but so is resistance against babies crying, or children making noisy plays outside. What about resistance against suicide interupting traffic? What about resistance against vandalism? What about resistance against a strike happening unexpectedly. What about resistance when somebody cuts you of on the road. Or when someone is threatening your physical integrity? Can we still adjust our expectations. Can we leave them behind alltogether, and live in reality as it unfolds?

    1. There's a difference between resisting a situation and being run-over by whatever happens in it. Accepting that people are vandalizing something is being in non-resistance. That doesn't mean that you don't call the police or say something to the people doing the vandalism. Part of awakened action is doing what you feel true to do in that moment. Usually, people resist what they know they need to do internally and get caught up in mental games. That makes difficult situations unbearable.

  6. do you believe in the law of attraction

    1. The spiritual path is actually not about beliefs. The path to spiritual freedom is about letting go of ego beliefs to see what is.

      Here's a blog post to explain more.

      Letting Go of Beliefs


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