Here’s the truth about life. Sometimes it turns up wearing camouflage gear and a balaclava, armed to the teeth and hell-bent on hurting you.
Or at least, that’s what it feels like.
We all experience this at least once in our lives. And if it only happens once, then consider yourself fortunate, because it happens to most of us more than once.
This is the moment where everything seems to be going well and apart from the minor day-to-day issues everyone’s dealing with all the time, there’s not much to distract you from the rather pleasant job of enjoying life.
And then, suddenly, everything seems to go to hell in a hand cart in a very short time.
I call this the Triple Smackdown, because it generally seems that these seismic moments arrive in threes, in very quick succession, and there’s nothing remotely routine about them. They are significant, often life-changing events that will, for a time, send you reeling. And you never saw them coming.
Things like the breakdown of your marriage or relationship, losing your job because your company was in a whole heap of trouble no-one knew about, your Dad running off with his best friend’s wife, your business crumbling or the diagnosis of a serious illness.
And when life goes rogue like that, it does it in really creative ways. The problems you suddenly find yourself facing are almost never on the list of a thousand and one things you do worry (probably unnecessarily) will happen.
They’re the fast curve balls out of left field that are almost impossible to get a bead on and deal with before they hit you where it hurts.
Yet although the Triple Smackdown can make it feel like the end of the world has arrived and leave you wondering if you’ll ever be able to get back up, dust yourself down and get on with life normally again, they’re part of life’s great uncertainty – and so part of being truly alive.
Or, as the American Tibetan Buddhist, Pemra Chordron, so eloquently put it: To be alive is be continually thrown out of the nest.
That may feel like cold comfort in the eye of the Triple Smackdown storm, but even though you can’t possibly imagine it at the time, the biggest challenges life throws at you when it goes guerrilla on you can often be its greatest gift.
Life isn’t a movie. There’s no pre-determined script to follow. We set out on a path and to a greater or lesser extent we are the product of the way in which we deal with life’s choices. The big moments – the Triple Smackdown moments – might also be great opportunities: to reassess, reprioritise, reset and then resume on a different path or tangent.
Pemra Chodron, wise owl that she is, also observed that ‘nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to know’. If you’ve followed my blogs for a while, you’ll know this is a theme I return to often.
To interpret that message less eloquently, shit will keep happening to you until you learn from it.
When life comes dressed in combat uniform, there’s usually some sort of reason. It’s a decision point. A moment to question the path you’ve taken and to take a moment to put your head over the parapet and see if there’s another, better route.
When these gut-wrenching, panic-stricken moments arrive, it’s easy to look at life as the enemy when in fact it’s more accurate to look at it as your teacher. A bitch of a teacher, admittedly, but a teacher nevertheless – and one who’s got your back.
it’s painful not getting what you want, it’s agonising having things ripped away from you. But what we want isn’t always what we need.
While you’re caught up in the maelstrom of grief over what is being taken or has been lost, and the bereavement of wanting to regain it, time will often present us with the ability to know that you emerged better, stronger and – eventually – happier, and that things worked out for the best.
And if we can’t – then time will hopefully bring acceptance and peace.
Hindsight is also a bitch, but also your ally.
Vulnerability is part of the human condition. In the howling wasteland of despair, we find the resilience we need to go on once the storm has passed.
If we can ask ourselves what the Triple Smackdown teaches us, rather than asking why me?, we can use that experience to open new doors and gaze at new opportunities and possibilities.
Trying to avoid or drive away pain only defers it. Locking it in the cellar only makes it knock harder on the door and by the time you’re forced to open the door – or the pain breaks it down – and forced to face it (and you will be forced to face it, make no mistake about that), it will have grown into a monster that will be that much harder to beat.
Life takes pleasure in exposing our demons. It presents us with situations and events – or lessons – that leave us raw, vulnerable and scared. And it’s only then, once we’ve confronted those demons, that we can suit up and move on to the new challenges that await.