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The Purpose & Meaning of Struggle (on The Journey we Call our Life)

The Purpose & Meaning of Struggle on the Journey we call our Life

Last week I had an interesting conversation with another coach called Sam. 

We shared a bit about our lives, what we are currently in the process of creating and some of the challenges we were facing along the way. 

Somehow, we came to talk about what struggle and struggling means. Sam said that the word ‘struggle’ can have a somewhat negative connotation for him as it can relate to being stuck and not getting anywhere. 

The thing is, we can get stuck by avoiding the discomfort that is part of the process of struggling. Sam and I also explored the enormous creative potential of our life’s struggles and challenges. 

In my conversation with Sam, a story came to mind that I found about fifteen years ago. At that time, I was truly STRUGGLING. 

It was not an externally visible struggle: I was progressing in my career, working, studying, and living life. However, inside I felt lost, unsure, confused for some years.

I was struggling emotionally with so much uncertainty. 

I had so many questions and no answers. 

The parable of the moth helped me to articulate my experience at the time. 

Bear with me, I will come back to my story. At first, I would like to introduce you to:

The Parable of the Moth

‘A man found a cocoon of an emperor moth. He took it home to watch the moth hatch. On that day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the moth struggle for several hours to force its body through the tiny hole. Then the moth stopped as if it had gotten as far as it could and could go no further.

The man in his kindness decided to help, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of cocoon. The moth emerged easily, but it had a swollen body and small, shrivelled wings. 

The man continued to watch the moth, expecting at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to help support its body. Neither happened and the little moth spent the rest of its short life crawling around with a swollen body and shrivelled legs. It was never able to fly.

The man in his kindness and haste did not understand that struggling to get out of the cocoon was the only way to force fluid from the body into the moth’s wings. Freedom and flight would only come after the struggle. By depriving the moth of a struggle, the man deprived the moth of life’. (Unknown author)

I love this story. It so beautifully symbolises the importance and purpose of our life’s struggles. 

It highlights so powerfully that struggle is vital in developing our wings and being able to take off and fly. 

Coming back to my personal story of feeling lost – I now light-heartedly refer to these years as my ‘midlife crisis’ – which at the time seemed to last forever. 

I was faced with the struggle of having to deal with heartbreak, loss, betrayal, letting go of ideas and expectations of what my life would look like after a 15 -year relationship came to an end. 

A year later, I started a new relationship and a few years later I had a baby. I fully embraced and loved being a mother. I also realised I was not in a sustainable relationship with my baby’s father. 

I was faced with the agonizingly difficult decision and process to end the relationship with my daughter’s father, which involved negotiating co-parenting arrangements. 

Another momentous task. 

So many mixed, intense and turbulent feelings and experiences.

Uncertainty and doubt seemed the only constant.

Looking back, I understand these years now as a deeply uncomfortable and hugely creative process of metamorphosis. 

Can you relate? Have you been there? I bet you have in some way or another.

As the parable of the moth so poignantly highlights, there are no shortcuts in the process of developing wings.

In the same vein, adulthood presents many challenges, struggles and life lessons. It rarely is the respite of stability we may have expected. 

Turbulent emotional shifts and struggles can take place, especially around midlife, when we question the choices, we have made. 

Beautiful gifts slowly emerged for me in these unsettling and emotionally turbulent years of struggle. Here are some of them:

  1. I became more comfortable with solitude. The process of creative struggle often is a solitary journey into our inner world. 
  2. I learned to live the questions, embracing uncertainty, and accepting all that is unresolved in my heart without forcing the answers. 
  3. My deeper intuition emerged. In fact, my intuition became my trusted companion and inner compass that steers me towards and away from people, projects, commitments.
  4. I have become less fearful, more daring and understanding of what it means that ‘Life is what we make of it.’

In the years I call my midlife crisis, I was working with a very wise and deeply intuitive psychotherapist, who allowed my process and my being to emerge and unfold naturally;

unlike the man in the story of the moth, who unwittingly deprived the moth of its necessary struggle and therefore its full beauty, purpose and life. 

I wish I knew then, what I know now: There is deep value in our life’s struggles.

Freedom and flight only come after the struggle. 

The struggles I experienced are of course personal but also universal. 

We all have our struggles – whether we talk about them or not. 

I accompany many of my clients through their struggles. 

Feel free to message me if you’re interested in a sincere conversation about your struggles.

What are your thoughts about struggles, transformation and spreading your wings?

Kirsten Heynisch,

November 2022

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