My five year old son recently asked me, “Mom, why are there bad guys in the world?” Without much thinking I replied, “Because without them no one would get the chance to be a superhero.” I surprised even myself with the unexpected profundity of my response.
But this is, essentially, my core philosophy and what I teach as a spiritual counselor. Yet it is so easy to forget in the midst of our trials and tribulations. We live in a world of duality — good and bad, happy and sad, up and down. And in most situations of duality, we tend to spend our lives trying to stay safely on the “positive side” of the pendulum.
When life’s inevitable challenges and “bad guys” confront us, we often fall into resistance or can easily feel like a victim. What if today, just for fun, you saw all of the people that irk you, and all of the situations not going your way, as invitations to be a superhero in your own life? Could you see the homeless person as providing an opportunity to be compassionate, the long line at the grocery the chance to be patient, the jerk that cut you off in traffic as the invitation to be flexible and forgiving? The essential question to ask yourself is: how do you respond to difficult circumstances?
Relatedly, what if we thought of all the negative things in the world as opportunities to experience the positive side of duality? I genuinely believe that life, and all of the things that comprise it, is fundamentally neutral at its baseline; it is only our stories about what is happening that are positive or negative. And it is in our stories that we define ourselves.
In other words, we get to choose whether we going to write a story of triumph and heroism or one of tragedy. But none of this is about sugar-coating things: sometimes life throws us some real crap. I know…
For example, I used to own a complex and energy intensive business. I bought it — completely transformed it — doubled the revenues — and it thrived for eight years. Then the U.S. banking meltdown and economic collapse in 2010 came. The capital markets dried up, disposable income shrank and in the midst of this I got hit by a lawsuit that I was not at fault for legally but discovered it would cost me more to prove my innocence then to settle. When I tried to sell the business the only offers I got were way below market value. I felt angry, scared and victimized: by the economy, the government, the plaintiff — even God was on my shit list.
How did I transcend this situation? I asked myself the question, How can I turn this “tragedy” into a “triumph”? I personally was determined not to write a tragedy. My answer to the question was to sell the business at a loss, pay off my legal expenses and debts and take a 6-month sabbatical in Bali to recoup my adrenals and let my kids and me have an amazing international experience. Of course family and friends thought I was nuts. I was literally spending the last bit of savings I had left. Perhaps the sane thing to do was to brush off my CV and get a desk job somewhere — but for me that would have felt like a victim story.
What started out as a six-month vacation turned into a three-year stint living in Bali and starting my own wellness center. Am I glad I went through that experience? Hell no. Would I have consciously chosen it? It depends. Would I give up the adventure of three years in Bali to have avoided the misery I was in? I don’t think so. Who knows? Maybe I needed a serious jolt from my successful-but-exhausting business enterprise to do something radically different. I may never know.
The fact is we can’t always choose WHAT happens to us and we may never know WHY. However, we can always ask this one question: HOW are we going to respond to our lives?
So ask yourself: are you picking HOW’s that reflect who you want to be in the world and in your life? If so, you’ve found the secret to happiness. If not, maybe it’s time to don your superhero cape: there is always another day to be the superhero of your own life.