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Chapter 10 Turning Chaos Into Opportunity; Facing Adversity, Problems and Flaws

That which does not kill me makes me stronger, Nietzsche

"This first stage of the mythological journey--which we have designated the "call to adventure" --signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown."
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

A heart attack during the night killed my father when I was 11 years old. Just the day before he'd been discharged from the hospital after treatment for chest pains due to blocked coronary arteries. The doctors had given him only a short time to live.

A house full of overwrought aunts and uncles awakened me from a sound sleep, to break the news my dad had died. I didn't cry when They first told me. I didn't cry as I walked down the block to tell my best friend Stan that I couldn't go to the movies with him that afternoon. I didn't cry with Stan's mother when she found out why I couldn't go. In fact it was years before I cried over my father's death.

I both loved and feared my father, who was a strict disciplinarian. After he died, I went through my adolescence trying to be strong, hiding my sadness and sense of loss, fulfilling my role as the man of the house. But I used my dad's death as a crutch to excuse my personal foul-ups, problems and shortcomings: "I didn't have a strong role model for self discipline and mature manhood"; "I didn't get help with my career from my father as my friends did from their's"; "I was deprived as a teenager." I even blamed my father's death for my lack of self discipline when I slept through a 3:00 P.M. class as a college freshman. My teenage years were spent resenting the fact that Dad smoked too much and left our family too soon.

My father loved to play cards. He had a regular poker game each week, and he was the man the others always tried to beat. The night before my father died, he and I played a card game and I won three times. ''I beat Daddy!'' I excitedly reported to my mother that night.

I forgot about that card game until I mentioned it years later to psychologist Thomas Budzynski, inventor of audio-aided muscle biofeedback. Tom said the concept of ''beating Dad'' or ''doing better than Dad'' was very important for my self-esteem and for establishing my ability to succeed. As I looked back on that night from Tom's perspective, it was like finding a present my father had tucked away for me 26 years before. Since then, I've had the pleasure of having my own children "beat me" many times, often remembering how my father left me his gift.

Acknowledge that Adversity Is Part of Life

My father's death was one of my greatest losses. Perhaps my story has prompted you to think about the most painful adversity you ever faced or might have to face--the death of a loved one, major illness, abuse as a child, addiction, financial disaster. The more painful the form of adversity the more devastating the loss, anguish and emptiness it creates in your in life. It can take a long time to fill such voids, recover emotionally and put your life back together. Yet adversity is programmed into life--it's part of growing up, of parenting, of aging and dying. For example, when young children die, their parents suffer great pain, desolation and anguish. But the human mind and spirit have the strength to recover from tremendous devastation. We are biologically and spiritually endowed with resources unknown to us until we need them. Perhaps that's why folk wisdom suggests we use only ten percent of our brains' potential. The other 90 percent is kept in reserve for when we need it during injury or emergencies or when we are reaching the highest heights of our potential, or, as psychologist Abraham Maslow described, actualizing ourselves.

Adversity can be both awful and wonderful. Soldiers regale each other with tales of heroism and courage in the face of adversity. Adversity shapes us slowly but steadily just as water carves out canyons and wears down mountains. Like water, adversity is ever present and has many helpful and harmful faces: sometimes the life-saving trickle of water provides a drink in the desert, only to turn into a deadly flash flood. The relentless killer of a storm at sea an hour later becomes a light shower making rainbows and nurturing crops further inland. I like water. It washes me. I swim in it. I ski on snow. I put tea in it. It makes rainbows and helps my flowers grow, makes clouds for beautiful sunsets. I flush my toilet with it. I may be all wet stretching the metaphor, but adversity is not as adverse to me as it used to be. No matter how terrible the test, how enormous the obstacle, how dim the prospects for the future, we know we'll survive and go on. We're built for it, and can often come out better than before!

Adversity is a natural part of life. The way to handle adversity best is to flow with it and make the most of any new situation it presents. We must learn the rhythm of adversity so we can give ourselves permission to complain and to grieve as much as is necessary and appropriate, but no more. Life without adversity can lead to jaded ennui, boredom and emptiness and can produce responses as uncomfortable and unhealthy as the most painful life events. Consider the rockers and other celebrities who succomb to success's darker side-- drugs, wild partying and material excesses.

Transform Fog Into a Rainbow

Steven, a client of mine, suffered for more than two years from the effects of a back injury he received on the job. He was a very angry man. He was angry at his employer for the negligence that resulted in the accident. He was angry at his doctors for letting him down by not healing him. And he was angry at his insurance company for not underwriting more treatment. In fact, Steven spent most of his time feeling angry and depressed, obsessing on all the injustices he suffered.

When Steven came to see me for counseling, I started the first session with my standard opening question, ''Why are you here?'' He began a mechanical recitation of the symptoms I often hear from chronic pain patients: anxiety, insomnia, irritability, loss of sexual desire, depression, headaches, boredom. Midway through the interview, when Steven seemed particularly low-- depressed and angry-- I asked him to take an emotional ''snapshot'' of how he was feeling. Then he continued his recitation, including detailed descriptions of the many painful and unsuccessful medical treatments he'd been through.

After I felt he'd spent enough time on the negatives, I asked Steven, ''What relieves your symptoms? What's good in your life? What are your strengths? Describe some of your positive experiences--those that made you laugh, or feel wonderful, glowing inside.''

''Nobody's asked me that before, ''Steven replied, a bit surprised, wiping the beginning of a tear from his eye. He thought for a moment, and began reciting another list dusting off a much more positive self-image that he'd ignored for far too long. ''I'm a loving father;'' he began, smiling softly. ''I really enjoy playing with our family's pet cat.'' His eyes twinkled. ''I'm smart.'' Then, after a few minutes recalling good feelings he'd enjoyed with his children, Steven really began to glow.''Take an emotional snapshot, of how you feel now;'' I told Steven. ''You feel pretty good at this moment, don't you? Yet you were feeling pretty bad five minutes ago. You turned on your good feelings in just a few minutes. Sure, I helped, but you really did it on your own,'' I told Steven. ''My goal is to teach you to focus on your good feelings, rather than your negative ones. You must learn to highlight your strengths and productive efforts, to make the most of your positive experiences and of whatever opportunities for happiness you encounter.''

I pointed out that Steven put all his energy into negative reactions to his pain and the ''rotten and unfair treatment'' he received.

''What would you do, if you learned two years from now that nothing could be done about your problems?'' I asked. ''Would you stay angry and depressed anyway; the rest of your life? Or would you accept the fact that you might always have some pain, and start to make the most of the assets you do have? Why not start today? The worst that can happen is that your pain will persist. Even if it does, you'll be making plans, and taking steps to get on with a meaningful life. And in the best case scenario, if your pain should disappear, you will have made the most of each day, rather than suffering while you waited for the problem to disappear.

Facing Life's Little Deaths

Like Steven, victims of adversity often immobilize themselves with negative emotions. To be happy we must make peace with problems and painful life situations that we cannot change. In a sense, the stages of death and dying defined by Elizabeth Kubler Ross--first disbelief and denial, then anger, depression, and then acceptance--also apply to chronic problems, painful adversity, and even to some forms of everyday hassles-- life's ''little deaths.''

It's tempting to use a problem or a long-standing difficulty--a difficult marriage, a stammer, an unreasonable boss, a chronic illness--as an excuse to avoid dealing with the real problem. People tend to sidestep the positive act of evaluating their options. Emotional inertia makes it easier to stew in their troubles than to work out solutions and to accept challenges. The trick to riding on top of adversity's emotional tidal wave, to survive our crises is to adroitly get back on the track as quickly as possible. No matter how painful the adversity, use it to energize you to meaningful action. Follow the example of parents who have lost children and then went on to found organizations or programs to help prevent the suffering of other parents and children.

How People Cope

I started my business in a rented townhouse where I lived with my family. After about a year, the town zoning officer paid me a visit. She told me it was against zoning regulations to operate a small business in my house and that if I didn't cease and desist operations within 30 days, I would be fined $500 a day. So I was forced to move.

I was upset at the time, but now I've come to appreciate the incident. The move enabled my company to grow to many times the size it was then. As a result of that move, I head an international company that publishes music, self-help tapes, and software. That time of adversity turned out to be a plus for me.

Take heart from the following examples of how people deal with adversity:

One month after Sharon moved into a new, more expensive apartment, she was laid off from the highest-paying job she'd ever had. But she didn't panic. Rather, Sharon immediately began to look for a new job. It took two months of searching the employment ads, making phone calls, networking with business associates, and interviewing, to find a new job. But the job she found paid even more than the one she lost. And it was more interesting, challenging, and rewarding. Sharon concluded that her former boss had done her a favor by letting her go.

In contrast, Betty took a long time putting her life back together after a heart attack killed her husband. She mourned for four years, feeling isolated and depressed. Then after 16 years, at 65, she married a widower whom she'd known 40 years ago and met again while visiting a mutual friend. Betty suddenly became more alive, active, and energetic than she'd been in the twenty years since her first husband died. The only sad part of the story is that it took so long for them to connect.

Stan was adding a 5,000 square foot wing to the medical clinic he founded, and he was having plenty of aggravation in the process. The builders fell behind schedule, and electricians made mistakes. Stan was trying to oversee this major project while maintaining a busy psychotherapy practice. Stan felt burned out, stressed, and frustrated. Yet, when asked how he was coping, he said, ''I'm chalking the whole experience up to growing pains.'' I like that approach. Growing pains can be used as a great metaphor for problems we encounter on our way through life. We grow in experience and character every day of our lives.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Preferable

As these stories show, adversity demands appraisal, decision and action. It can force us to change comfortable routines or attitudes. Sometimes adversity takes something from us, and sometimes it helps us move in an important new direction. British statesman Benjamin Disraeli said, ''What appear to be calamities are often the sources of fortune.''

We can't tell what will happen as we enter the special moments in life that play important roles in determining our direction. Often, we don't even recognize a pivotal moment. So it makes sense to consider every problem, mild or serious, as a possible positive turning point in your life, an opportunity to make a quantum leap toward better things as you react to the adversity. When I find myself facing adversity, hassles, problems or aggravation, I try to remember to ask myself "Where's the opportunity? How can I turn this around so something good comes out of it?"

Every recovery from an adverse experience is a success, a positive experience which adds to your ability to cope with the next adverse experience. (And there is always a ''next'' one. ''There are three basic literary themes--man against man, man against nature, and man against himself--the interpersonal, physical and psychological'' writes psychologist David Rudick, Ph.D. ''These are all connected together so each time you cope with one kind, it helps you to cope with all the different kinds of adverse situations by increasing your repertoire of positive ways of coping.''

The experiences that make you most angry or pain you most should be your teachers, advises Elizabeth Kubler Ross. Learn from them and grow. It's comforting to know that Nobel prize winner Ilya Prigogine proved that in the chemical world, when chaos and disorder are introduced into a situation, higher levels of organization and order are often produced. You should treat the problems you encounter in life as stepping stones to a higher wisdom and keener self-understanding.

Who Can We Blame--God?

No matter how wise or stoic you become, there are some devastating losses in life-- the death of a loved one or the loss of a job--that seem to defy a positive interpretation or offer no positive opportunities.

People suffering the most painful forms of adversity often make themselves feel worse by speculating that God might be punishing them for a sinful life, for a lack of faith or not enough prayer. In his book, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner suggests that God does not necessarily watch over every single event in the world-- natural or human. ''God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal, living in a world of inflexible natural laws.... Because the tragedy is not God's will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are.'' Kushner concludes that you need to be able to forgive and love God even though he disappointed you, even though it seems he let you down by allowing his less than perfect world to include cruelty, bad luck, sickness and pain, and allows some of those things to happen to you. "...the ability to forgive and the ability to love are the weapons God has given us to enable us to live fully, bravely and meaningfully in this less than perfect world."

Many psychologists and religious experts advise that when you experience such painful suffering, the healing response is not, ''Why did this happen to me?'' rather, to find meaning in your suffering and to ask,''Now that it's happened to me, what am I going to do about it?''

In and Out of Trouble

A philosophical friend of mine recently complained to me that Sean, his 15-month-old son was learning new skills that could easily endanger him. For example, the toddler learned how to climb up on a kitchen chair about two weeks before he learned how to get down safely. It reminded me of my son Ben, who at age two had imitated his five-year-old sister and her friends by jumping off the sofa. He hurt his leg and limped for a week. The older kids knew how to jump without hurting themselves, but Ben still hadn't mastered that skill.

We go through all of life that way, starting things before we know how to finish them. The same is true of adversity. When we find ourselves in a new, dangerous or painful situation, we have to get out of it and move ahead.

Don't Overreact to Adversity

A prolonged stimulus, even if it is a positive, wonderful experience, creates boredom and finally sleep. (I once heard a well known comedienne remark "My friend told me she was in labor for 36 hours. I don't even want to do something I enjoy for that long!") We need challenges and surprises to regularly stimulate our nervous system. The history of human evolution, growth and achievement is a long path strewn with unmarked pitfalls, seemingly unscalable heights, uncrossable chasms, devastating catastrophes, and awful losses. But somehow we humans did prevail; we did survive. Our nervous system is actually engineered to thrive on regular bouts with stressors. Stress develops inner strength, wisdom and character, the way lifting weights develops muscles. You stretch and strain and hurt a bit, then heal stronger than before, better able to handle the weight of the world.

Researcher/physician Hans Selye observed that when a stressor sets off the stress response, the body reacts to protect and heal itself. But sometimes the body overreacts and continues to do so after the injury or threat is past. When that happens, the stress response itself can cause injury, even death. Adversity can also cause a situational, interpersonal or emotional stress response that can become more harmful than it is protective. The physiological effects Selye described are just one kind of suffering.

Humans have the ability to experience more kinds and dimensions of stress than any other creature. Our wonderful mind allows us to fabricate an exquisite tapestry of potential disaster, failure, guilt, embarrassment, panic, and depression.

How do you cope with hassles, irritation, disappointment and loss? Do you get angry, depressed, anxious or frightened? If you do it's important to learn how to deal with adversity more flexibly. Think back to times when you've faced changes, surprises, twists or roadblocks in life's journey and welcomed them or shrugged them off as minor hindrances. You've taken difficulties or barriers and transformed them from obstructions into levers and fulcrums that lifted you to a new and stronger self. If you did it before, you can learn to systematically do it again and again--almost at will, when you need to or want to.

Dealing with Loss--and with Being Lost

Adversity brings uncertainty. Things don't go according to plan, and sometimes they turn out even worse than you thought possible. Changes which produce loss in your life, or major alterations in your world-- like death of a loved one, marriage, job changes, graduation, problems, moves --can make you feel you are in a place or time you didn't want or expect to be, in a sense, lost. You have to find your way back to safety and comfort and regain the feeling of being in control of your life.

You can get lost every time you get out of your groove or experience a change, whether it's anticipated or not. You lose some of the regular ingredients in your life, your momentum and direction. And the greater the adversity, the further you're shifted from your accustomed path. Getting lost is a terrifying experience for agoraphobics (those who fear losing control and having a panic attack.) The mere thought produces intense anticipatory anxiety. But for a recovering agoraphobic, getting lost, then meeting the challenge of finding the way back home, surviving the fear, provides a wonderful sense of accomplishment. In the same way, getting lost through adversity or adventure can be salutary, because getting ''un-lost'' is a very worthwhile triumph that builds character and resilience. Most times after you get "un-lost," you don't merely return to home base; you encounter new paths, and parts of the world and discover new ways not only get where you are going but also how to get more from life.

At the Growth Opportunity Center in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, our therapy program for agoraphobics includes deliberately arranging for the patient to get lost. We discuss with the patient the possibility of his getting lost, then he ventures out, waiting for it to happen.

Shirley was a 45 year old agoraphobic who feared flying anywhere or driving more than a few miles. On one occasion, when Shirley missed a turn she was lost for about 10 minutes. At first, she was frightened. However, she had been prepared to handle the situation. She appraised the situation, saw she could handle at least the next few moments, relaxed, decided on the best road to take, and was back in safe, familiar territory in a few minutes.

Getting "un-lost" was a major breakthrough for Shirley, and she capitalized on it by flying to Europe several weeks later and actually enjoying the flight. A year earlier, just the thought of flying and being far from home would have brought on a panic attack in Shirley--complete with acute anxiety, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.

Try getting lost intentionally. Drive into the country or a part of town you're not familiar with. Make random turns until you're not sure where you are. Then find your way out. Ask for help. Use a map. Explore. Don't Rush. Give yourself time to have fun with it. Getting lost on purpose or in adversity can help you to learn more about yourself. It forces you to try out new behaviors and explore new feelings as a way to find yourself. Each time you succeed and find yourself, you feel more in control, more confident about your ability to come through anything. You are in control and you can make good things happen.

Soaring When Ill Winds Blow

While browsing in a kite shop at the New Jersey shore, I had overheard a salesman named Dan speaking with the kind of enthusiasm you seldom hear from the average summer worker. ~''There's no comparison between single and double string,'' he was saying. ''A second string gives you incredible control. You can make the kite do anything--swoop, dive, touch the tip of its tail on a wave, run along just above the water, then rocket it up to the clouds at 90 to 100 miles per hour!'

Next day I was on the beach setting up my own two-string kite, wondering whether the extra five minutes of set-up time was worth it, and I noticed someone flying a single-string kite just as I had always done. He could pull in the string or let it out to raise or lower the kite, but that was all. As soon as my kite caught the first gentle gust of wind I felt my new power of control. It dipped deeply to the right and I merely pulled on the left string to send the kite soaring up--perfect control! In minutes, I was guiding my kite into triple spins and dives. My kite came to life. Nearby, the single string kite floated dead in the air.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could add a second string, or a whole cable of control strings to our lives, to control the many complex factors that push and pull us this way and that from one moment to the next?

We can, of course, and often do, but it seems so easy to live life on automatic, not paying attention to the different strings we can control.

There are also many aspects of ourselves we don't pay attention to and hence, don't have any way to control. We're flying along on a single string, up in the air, out of control of those areas of our lives.

With a single-string kite, you can put a stake in the ground, tie the string to the stake and ignore the kite afterwards. As long as there's enough wind, the kite will stay aloft--steady and stable but predictable, even boring. On the other hand, a double string kite requires more attention to keep the strings from getting twisted. But the possibilities that come with taking control make the effort worthwhile. When we start to realize that our lives are controllable, not at the mercy of the winds, we want to add control strings. With our new " control strings" hassles and problems become challenges and opportunities we can use to help soar higher.

Self-Help for Facing Every Kind of Adversity

Appraisal, decision, and action are the basic three steps in coping with adversity. First you examine (appraise) the problem in the light of how it affects you now and what its long-term effects might be. A silly and embarrassing remark made by your spouse may be incredibly annoying at the time, but a year later it will be forgotten. So your decision would be to take minimal action. If the problem is more serious (perhaps a major illness) a more comprehensive appraisal is necessary. Investigate to find out the facts so you know the options you must base your decision on (current research, treatment approaches offered by local hospitals, medical insurance coverage, recovery considerations, risk factors). Then, finally, put the plan in action (give the doctor your consent for the operation, hire nurses, make a loan).

Appraisal should be as creative as possible. I outline and analyze the things I want to work on using Mind Mapping, an approach suggested in Tony Buzan's book, Use Both Sides Of Your Brain. I've used mind maps to figure out the best way to address business problems, plan speeches, write articles, treat patients and assess arrangements for moving to a new house. Figure 7-1 is an example of a mind map for coping with the loss of a job.

As you can see, the main topic--in this case, a lost job is in the center. Spokes leading off from the hub connect to boxes that represent important areas of consideration. Each box has lines to sub topics. You make the structure grow as it helps you think of new connected ideas. Unlike the outline format you learned in school--I, II, A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, a,b,c, and so forth--which forces you to think sequentially, Buzan's whole brain mind mapping helps you to use intuition, imagination, and creativity to work toward solutions to a problem.

You can use any single line, circle or square within the mind map to make a whole new map with even more solutions. You can use different colors, shapes, and lines to connect individual areas, and add to the complexity of the outline.

I created a mind map with Lillian (Figure 7-2) for coping with chemotherapy. This 64-year-old patient had breast cancer which spread to her lungs and liver two years after her double mastectomy. She was facing each chemotherapy treatment with great dread. The map reflects her anticipation of the uncomfortable experience, a plan for dealing with the day of chemotherapy, and the next three to five days of recovery from it. For Lillian, this was a soothing and effective method for dealing with a daunting prospect.

After you've used a mind map to flesh out and fully appraise your situation, you can use a conventional ''A, B, C, 1, 2, 3,'' outline to decide on what steps to take.

The Reverend Robert Schuller describes his approach to challenges in his book,. Tough Times Don't Last, Tough People Do. He makes it a practice to list ten different ways to deal with whatever needs a problem's challenges create (choosing the topic for a sermon, helping a troubled parishioner, planning a new building campaign). Using this approach he raised millions of dollars to build the Crystal Cathedral, the largest most unusual church in California. You can take advantage of the list approach for dealing with your own problems. Pick out a problem. Then write down ten solutions-- from practical to outlandish.

Mirror Work

We all have areas of our life we'd like to improve. Happy people can acknowledge these shortcomings and keep them in perspective. They can look themselves in the mirror and still feel good about and like themselves, regardless of their faults. Sometimes our flaws and errors can actually help us. In fact, they might be so inseparable from our greatest strengths we're better off keeping, not curing them. Don't miss out on their power.

Groucho Marx's joke ''I'd never join a club that was willing to accept me as a member.'' rings true for so many people who won't see themselves as loveable, or even likable. If you are one of these, try the following exercise. It is simple, but challenging to do. Look in a mirror, smile at yourself, and like what you see. Forgive yourself for all your flaws, mistakes, blemishes, unreached goals and projects, and so forth. You will always be aware of ways you need to improve, but awareness doesn't require brutal or unrelenting self-punishment for your lack of perfection. You need to learn to love yourself while you are on the road to improvement because the trip lasts as long as you live.

Look in the mirror and repeat the following affirmations:

Hi there friend. You are a good person. I, am a good person. I look good just as I am. I like myself. I love myself. I'm okay the away I am, even if I never change. I'm really good now, even though I'm still working on improving.

Look yourself in the eye and smile warmly as though you are looking into the eye of a friend who loves and cares about you, who wants the best for you. Make those feelings happen. Let them come to the surface.

Courage Leads To Happiness

The worst losses may not respond to just positive reinterpretation and flexibility. When you lose someone you love, your health, your life's work or your dreams, it is much easier to cope if you've prepared yourself. You can't second guess death or disaster, but you can make the most of each day of your life. Then, if disaster strikes, you can be consoled by knowing you were as loving and giving as you were able. Be prepared for disaster with life, disability and health insurance and resources that will make life easier. Don't dig a bomb shelter, but know what to do and be prepared. It also helps if you give as much unconditional love as you can in your life so you will be buttressed by many caring friends. Cultivate your mind, body and spirit so you are strong in all spheres when disaster strikes.

Make the most of your life by maximizing your positive experiences and saving them as described in chapter ten.


One way to grow stronger is to re-define the adversity you encounter in life as a natural part of its flow, so you see troubles as challenges, as a lifeguard sees small waves as part of the path he follows each day in patrolling the beach with his row boat.

Concentration camp imprisonment is just about the worst mass experienced adversity suffered in this century. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl developed a whole theory of psychotherapy out of his experience in Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps. Most of the people he encountered died from typhus, starvation, loss of hope, gas chambers, mass execution and lethal slave labor. He was senselessly beaten and deprived of all dignity. Happy moments in the concentration camp meant only trudging a mile or two in the snow with no socks and ill fitting shoes, instead of five or ten miles. Happiness was having time to de-louse before going to sleep on a nine foot "bed" of wood slats with eight other prisoners sharing two blankets. Only a relative handful of people survived the concentration camps as long as Frankl. What gave him the strength?

He developed a philosophy: "..everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." He was strengthened by the words of Feodor Dostoevski, "There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings."

Surrounded by corpses and living skeletons, Frankl carved out a philosophy of survival, declaring to himself, and on occasion, raising the spirits of his fellow prisoners, "...Man's inner strength may raise him above his outward fate."

"The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity-- even under the most difficult circumstances-- to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified, and unselfish.

Lillian had a similar experience. Twice, cancer brought her close to death. Afterwards, she was able to make peace with herself and the people she loved. She achieved an emotional state of equanimity that allowed her to find more pleasure and happiness in life than she had in the past thirty years. She allowed herself to feel loved. Every three weeks, she suffered the side effects of chemotherapy, but her suffering was balanced with an appreciation of the new road her cancer had led her to.

No doubt, you will suffer your share pain and difficulty in your life. Learn to be flexible in rebounding from the surprises and resourceful in making opportunities out of the challenges you face. Learn to reinterpret your experiences in the light of the potential good that you can make out of them, even out of the darkest of them. Balance the heaviest moments with humor to keep you buoyant when everything seems too serious. Build the strength and speed of your smile reflex so you can use it to buffer your encounters with the difficulties you encounter.

Like taking medicine and getting regular exercise, facing adversity with a smile may not always feel wonderful. But adversity is a part of your life. Own it and connect with it in the most meaningful, life affirming way, so it works to your best advantage.


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