Coping with the challenges of life

Life is not all hunky dory or full of copacetic situations. It constantly poses challenges, writes RAVI VALLURI

What is a challenge?

A challenge is synonymous with surmounting obstacles (real or imaginary!) or combating unexpected or unusual situations that an individual encounter. On the surface, each situation can be termed a mental challenge or a competitive situation. It is akin to a see-saw battle between the mental and/or physical power on the one hand and the challenge faced on the other hand; a combat to unequivocally decide the superiority in terms of mental ability and physical strength. But how does one cope with challenging situations in life? Certainly there seems to be no handbook that one can refer to. Life throws an uncountable number of challenges at us. It could be a financial wizard about to make a presentation to his customers or a doctor preparing for a surgery, perhaps a student preparing for an exam or even an infant struggling with its first few baby steps! The list is endless.

Let us envisage a long term challenge like leading life as a differently-abled person, or something as devastating as coping with the loss of a child. The grieving parents encounter dolorous situations virtually day after day, night after night. Or perhaps something short term like a management novitiate preparing for a job interview or may be as trivial as planning a dinner menu. The list is infinite, where humans need to dexterously make moves on the chess board of life.

A “challenge” is quite an enigmatic word which has three shades to it- and these spawn off positive, mediocre and negative responses. It can act like electricity which has the wondrous potential to trigger enhanced performance by an individual. For instance a sportsman, a trapeze artiste, a trouper is inspired to deliver high octane stuff at central stage.

Indeed it is riveting to watch Messi shoot the ball like a parabola on the pitch, or Mahendra Singh Dhoni score the winning runs in a World Cup final match through his trademark helicopter shot. A challenge works like magic in such conditions, in the presence of uproarious crowds.

Conversely, too little stress makes an individual listless and low on motivational levels making a person slothful. This is true of several government employees, who fail to raise the bar. Their minds are simply not challenged to be productive.

Synodic Curves in Life

Life is not all hunky dory or full of copacetic situations. It constantly poses challenges. However, when the pattern of response of animate beings disturbs the mental equilibrium then the challenge metamorphoses into a distressful situation. This becomes a strain and an individual suffers from frayed nerves.

Aeons ago in a Zen temple of knowledge, an aspiring Zen scholar-teacher assembled all the postulants and delivered his maiden lecture. In his baritone voice, he was to say, “When walking, just walk. When eating, just eat, and keep observing your breath.” “Dear ones, I too was once a greenhorn. Over a period of time through unflinching practice I have realised that the holy grail of Zen wisdom is mindfulness.”

Practice mindfulness

“Unflinching practice of mindfulness has brought me colossal benefits,” the Zen Master was to add. “The individual becomes centred through quotidian practice and then remains in the present moment. The pulse and heart rate of the individual reduces which has dramatic efficacious results on the physical and psychological health of the person. Further this ingenuous practice improves alacrity and awareness in the individual.”

This celebratory Zen aphorism had a spellbinding impact on the tutees, who   began to appreciate the power of ‘NOW’. Challenging situations often turn into stressors and become a burden on the nervous system.

Humans are invariably affected by stressors and challenges which are can be classified as environmental, psychological and social. These are of various dimensions, durations, and complexities, at times predictable and of immense intensity. These impacts the physiological, psychological and cultural health of an individual.

Simultaneously there are material resources such as monetary power, access to medical care, interpersonal skills, coping styles of the individual and various social factors like support networks and professional help groups which bear a footprint on the minds of human beings and impinge on their ability to cope with challenges.

Responding to challenges

This is at the gross level. At the subterranean and subtle plane coping with challenges in life is something far more opaque and abstruse. The way an individual responds to challenges or stress is surely nothing short of an appraisal as to how an individual interacts in society. These are essentially psychological, behavioural, emotional and cognitive responses.

Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to battle with challenges in life. She didn’t want to do that. It was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and challenge stood on the other. The warrior felt infinitely puny, and challenge appeared gargantuan and wrathful. Their arsenal was brimful of weaponry.

The young warrior roused herself and went towards challenge, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission combat you in the battle?” Challenge remarked “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you sought permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Challenge replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” Taking this cue, the warrior learned how to overcome challenges.

Life is an ongoing and dynamic process. Humans by living in the present moment and through a mindful approach and awareness can assiduously cope with all manner of challenges that come their way.

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