This article will discuss something we all face at some point (or several) during our lives: adversity. It asks, and seeks to answer, the question “What is adversity?” as well as discuss the role adversity plays in our individual and collective lives.
Adversity is a fact of life. We all face it sooner or later. Currently, we are collectively facing a form of adversity which is unlike any our ancestors faced before us. This adversity is inviting us to look within and develop the tools we need to face it successfully. In this way, the seed of every solution is contained within the every adversity we face.
What Is Adversity?
Definitions are tricky. This is because a definition, by definition, relies on words and words mean different things to everyone. So when I answer the question “What is adversity?” I am answering it from my own perspective and experience.
Adversity is an obstacle to living a full life. So what is an obstacle? It’s anything which gets in between us and our goals. As human beings we all have goals that appear to be different from one another at first blush, but that are actually quite similar, no matter who you are or where you come from.
All humans want to eat, drink, sleep, and to be comfortable and lazy; these wants are built into us by biology. We are biological entities and as such must conform to the laws set by our biology if we are to survive and reproduce.
But we are not just biological entities. We are spiritual beings, first and foremost. Because of this, we have higher wants; we want to be acknowledged as valuable members of our communities, we want to have friends, we want to discover new places and engage in new activities and, primarily, we want to love and be loved. These are the things life is made of.
So adversity is anything which gets in the way of us experiencing more life.
What Have We Done About Adversity So Far?
If you’ve lived longer than a few minutes as a human then you’ve experienced adversity. From the moment we’re born we are flung into a gauntlet of adversity; we experience heat and cold, hunger, thirst and the discomfort of poopy diapers. If we’re lucky, we have a caring mom or dad around to take care of us when we have our first run-ins with adversity. When we’re new to this world it’s our caregivers who make the adversities go away. It has to be this way, as babies we can do very little, if anything, for ourselves.
Then as we grow older and become more independent, we are gradually guided towards facing and resolving adversity without the support of our caregivers. Learning to face adversity, to stand our ground and rely on our own inner resources when doing so, is a hallmark of the journey to adulthood. And most people receive enough guidance to be able to face their own adversities and conquer them. Otherwise, our civilization would have fallen apart long ago.
But here’s the thing; just because we have mastered the response to a certain type of adversity, doesn’t mean that we have ceased experiencing adversity. This is the case for both individuals and communities.
For example, for most of the time our civilization has been around, most people haven’t had enough to eat. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution, approximately 250 years ago, with the automation of food production, that we began experiencing the surplus of food we’re so used to seeing when we visit the supermarket. Up until then, food availability was subject to the whims of nature and unreliable infrastructure. Now, in most of the rich world, food is perennially available and there is no risk of us ever running out.
We have solved hunger. At least in the rich world. We’ve also (mostly) solved thirst, warmth, clothing and comfort.
But just because we’ve solved these forms of adversity, it does not mean we’ve solved all adversity. We still face it, albeit in a different guise than before.
We have solved our biological adversities, but we still face them on the higher, spiritual, level.
The Higher, Spiritual Adversities
Our civilization is currently undergoing a volatile encounter with spiritual adversities. We can see it in the ideological polarization of our societies; the breakdown of the family and the community; the rising rates of depression and suicide among teenagers; the rising number of people who are addicted to drugs (pharmaceutical and otherwise); the increase in the number of people living with diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis or mental afflictions such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety, etc.
For a people who has figured out how to face and surmount the biological adversities which hounded us from millennia we still seem to be having enough problems to keep us busy from the cradle to the grave. Speaking of being “busy”, that’s another of the spiritual adversities we’re facing, the “hurry sickness” as it’s deemed by Native American wisdom.
Yes, it’s clear we’re facing a new set of adversities our ancestors never had to face. We’ve engineered a world of comfort and plenty, yet more and more of us are reaching states of loneliness and melancholy which many of us are unequipped to handle. And while all of this is happening we can turn to any device which is at hand and use social media to convince ourselves that other people have it way better than us.
It’s a schizophrenic existence, ours. We have access to riches which put to shame those enjoyed by past royalty, yet we’ve never felt poorer. We have thousands of online “friends” yet we’ve never been lonelier. And we have technology which can pinpoint our position down to an accuracy of a few meters, yet we’ve never been more lost. And to top it all off we feel like it’s our fault. We’re encouraged to feel like if we can’t make it in the world it’s our fault; that if we’re lonely it’s our fault; that if we’re sick it’s our fault.
If this sounds like something you’ve experienced, or even just thought about, I have some empowering news for you.
It is your fault. And it isn’t your fault. It’s both. Confusing? I’ll elaborate.
It Is Your Fault
You have free will. You are where you are because you have chosen to be there. Saying “It isn’t your fault” is saying that you don’t have responsibility for your choices. It’s saying that you’re a victim, a leaf floating on the turbulent river of circumstance, unable to direct the course of your life towards where you want to go. That’s false.
You have free will. You can choose. You are an ensouled, living, breathing human being capable of using your body and mind to change the world in the way you want to. You can learn from the adversity of your environment and use your human capabilities to make changes which allow you to live a fuller life. You can forgive those who wrong you, focus on what’s good in life and educate yourself on the internet. You are all-powerful.
Take responsibility for your humanity.
You are only a victim if you allow yourself to be one.
It’s Not Your Fault
That being said, you were born into this messed up civilization. This civilization marked by poverty, illness, war and trauma. If you were lucky, you were born to parents who cared for you and provided you with the best they could so you could make your own way in life. If you were lucky. Many people aren’t. Many people are born into abusive families, and have little opportunity from the get go.
Then, as you grew up, you were sent to school. There, you were indoctrinated into perceiving the world, and the people in it, as competitors, rather than collaborators. You were taught to accept the information presented to you, rather than to ask questions and come up with your own answers. You were taught to sit back and consume while other people made your decisions for you. You were taught to follow orders rather than to follow your own interests and curiosity. You were taught that making mistakes was bad and that having all the answers all the time meant you were a success.
In short, you were taught to obey the outside world, rather than listen to your inner voice.
You were born into this system which does it’s best to make you like everyone else. To strip away your individuality so you can unquestioningly fit as a cog in the machine of our civilization. You had no say in the matter, you were just a child, and before you even realized what was happening, the starting gun had sounded and the race had begun. It was too late to turn back. Your path in life was set.
After school came work, came more sitting on your butt for hours and hours and hours while you worked to build someone else’s dream, because following orders is all you ever learned how to do. For many of us, our spirit doesn’t like this. It knows it’s meant for greater things. Amazing things. Yet we never learned how to listen to our spirit, we never learned how to follow our heart (Desire – It’s The Calling Of The Heart). Because few people in our civilization know how to follow their heart, and we pick up the same ignorance from those around us.
To deal with the pain inherent to our spiritual alienation we turn to the solutions our civilization is oh-so-ready to provide: sedation. Drugs, entertainment, pornography, sugar, fat, social drama; all of these things designed to numb us are as available as oxygen. They’re cheap. We use them to keep the pain at bay, as we groggily shamble on, divorced from the brilliance of our spirit.
But none of this works, and the deeper we fall into sedation the more it hurts and the more we need to consume to keep ourselves sedated. Until something snaps.
It’s at this point when the choice presents itself to us. It was always there, but we can only see it when we are ready to see it.
The Choice We’re Presented
Some do their best to ignore the snap, and allow a scar to form over it; the scar is tough and prevents sensation, but at least it allows continued function, albeit at a lower level. Other people choose to go to an authority figure who gives them more potent numbing agents. Thus they continue their lives, numb to the experience. Unaware that the very substances they are taking to dull their pain also dull their joy of life. Who can blame them? To follow authority is all they’ve ever learned.
But there are a few people, a precious few, who sit back and ask “How did I get here?” These people take responsibility for their choices. They accept that they are where they are because they chose to be there. They accept they were misled, and they accept they have the power to change their direction. They might not know where they want to go, but they have a hunch that taking the risk and following their way is better than continuing on the usual way.
The Questions At The Heart Of Adversity
It’s the people in the second group who start questioning. They are the ones who start asking themselves the hard questions, those they were never taught to ask, but that get at the heart of our humanity:
- Who am I?
- Why am I here?
- What do I want from life?
These questions are never really answered. But it’s in the asking where the door opens. And any open door leads somewhere new.
So I leave you now with this question.
What do you want from life?