Here’s a quote I often come back to in times of trouble.
Anything which is troubling you, anything which is irritating you, THAT is your teacher.
– Ajahn Chah
Ajahn Chah, for those who don’t know, was an influential Thai Buddhist monk and thinker – the kind of guy you could spend whole days listening to, just to pick his brain and catch a glimpse of the wisdom therein.
And I love this quote because it really enlightens us to the fact that struggles and difficulties, often, are some of life’s greatest gifts to us.
But in the moment, we’re often too blind to see past short-term pain, irritation, or anger. We have a natural aversion to being wrong, a natural aversion to avoiding pain, so we tend to react blindly with mindless responses (primal or conditioned) when we are wrong, or feeling pain.
So in this short article, I’m going to explore this idea that difficulty is a teacher, and that difficulty has almost always a lesson for you, if you’re willing to see it.
On the surface level, that might not seem true, especially if:
○ You’ve just closed a trade (a winning trade or a losing trade) and you’re thinking “I have nothing to learn from that trade… I did everything right, I followed my plan.”
○ You’re facing someone who is being obnoxious and you’re thinking “How can this horrible person be my teacher?”
○ Your car or computer is malfunctioning and you’re thinking “There’s nothing to learn here, this fucking sucks, period”
Of course there are countless other examples but let’s work with those three cases.
Those thoughts right there, that you’re having about those events and circumstances, contain great lessons.
Let’s look at them.
“I have nothing to learn from that trade… I did everything right, I followed my plan.”
The moment you think this way, you’ve essentially shut your mind to learning anything, even though, almost always, there is something to learn though you might not see it.
The lesson here could be to about staying level-headed, so that winning trades don’t go to your head and losing trades don’t make you depressed.
There could be a lesson about keeping your focus on your plan and sticking with your strategy.
There could also be a powerful lesson in patience (good things happens to those who wait), discipline (good things happen to those who are disciplined), and risk taking (you gotta expose yourself and risk in order to earn).
Once you open your mind to these kinds of lessons, that are available everywhere, at any time, life becomes a rich series of lessons.
Because, as Michelangelo once reminded us,
(I’m still learning)
Michelangelo wrote this inscription on a sketch he was working on at the ripe age of 87.
Yes, one never stops learning!
“How can this horrible person be my teacher?”
Same here, if you can open your mind just a crack, you’ll see teachers even in unlikely people.
There’s certainly a lesson to learn in terms of how you’re reacting to difficult and obnoxious people.
But, those people are dealing with their own struggles, believe it or not, and that’s what is causing them to act a certain way in the world. That itself can become a lesson for you.
You learn to see their attachments that are causing their struggles, because you’ve been studying it in yourself.
You learn how to deal with people who are struggling, which is another powerful lesson, and then you learn to deal with your own struggling that’s caused as a result of their struggling.
None of these are easy lessons, but they are there, if you are willing to see them.
“My car (or computer) broke down… there’s nothing to learn here.”
The frustration that you feel here is the frustration that everyone else feels to a certain extent.
So in learning about your own struggles you’re learning about what ails us all: attachment, impatience, blind reactivity… That could be a great lesson in dealing with those things.
You see, by changing your viewpoint (and your response), in this way, every trade you place, every meeting with a person, every interaction with the world, becomes an opportunity for learning: about struggles, about openness and curiosity, about process, about appreciating the moment in front of us, about attachments and how to deal with them, about mindfulness and being present with emotions, about becoming intimate with our emotions…
All of this is offered to us, all the time.
Struggles then, seen through the right angle, aren’t exactly limitations… or things we consider to be
obstacles … instead, they are opportunities.
It means that you can let down some of your defenses and natural aversion to being wrong (or feeling
pain), and, instead invite openness and curiosity.
You can already see that this isn’t the easiest of concepts to practice … but the learning that results from
it is truly powerful. You’re opening up a door to learning that is closed to most people, and life becomes
richer as a result.