Shadows on the wall

Treasure - Joseph Campbell

I came across this quote from Joseph Campbell a while ago and it struck me immediately. Yes! Of course. Life is hard. It’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

If you’re having a hard time, you’re not doing it wrong. It’s hard for everyone, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Most importantly, you’re ready for it, even if you don’t know it yet.

Humans are equipped for difficulty. We are outfitted for adversity by design with our big creative brains. We are hard-wired for problem-solving. We have the ability to think about the past, the present and the future; to remember and to anticipate. We can visualize our place in time and space.

We can control our thoughts. We can learn from mistakes. We are able to empathize with other creatures – to think beyond ourselves and our own needs. We can anticipate and avoid danger, and this has helped us survive as a species.

Somehow, however, we have become so averse to experiencing hardship and it’s accompanying emotional pain that we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s not supposed to happen. Worse, we believe that there’s something we can do or something we shouldn’t do, that will ensure a carefree life.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

But here’s the reality: That’s not the way life is, and it’s not how it is meant to be. It just is what it is. Up and down, good and bad. There’s nothing you can do, or anything you can stop doing to ensure a smooth journey through a joyous life. You can’t avoid experiencing the bad stuff. Full stop.

Every being on this planet experiences hardship.

Sadly, though, you can avoid dealing with the pain of those experiences and that’s what’s getting us in trouble now. Our big brains have solved the “life hurts” problem in the short term with all sorts of distractions – food, drugs, sex, social media – it doesn’t really matter what the distraction is as long as it pings the pleasure centers in our big brains, and gets those magic endorphins swimming around in there.

I say in the short term, because typically you can only employ these methods for a relatively brief time before they start contributing to the “life hurts” problem more than solving it, and that’s only if your distraction doesn’t kill you and/or something in your life that matters to you.

Honestly, our happy shiny/everything’s fine/I’m okay you’re okay/skating on the surface/ first world existence is killing us and the planet. Everything is not okay, and our belief that if we’re not “happy” all the time, and doing everything “perfectly” according to society’s whims we’re doing something wrong, is sad, dangerous, and just plain incorrect.

Give yourself a break. Life is hard, and if you get that and you’re facing it head on, then you are doing it right. Bad stuff happens, good stuff happens, and your reaction to both is what has the potential to make your life meaningful, to yourself, other people, and to the planet.

Instead of trying so hard to avoid stumbling, and avoiding the dark places, the problem we should set our big brains on solving is how we can better help each other go in after the treasure, holding hands, and reassuring one another. No more distractions. No more shadows on the wall. Let’s get real. In this year of perfect vision, let’s take the blinders off, and gently, kindly, help each other find our way through in the dark.

If your life is going smoothly right now and you’re having a blast, good for you! Enjoy this time. Regroup and recharge.

If you’re stumbling, do the best you can to keep going. You’re not alone. It doesn’t seem that way if you spend a lot of time on Facebook or Instagram or watching TV, but that’s all fiction. Rarely is real life depicted there. Hang out in the dark for a while until you come out with the treasure. It’s there, and you’ll find it if you look for it, rather than trying to distract yourself from the pain. Be brave.

Feel the pain, but don’t dwell on it. Listen for what it’s trying to tell you and then let it go. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

You may need a guide to lead you through, or maybe just a helmet and some rope. Get what you need. Take care of yourself. Take sandwiches; you may be in there a while. Wear warm clothes. It’ll be scary, but don’t give into the fear. Find your way through, grab the treasure – the wisdom, the healing, the fundamental truth about yourself, and/or your life, the understanding, the ability to go on – and come back into the light.

We’re waiting for you with open arms.