I came across a wonderful quote by Buddha the other day that said, “If you focus on hurt, you will continue to suffer. If you focus on the lesson, you will continue to grow.” It really is the best advice. Let’s talk about why.
When Life Hurts, Focus on the Lesson…Not the Pain
Life hurts sometimes. Like really, really hurts in a soul-crushing way. I think we’ve all had moments where we wondered if we were just put on this earth to suffer. I know in those times, hearing someone say something like, “Look on the bright side,” or “Think positive,” or “Everything happens for a reason” is about the least helpful thing ever.
I’m not going to say those things to you. Sometimes, awful things happen for no reason. There is no bright side and no positive way to spin it. Instead, I’ll give you a piece of advice that really helps me, and that’s echoed in the Buddhist quote above: focus on the lesson, not the pain and suffering. I know that still sounds a bit trite, so let me explain.
What does it mean to focus on the lesson instead of the suffering?
Focusing on the lesson instead of the suffering does NOT mean completely ignoring your pain or pushing it aside. That would make it really awful advice since nothing good ever comes of ignoring our feelings or grief. Instead, it means bringing the lesson to the forefront.
Let me explain using a visual aid. Imagine that everything in the picture above represents a painful moment in your life. The clouds, the ocean, the cliffs- all are part of your pain. The lighthouse, however, is the lesson you’ve learned.
Now look again. Just like the ocean, mountains, and everything else is still there, so is your pain. However, by shifting your gaze just right, you can blur out almost everything except the lesson and make it the real center of your focus. You’re not ignoring the rest of the picture. You can clearly still see that it’s there, waiting for you to shift your eyes again and take it all in.
For now, though, you’re choosing to look at the one thing that can help you move through the pain and grow. Hmmm, kind of like how a lighthouse guides you through the dark. I swear that’s a total happy coincidence, I didn’t even think of that when I picked the photo.
Our lessons shape who we become
There’s another quote that I really love that explains how life’s lessons shape us. I’m not sure who said it, but it goes, “You’re so hard on yourself. Take a moment. Sit back. Marvel at your life, at the grief that softened you, at the heartache that wizened you, at the suffering that strengthened you. Despite everything, you will still grow. Be proud of this.”
We are the sum of our experiences. Every single moment from the day you were born until right now led up to the person you’ve become, and you’re not even done. Today, life will throw something new at you. I hope it’s something amazing, of course, but even if it’s not, you’re going to learn something from it, and it will shape who you are tomorrow.
When you focus only on your feelings, you miss the chance to grow
When you only focus on how an experience makes you feel – be it joy or sadness – you’re missing the bigger picture. You’re denying yourself a chance to grow, to keep moving, to progress along this epic journey we call life. You basically become frozen in time.
Think of life as a road trip. If you get a flat tire along the way and don’t have a spare. You have three choices. First, you can call AAA, get it fixed, and move on. Second, you can sit on the side of the road crying for a few hours, then get it fixed and go back home because the whole trip is just ruined for you. Last, you can acknowledge that you’re pretty upset by this rotten turn of events, get the tire fixed AND buy a spare. Then you get back in your car and keep going.
A happy-go-lucky positive person would do the first thing. A “the glass is always empty” negative person the second. A SMART and well-adjusted person, however, does the third. They allow themselves a few moments to just feel their feelings. Then they focus on the lesson and use it to make sure they never find themselves in that position again.
It’s okay if you need a moment before focusing on the lesson
There’s a saying by Plato (or at least it’s attributed to Plato, but no one actually knows if he really said it) that goes, “Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.” Sometimes, our progress is slow. Life throws major hurdles at us, and we need to take a moment before we can focus on the lesson.
That’s fine. Take your moment. Acknowledge your pain. Give it the attention it demands. Then, let it fade into the background. Focus on the lesson and keep moving forward.