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Learning to Love and Live When Life Gets Hard

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“The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow.” ~Unknown

It’s when you’ve woken up with a full day ahead of you after only two hours of sleep.

It’s when there’s nothing for you to do but sit by your friends as they deal with tragedies and all the hard stuff life throws at us.

It’s when you don’t know how to handle the situations in your life that are anything but black and white.

It’s when you feel utterly helpless and powerless as you watch someone you care about aching with the deep soul wounds that only come from losing the person that comprised the other half of their heart.

It’s when your own heart feels as though it’s been crushed beyond recognition over and over again.

It’s when your path is entirely unclear and you don’t know if the next step is solid ground or off a cliff.

It’s when you’re not sure if the decisions you’ve made are the right ones.

It’s when sometimes you realize they weren’t.

It’s when it looks as though the world is irrevocably falling apart.

It’s when it seems like people are becoming more and more disconnected, lonely, and afraid.

It’s when you feel as though there’s no way you can even begin to help fix any of it.

It’s when you realize that, in spite of it all, you really are smart and strong enough to make it through step by agonizingly slow step.

It’s when you realize that just when you thought you had nothing left to give, you find you actually have everything left to give and more.

It’s when you want to give up on it all, but find that one thing that drives you to keep going.

It’s easy to love and give and feel happy and alive when things are going well, when we feel as though the world is our oyster. But what happens when life feels as though it’s caving in with a spirit crushing weight?

Over the course of 48 hours I found out a friend died, two of the people closest to me are supporting their moms as they contend with cancer, several friends are struggling with family issues, and all the while I’m attempting to balance out 14 hour work days as a counselor at a residential high school, but just wishing I was home to be with everyone.

It reminds me a lot of when I was working out and training for hours on end. There would come times when I felt exhausted, burnt out, and desperately wanted to quit. But then I remembered my goal.

I remembered that the pain and discomfort were temporary, and the strength, endurance, flexibility, and functionality I was gaining were invaluable.

While working out seems like an insignificant comparison to major life events, the psychological training is the same. What you tell yourself in moments that seem unimportant is what reemerge when things get hard. As the quote goes, “You don’t rise to the level of your expectations, you fall to the level of your training.”

You don’t grow when things are easy and effortless. You grow when you’re being challenged—sometimes beyond what you think you’re capable of handling.

We carry ideas of what we think loving and living are until something comes along and redefines how we see it all. Sometimes it redefines it by making it appear as though it’s completely broken or entirely gone.

But you know what the beautiful part of it all is?

Just because we think something is broken doesn’t mean that it can’t be mended in some way.

And just because we think we can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. The world around us reminds us of it all the time. Even the sun, moon, and stars silently show us that they exist even when there’s too much in the way to see them.

It’s not easy. It’s really, really hard. In fact, sometimes it looks nearly impossible. How are we supposed to gather our scattered bits of resolve to rebuild the will to keep moving forward when all we really want to do is curl up and hide from the world?

It’s those times we have to step aside and heal in whatever way we can, and in that time, remember (or find) what it is that keeps us going.

It’s when we think we have no reason left to love, and sometimes when we question our very existence, that we have to allow ourselves to find and create a whole new beauty from what may have felt like (and maybe was) an end.

As Cormac McCarthy wrote in All the Pretty Horses, “…those who have endured some misfortune will always be set apart but it is just that misfortune which is their gift and which is their strength.”

If we are open to the lessons from our hardships, misfortunes, and tragedies they will inevitably build within us an increasingly unshakable compassion, understanding, and love.

Losing so much of what I’ve loved and watching as friends contend with their own losses, I’ve learned that when it seems things couldn’t be any worse, that’s when it’s most important to gather every last bit of will and heart and forge the faith to keep believing that love and life are worth every single moment.

Even those that break our hearts.

It’s in those moments when we have to learn how to love and live again.

“It’s times like these you learn to live again. It’s times like these you give and give again. It’s times like these you learn to love again.” ~Foo Fighters

Photo by Harsha K R

About Haiku Kwon

Haiku Kwon is an avid wanderluster who has been a barista, bartender, logistics specialist, yoga instructor, and counselor in her different lives that have taken her all over the world. She has yet to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. You can follow her story at Life's A Risk... And I'm All In. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter.

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  • Hi Haiku,

    What a beautiful post 🙂 Being open to my feelings and the situation(s) occurring, no matter how difficult to embrace, helps me to see the lesson. Each heartache has brought me a breakthrough. I remember back when I did some modeling. One day I broke down. I was upset at my life. A few minutes later I checked my email and saw one of the top photographers in the physique niche wanted to do a shoot with me. Led to an awesome shoot.

    Same on the business end, and personal end. Losing relatives to violent, sudden ends, dealing with grieving or struggling friends, consoling loved ones, all at the same time. When life seems too much, remember Life. Remember The Universe, or the Life Force in all, and if you are open, you can see the perfect lesson being taught, and in this moment you can focus less on the difficulties and more on the blessing of the experience.

    Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Tim

    I agree. What a great post. Some school is very lucky to have you as a counselor.

  • Haiku

    Hi Ryan, Thank you for your lovely response. “in this moment you can focus less on the difficulties and more on the blessing of the experience.”- something I am learning every day…

  • Joe Scherrer

    Buddha said: life is suffering. It would take a lifetime to unpack the full meaning of that statement, but part of it means that suffering is part and parcel of our growth (our “enlightenment”) as human beings. True human dignity means working through your rough patches, always being open to what those experiences are teaching you. Easy? No. Essential? Yes.

  • sosad

    I was blessed to share three amazing months with the most wonderful man in the world. He was diagnosed with HIV last month and he fell into a deep suicidal depression (I’ve been there). I told him I would stand by his side. We waited a week to find out my status (negative) and then the depression became too much. HE called me yesterday to say he couldn’t stay in the relationship because he would not be able to meet my needs. As devastated and hurt as I was, I understand and am thankful to have had so many life experiences with this man. He spent 5 years at a zen monastery and he passed on much of his knowledge to me. He taught me to meditate, encouraged me to start walking/running again, was the first person my surgeon talked to after my hysterectomy. He gave me opportunities to deal with uncertainty. He helped me love my body and my sexuality in a respectful and loving way. He was committed, loving, caring, affectionate and understanding. It’s only been a few days since I last saw him, but I miss him. The pain is almost unbearable at times. But the bigger pain is knowing that he is suffering and there is nothing I can do to help him. I asked him to text me after the holidays to let me know he’s still with us (He has been givng things away and has talked in detail about suicide. He gave me all his beloved Bufddhas and his meditation cushion). The thought of this amazing going away forever is too much to bear. I’ve been to the deepest darkest hole you can imagine….twenty years with anorexia and two suicide attempts and I have surpassed all that and live a humble but happy life. He made it happier. I will survive this break-up and the loss of my best friend. Today was the first time in three months that we did not talk in the morning. I am barely functional but am going out for a walk anyway.
    The point is that love and life are worth it…..if even for just a brief moment in time.
    The Autumn breeze of one night of love is better than a hundred thousands nights of meditation – Ikkyur
    Thank you for the Autumn breeze my love. I will miss you forever.

  • Debbie Bills

    Thank you for sharing your journey, Haiku. Life is a story book and unfolds something new every day. It is journey which builds and strenghtens us. Or we can fold under its weight. I have alway tried to look at it has a positive journey and find it is wonderful to see how it unfolds and makes us into the person we are meant to be.
    Everyone that crosses our path in life, there is a reason for it. many times we are blessed because we have known them.
    Enjoy lifes journey and sometimes when it gets rough, just learn to lean into the wind and it shall take you in the direction you need to go.
    Debbie

  • This was such a beautiful article. I really needed to hear this as I’m personally going through a very difficult time in my life, having relapsed into depression and trying to find the courage to seek help and have faith that things can get better. Thank you

  • Haiku

    Thanks Emily- depression is no joke and can make what’s easy for others seem nearly insurmountable for us. Remember to breathe and be patient and gentle with yourself. It does get better. “Keep your head high and your heart strong.”

  • Haiku

    Hi Debbie- thank you for sharing your wisdom. 🙂

  • Haiku

    So true. Thanks Joe~

  • Haiku

    My heart goes out to you- I can only imagine what you’re trying to process. You’re right- you will survive and the best way you can honor that time with him is to live your life the best you can. Don’t allow yourself to wither away; it would be a waste of the love invested into you… Baby steps, one moment at a time and slowly but surely you’ll find ways to re-create life and beauty in and through your own eyes.

  • Haiku

    Thank you 🙂

  • Renee

    This is honestly just what I needed to read today. I’ve been feeling very low and anxious lately. Between finishing my undergraduate degree and looking into graduate school, my brother getting married and there being tension between his new wife and my family, and learning that some friends were not true friends, I woke up this morning with no motivation. But this has helped me realize that though I feel like I’m at the end of my rope I have a little bit more to give. Thank you.

  • lizzybetchay

    Thank you Haiku for this article,,it is really beautiful. Reading this helped me look at my situation just a little bit different. a story like this comes along where a single person’s caring,compassion and grace inspired.even if only for a moment and for a moment,today. I felt hopeful,.and for that moment of hope,,I thank you,.:),,keep it up!

  • lv2terp

    Great message! I love when you said…”If we are open to the lessons from our hardships, misfortunes, and
    tragedies they will inevitably build within us an increasingly
    unshakable compassion, understanding, and love.” Thank you for sharing your insight! 🙂

  • Haiku

    Each moment contains its own infinite value. I’m honored that my experience has given you a moment of hope. Best to you~

  • Haiku

    Thank you for reading! 🙂

  • Haiku

    Hi Renee- those are exactly the days where you find yourself stronger and more resilient than you thought you were before. Keep your head up- days like that don’t last forever, and better days will be that much richer because you’ll remember how you stuck through days like today.

  • Renee

    Thank you for that advice! 🙂

  • angela

    Thank you. I really needed to hear those words and you said them beautifully.

  • Anders Hasselstrøm

    Believe that everything that happens to you is going to strengthen you in some way or another. Believe that whatever happens there is always a lesson to take away. Be it motivation for your next training session or a feeling of strength in hard times.

    Thanks for sharing Haiku,

    Best of luck,
    Anders Hasselstrøm

  • Charlie Victoria

    Thanks for this article! Stay strong

  • Adam

    i couldn’t agree with this more. pain and vulnerability lead to growth. we have to make sure to accept and embrace and grow from hardships, but at the same time there is a criticism of mother theresa that speaks of her keeping the cycle of poverty and hardship going for just that reason, so she could thrive and grow off of it. while perpetuating the poverty, illness, and hunger that she claimed to want to end. there’s a fine line here and i think it should be pointed out.

  • Haiku

    Life is a tangle of fine lines, no? 🙂 You’re right- we need to learn to use our pain and vulnerability to grow and progress, not to hold anyone or anything else down. Our growth and strength should also inspire and perpetuate growth and strength around us.

  • Haiku

    Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • Haiku

    Hi Anders,

    “Believe that whatever happens there is always a lesson to take away.” Awesome truth.

    Thanks for your thoughts~

  • Haiku

    Thanks Angela. Wishing you strength and peace.

  • Stephen Fraser

    A beautiful and sweet post. Thank you for sharing your journey and your wisdom.

  • Haiku

    Hi Stephen, thank you for reading and leaving a note 🙂

  • growthguided

    I completely agree with your point here.

    “It’s easy to love and give and feel happy and alive when things are going well, when we feel as though the world is our oyster. But what happens when life feels as though it’s caving in with a spirit crushing weight?”

  • Lindsay

    Thank you so much. I needed this.

  • char123

    does not take a lifetime to explain what “life is suffering” means. we all know