“If life is a bowl of cherries then what am I doing in the pits?” – Erma Bombeck
We were never promised a bowl of cherries
There seems to be a common human delusion that if we’re “good” and do “good things” that life will respond by being “good” – a.k.a. struggle- and pain-free. Maybe it is less a delusion than a hope. Delusion or hope, it creates in us an innate resistance to life’s challenging or uncomfortable moments.
This resistance blinds us to the reality that life is joy and suffering, comfort and pain, success and failure. Please note, and not or. Life is both. In fact, the most meaningful moments in my life, the times when I’ve learned and grown the most, have sprung from challenging, uncomfortable, and even painful times. I suspect this is true for you as well.
Struggle helps us develop into our best selves
Henri Nouwen, Dutch priest, author, and professor, writes,
“… in order to become full human beings, we have to claim the totality of our experience; we come to maturity by integrating not only the light but also the dark side of our story into our selfhood.”
In other words, we cannot become the people we are meant to be without accepting and squeezing the juice out of every single moment in our lives, even those we would not have chosen.
Howard Thurman, American author, pastor, educator, and civil rights leader taught that we cannot merely “acquire knowledge of self – it is realized through struggle.” In other words, not only do our struggles reveal to us our own greatest gifts and abilities but navigating them gives our life its deepest meaning – to us and to the world around us.
Yoga offers us a safe place to practice struggling
My yoga mat has provided a safe arena for me to practice the art of opening myself to the gifts of both challenges and suffering.
None of us can practice yoga without running into a posture that is difficult or impossible for us. It is in fact these challenges that are the heart of the practice – teaching us to maintain the same attitude whether we can or cannot do what is asked of us. The key to this even attitude is a willingness to accept our mistakes and failures as invitations to keep on practicing, to keep on learning, and to continue to grow.
It is also true that none of us can practice yoga without eventually having to deal with an ache, pain, illness, or injury. The fact that these human bodies of ours are not invincible has much to teach us. On our yoga mats, we learn to be gentle with ourselves; to seek the lessons hiding in the pain; to be flexible about what is possible; to stay open to new ways when the old no longer serve us. Ultimately, we learn that pain is inevitable, but the choice to suffer or not is ours to make.
Because of my practice, I have been better prepared to navigate struggles in all areas of my life. Flooded basements. Job changes. An emptying and re-filling nest. An exhausting period of political discord. Illness, my own and others. Grief. A seemingly endless pandemic. The list goes on. I will not.
To struggle gracefully means to struggle with optimism, faith, and gratitude
Does this mean I haven’t been anxious or angry, deflated or depressed, frustrated or frantic? Heck no. What it means is that I have felt all these ways while knowing that I will eventually get through whatever is causing me pain. Not only that, but I have faith that the current challenge, like all those before it and after it, will leave me stronger and wiser and a little bit closer to being the woman I am capable of being.
But the most important lesson I have learned from my yoga practice and my life is that navigating what Erma Bombeck refers to as life’s “pits” is a whole lot easier when I stay keenly aware and deeply grateful for all of life’s cherries. Because, even in our darkest moments, there are always cherries.
 Walter Earl Fluker, The inward Sea: Mapping Interior Landmarks for Leaders, in Anchored in the Current: Discovering Howard Thurman as Educator, Activist, Guide, and Prophet, edited by Gregory C. Ellison II