Rise to the challenge

When we are no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves.

Viktor Frankl

Humans have become one of the most successful species on the planet largely through their ability to change the environment around them to their advantage.  This desire to change things around us to suit ourselves is a strong innate drive – hands up anybody who has ever tried to change their partner’s habits!

But what happens when we don’t have the ability to change the external circumstances?  As Viktor Frankl says, then we are challenged to change ourselves.  How many of us can rise to that challenge and how many of us fall into a heap?

Changing ourselves is one of the most difficult things to do. It is so much easier to continue our external focus.  We are just not taught very well to look within.  And the downside of this is that when we are faced with a challenge over which we have no control many of us simply crumple under the pressure or go into denial.

But what gets us by in harder times is our ability to change the way we view our circumstances, to look for the opportunities, or even to accept that which cannot be changed with a graceful sense of surrender to the inevitable.

In yogic philosophy there is a practice called Swadhyaya which translates as ‘self study’.  Self reflection gives us an opportunity to understand how we operate, it encourages us to look at our decisions and actions and our motivations.  The more we know ourselves, the more we can change ourselves when the need arises.  But according to world-renowned yoga teacher Donna Farhi:  “While self study uncovers our strengths, authentic swadhyaya ruthlessly uncovers our weakness, foibles, addictions, habit patterns and negative tendencies.”  And this is why we often give up – it takes strength, courage and commitment to look at your darker side.

So how can we learn to do this and teach our children to do this?

Farhi also says that:  “The form that this self-study takes is inconsequential.  Whatever the practice, as long as there is an intention to know yourself through it, and the commitment to see the process through, almost any activity can become an opportunity for learning about yourself.”

Look at the things you love, look at the way you make decisions, look at your habit patterns and routines.  Question yourself.  Try and look at situations and decisions from as many different perspectives as you can imagine.

Looking at yourself must always be done with non-judgemental eyes. Self compassion is always going to be advantageous over self criticism.  It’s OK to admit that vanity or the desire for wealth or success may be your driving motivational force – we can’t all be Mother Theresas.

Embrace your shadow side instead of trying to pretend it doesn’t exist or that it is really something else.  Once you understand why you’re on a certain path you may find it easier to switch if that’s what you truly desire.  But until you understand your true allegiances you will never understand the power that is steering you in a particular direction.  What you don’t understand you will never gain control over because it’s like fumbling around in the dark.

Maybe the Scouts have it right – be prepared.  Gain this inner knowledge when you’re not pressured with a huge overwhelming dilemma.  You may be able to see things much more clearly without the weight of the world bearing down on your shoulders.  But in saying that there is sometimes nothing like being thrown in the deep end.  Making the choice between sink or swim can often be your defining moment.


The Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl

Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit, Donna Farhi