What goes up must come down. This proverb helps us understand that the universe works in cycles and that both parts of the cycle are important. Our tendency, however, is to value only one part of the cycle, the one that creates comfort for us. Valuing only the comfort portion of a cycle limits awareness. By valuing both portions we gain more balance and expand awareness.
Consider the cyclical process of breathing. If we overvalue one portion of the cycle, such as the inhalation, then we undervalue the exhalation. For effective breathing, we need to value the inhalation and exhalation equally. If we overvalue the inhalation, eventually we’ll have to do a huge exhale to get rid of all the excess air we inhaled. Thus, balance is finally restored.

We can probably also see the importance of cycling between activity and rest. We’re active during the day and rest while sleeping at night. If we overvalue activity, and undervalue rest, eventually balance will be restored by an illness that forces us to rest.

Valuing the whole cycle is understandable for the simple process of breathing or balancing activity with rest. Let’s look at cycles that cause more emotional responses, where stress is more acute, usually caused by traumatic events. We tend to overvalue the comfort we experience from being happily married, when none of our friends die, when we’re healthy and when the economy provides us with a job. We tend to undervalue the stress we experience from traumatic events, such as divorce, death, illness, or a down-turn in the economy. If we overvalue comfort, and undervalue stress, eventually balance will be restored by a traumatic event.

We not only resist divorce, death, illness and losing our jobs, we think these events shouldn’t happen. We think that something has gone wrong. And because we think something has gone wrong we label the event “bad.” Recall that learning requires stress. By labeling stress as “bad” we devalue the learning process and the full cycle, and we’re out of balance. Stress is required to shake us out of our comfort zones so we can learn and grow. This tendency, to value comfort and resist stress, is directly related to a mental limitation of the mind. It creates unconsciousness, not awareness.

The point here isn’t that we should love divorce, death, illness, or losing our jobs, but that we accept them as important and valuable parts of our lives. Life is about having experiences, and experiences are defined as the contrast between comfort and stress. We cannot understand happiness without sadness, life without death, health without illness, the comfort of having a job without the stress of not having one.

How many times have we heard people say, after an illness, death of a loved one, or loss of a job that they appreciated life more, learned valuable lessons, and grew from the experience? Stressful events cause us to value deeper, more important aspects of our lives. Yet, there is still an unconscious element to simply being appreciative. We tend to appreciate what traumatic events teach us, once we’re back in our comfort zones. The challenge is accepting, being present for, and valuing traumatic events when we’re in the midst of them. In short, we need to value being in stressful situations.

We develop awareness by accepting stress as an important part of our lives. Acceptance doesn’t mean we ignore the pain and discomfort that stress creates. We hurt when we’re sick; we grieve when a friend dies; we struggle when we don’t have a job. But, with acceptance we’re present for the stress and process ourselves through it. The ability to process stress expands our awareness. With expanded awareness we know that what goes up must come down, thus we don’t resist the “down” part of the cycle.  Without resistance we flow better through the challenges of our lives.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. David Kessler

    During a workout someone invariably says: “no pain no gain”, usually in a negative way directed at those straining. No strain or stress no gain makes more sense to me. It’s about the cycles you sight Arno. Stress and strain yields improvement. Pain usually accompanies injury and breaking.

  2. Annalisa Deal

    I think this is a really great article. I like how it starts with examples that are easy to follow and relate to and then brings it to balance in more difficult areas of life. It’s very well written and a compelling insight. It definitely has me thinking about some things differently since I happen to read it while feeling very stressed. Thanks for posting this. I think it is a valuable read.

  3. Ann

    Thank you! Your perspective and ability to ‘explain’ a concept amazes me. The timing is great too, I’ve been learning about the extremes recently.

    I heard once that the instant of perfect balance in the pendulum swing is when the weight is at the apex and moving at its fastest. Technically speaking it is almost impossible to measure. (Unless, of course, it’s not moving at all)

  4. Arno,

    You have an extraordinary way of taking something so fundamentally simple as breathing, and relating it to the human experience in a way that really resonates with me. I think the idea of balance between stress and comfort is profound. Particularly, understanding and accepting that “good times” and the “bad times” will pass and we can grow from each. I now believe an awareness of this balance will make me a more grounded individual. I can see how it can influence me to become more positive, open to change, and not get caught up into something I can not control and therefore become a distraction. Thank you again for playing the role of the wise old “sensei” and enlightening the rest of us alumni.

    Barry Rusnock
    Riverview Outdoor Adventures

  5. Anna G

    About a month ago my steady climbing partner for close to a year moved back home after his project ended here. He was in my climbing life, committed to three times a week at the local gym, plus trips outside, etc. Focused, dedicated, precise, a soulmate for climbing, really. Now he is gone, nobody has replaced him yet. I boulder more, I pay attention more. This lesson really hit the spot – there is value in this in-between time as well. In fact it is “the time” for now.

  6. Isabel

    Thank you so so much Arno, this is exactly what I needed to hear. I feel blessed to you your words of wisdom in my life.

  7. Mell

    This is another example of how you are able to present deep truths so succintly. Thank you Arno, I love these lessons

  8. Diane Driscoll

    Having just lost a dear friend who drown in his kayak last weekend, I take to heart your words… “The challenge is accepting, being present for, and valuing traumatic events when we’re in the midst of them…”
    Or as my father put it, “Keep the faith, feed the chickens”

  9. Todd Mullenix

    Brilliant insight as always Arno. We tend to think of inhalation as important and exhalation as a result of inhalation. It’s the exhalation however that cleanses us of our “respiratory trash”. Thanks again,Todd

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