I had two separate clients say to me this week, “I can’t believe how hard I have had it this winter!”

In both cases, the people have suffered either with illness or injury and one of the ladies has had several, unexpected, home repairs happening all at the same time. I can sympathize with each of them.

It is amazing how some periods, months or years in our lives can seem so full of sorrow and strife.

One of my favorite books is called, “When Things Fall Apart,” by Pema Chodron. This book helped me to navigate some of the difficult periods in my life, when it appeared that everything was literally falling apart.

Pema suggests that we “use difficult situations – as fuel for waking up.”

Though it is hard at first, we can use these moments to develop a sense of empathy for others who are going through the very same difficulties. Instead of closing down into a ‘woe is me’ attitude, we can chose to focus on opening up to others and meditate on how all of us can be free from similar suffering. She sees this as the way to relieve our pain. It feels good to reach out to others who are suffering more than us and in so doing, we relieve our discomfort.

It sounds bizarre to even suggest focusing on others when we are suffering but I can remember being in the hospital, sitting by my Dad’s bedside and noticing that the lady beside him rarely had any visitors. There was a young man who sat in a chair reading the paper every once in a while but he did not engage with the lady at all. So I put myself in her shoes and wondered how badly she must be feeling. I started to chat with her and before you know it a beautiful smile appeared on her lips. I had been feeling weighed down by my own struggle but for that brief moment we both felt lighter.

Once we have lived through something challenging, we are forever able to recognize the look of a stranger facing similar situations. We are less judgmental because we can empathize with all that they may be going through. Putting ourselves in the other persons shoes takes practice but it helps me to remain open and kind.

Think back on one hard event that you have survived and remember those people who gave you a hand, a welcome smile or a nod of understanding. At that moment, they helped you to get through the day and their gestures were gifts.

Hard times can harden us against the world or they can turn us into those little angles who offer smiles and hope.

If you feel that you are experiencing more than your fair share, perhaps you are being given these opportunities to turn your thinking around and make the world a better place.

Have a great day.