The Powerful Gift of Frustration: A Path to Joy
From: The Pathwork Foundation, 1999 (Lecture, #237)
by Eva Broch Pierrakos
In our search for happiness, one absolutely essential quality that the undeveloped personality lacks—and is so often most unwilling to even consider—is the proper attitude toward frustration. To a large extent, we are blind to what is going on within, not acknowledging our anger and fury when something does not go our way.
True unification and wholeness of the personality can only come when the dichotomy of frustration versus fulfillment has been conciliated. Now how can it be conciliated when one side of the duality is fought against and the other grabbed at? If we have a very strong "I must have it" for what we desire and simultaneously an equally strong "I must not have it" for its opposite, we are in a state of painful duality. We erroneously attempt to reduce the tension of this painful state by pressuring life into giving us the fulfillment of the desire by eliminating all frustration. Thus we never learn how to transcend frustration so it can no longer occur. When this attempt remains active, of course it is futile and we only become more frustrated. We can be sure that as long as we are experiencing frustration we have something indispensably important to learn from it.
What kind of approach would be fruitful toward frustration and would eventually lead to its transcendence? Transcendence does not mean making our selves so disconnected from our feelings that we do not realize how tense, anxious and desirous we really are. Genuine transcendence is highly alive, conscious and dynamic, full of feelings that flow harmoniously with the stream of life. Here are some steps that lead to the attainment of this state:
The first step on this particular ladder might look somomething tething like this: "If what I experience is painful or undesirable, I will trust it anyway; I will trust my faculties to bear it, to relax into it, to learn from it, to handle it and make the best of it. I will learn a lesson from this particular frustration and will not act as if it were a catastrophe. Perhaps it is not a catastrophe, perhaps something good can come from it." That very open attitude is the first step that brings us almost at once into a new state of greatly reduced anxiety and greatly increased security. Our anxiety is fostered by a dependence on shat cannot be, and also on our assumption that we have to manipulate reality around us to suit our most infantile misconceptions and unreal needs for instant gratification. We often feel—even though we don’t consciously think it—that everything has to be exactly according to our momentary, very limited vision. This distorted vision is entirely cut off from the sequence of cause and effect in our personal life, as well as in universal life.
The most important step is to make room for relaxing our reaction of utter disgust and outrage about frustration, our fear and anger about it. We must challenge and question these reactions, to consider them as most likely being due to a faulty interpretation of the situation. In this way, we make room for new faculties to emerge in us that can allow things to unfold, to find new strength and wisdom to deal with whatever does not bend to our ego-interests. This attitude is the very thing that supports the growth of immense self-confidence and self-reliance, which constant obedience to your ego-interests could never provide. This is a very important first step that leads to a much more beautiful one.
The next step on the ladder of learning to transcend frustration is the active, deliberate and renewed search for the meaning of any particular frustration. What does a particular frustration we are dealing with at this time have to teach us? There is no frustration that does not contain a joyful, valuable, liberating lesson for us. Most of the time w are completely unwilling to consider such a possibility. We are so bent on battling the occurrence of frustration that the lesson gets lost. We repeatedly overlook a valuable to gain in wisdom, to access personal power, to experience true freedom. We thereby create the necessity for such opportunities to inevitably repeat themselves. They must come, no matter how we battle against them. The more we battle against them, the more rigid we become, the worse the frustration appears, the more the frustrations grows in intensity and significance until we are finally overwhelmed, and a little more open to see. The state of desperation this ultimately leads to is truly our most valuable chance to discover that we have created the illusion, and stubbornly maintained it all along, that frustration is an enemy! Yet it is none other than the overwhelming experience that has the capacity to loosen up the tightness against frustration and consequently our tightness against all of life.
Frustration is a friend. We can make it a friend by courageously and intelligently wishing to explore its meaning and allowing it to be our teacher and our therapist, our guide on the path to joy.
This brings us to the third step on this ladder, which is the discovery of the meaning. The door opened to meaning if we earnestly knock. As we search authentically, we truly find the hidden meaning. This meaning will always astound. The realization of how necessary this lesson is, what we gain from it in new strength, wisdom, liberation, will deeply alter our outlook toward frustration. So much so, that when another such lesson comes, we are much less afraid of it, much more confident of its meaningfulness, and therefore much less resistant to working the steps. This process of working with our frustration confers a new trust in life and a new vision of the deliberate consciousness behind all things, all events, and of course all frustrations. This is a foundational and substantial step toward conciliating the dichotomy of frustration versus fulfillment.
Each brave step along this path brings us into a much deeper, more subtle and more radiant world. Beyond the previous steps, we can begin to practice something very beautiful. We well know, at least theoretically, that the reality of God exists in every fraction of second in time, in every fraction of measurement, in every fraction of experience, in everything that is, whether it be an entity, a being, a creation, an object, an experience. Divine reality in its great joyous truth and aliveness and meaningfulness and purposefulness lives in everything that is, that ever was, and that ever will be. These words apply to frustration as well. As we approach frustration through the steps proposed here, the point of the frustration will narrow, providing an opportunity to focus into it in a meditative attuning. If we let ourselves fully experience that point of frustration, after having learned the lesson it has to teach, if we can practice allowing ourselves to flow with it, accept it, embrace it, we completely reverse our attitude, from rejecting to accepting it. What we then will experience surpasses our imagination. We discover in its deepest one-pointedness the divinity of life, the divinity of a particular frustration. And it becomes no longer a frustration. It becomes the highest fulfillment imaginable, much more so than the fulfillment we craved for, that we imagined would take us away from the frustration.
That, of course, is the point where we have overcome frustration, where you have mastered and truly transcended it—not merely through the false way of denying our frustrated feelings, but truly overcome it. Not only will we no longer fear frustration, not only will we now be self-assured enough to now know that we can deal with it, that you have the equipment and the capacities and the resources and the creativity to do so, but we will also have utilized it as a beautiful lesson and found the divinity of it, where all is one, where there is God and fulfillment within the frustration.
This is what many of us now most pressingly need to work through on our path. To the degree true self-confidence and personal empowerment exists on the human plane, our attitude toward frustration is more mature and realistic and much less an experience of outraged insult.
Even if at times, we find ourselves still complaining about this or that unhappiness or unfulfillment, choosing not to connect with those very attitudes, we have begun to see that these very attitudes are the creators of our unfulfillment and frustrations. With our unwillingness to expose ourselves to the possibility of being frustrated, we confine our life to very narrow limits and make ourselves unnecessarily vulnerable in a brittle way. When we free ourselves of the impediments of selfishness, of the insistence on never experiencing frustration, of unlovingness and ungivingness, of ego aggrandizement, of jealousy and resentments, when we give up our lack of impartiality, our bias and one-sidedness, then we have removed the major obstructions to our fulfillment.
Happiness means coming home to our own resources. We discover our own inner greatness by opening our hearts enough to learn the lessons available through the “gifts” of frustration.