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How Do You Handle Adversity?

Have you heard the story about the carrot, egg and coffee bean?

A mother placed a carrot, an egg and a coffee bean each in a pot of water. After twenty minutes of boiling she showed her young daughter the results. She explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity, boiling water, yet each had reacted differently.

The carrot, although initially strong, hard and unrelenting, had turned soft and weak. The egg, which started fragile, although still protected by its solid outer shell, had hardened inside. The coffee bean appeared to have remained the same yet had changed the water.

So, which one are you? When faced with challenges, pain or even tragedy, how do you react? Are you like the carrot, seemingly strong, but with adversity tend to wilt and lose your strength? Perhaps you are more like the egg, starting with a fluid heart but become hardened and tough after a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial.

Ideally, we would like to face our challenges as the coffee bean did. The bean actually changed the hot water, the very circumstance that brought the pain. It remained true to its self – releasing its unique flavour and fragrance. It enhanced the hot water and used it for inner personal growth.

The bean’s nature is explained by James Hollis: “The measure of our personal development will hinge on two factors: our willingness to accept responsibility for finding our own myth and our ability to sustain the ambiguity that always precedes a new experience of meaning.”

In order to find ‘our own myth,’ we must first separate our self from the collective by seeking our own path. At the same time, we must deal with the ‘ambiguity’ around our need for security and control. Adversity often challenges one to let go of no longer needed attitudes or perceptions.

We often maintain a childlike paradisiacal attitude and deny or turn away from difficulties. However, problems offer an opportunity to consciously look at issues, decisions and solutions. As Jung  stated, “Man needs difficulties. They are necessary for health.”

Although often hard to imagine, especially when facing a problem in the moment, by embracing the conflict we have an opportunity to see what aspects of our self we are opposing, fearing and wanting to run from. We are asked to maturely face these shadowy traits and viewpoints with a chance of transformation.

Jung suggested that, “The greatest and most important problems at least can not be solved. They cannot be solved, but only overcome.” This overcoming is not solved logically, but appears when one detaches from overused childhood ideologies.

This new or transcendent awareness allows one to be in a place, as Jung imaged, where, “The thunderstorm is still reality, but one is not in it anymore, but above it.”  As the coffee bean did with the water, adversity is best approached by taking time to form a relationship with it and to discern what you are being asked to psychically shift in order to rise above the storm.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.