Looking Deeper at Living with Conflict

By Dr Angel Adams and Dr Patricia Papciak

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Live the questions now.

—Rainer Maria Rilke-

FlowerPhoto by David Adams

We all live in this world with a number of conflicting thoughts and questions inside our heads, and it takes patience and courage to look deeply into their nature. We might know what we want, but we are unsure about how to get it. We might have an idea about how to persevere to achieve what we want, but it isn’t easy because loved ones may feel wounded by our decisions. We might further be confused about how to search for what we truly want if it means upsetting others whose lives are intrinsically woven into our own. Anyone who has a full life must deal with some kind of balancing act in order to maintain self-respect and self-esteem. Many women feel this strongly when they try to give quality time to their family, their careers and themselves. How can we go about pursuing our dreams and also remain flexible enough to not hurt those around us?

We often hear the expression “follow your dreams”, but we know in our hearts that we can allow ourselves to be derailed by others who think they know what is best for us. It’s easy to doubt ourselves when our dreams have involved years of perseverance that has not yet been particularly fruitful. Can we survive if we set our noses to the grindstone, putting ourselves before others around us? How do we move forward, and be responsible at the same time? How can we stop taking responsibility for someone else’s happiness and let them take responsibility for their own? When does giving to others become giving too much?

At times we are more flexible and easy going, and at other times, we see our goals slipping away from us. We then dig our heels in and see that this is the time to absolutely remain true to ourselves, and we become vigilant so that our lives do not lose their purpose. This is the moment of our awakening. We become fully conscious that in order to be useful to others, we really have to take care of our own needs first. We must honour our own boundaries, or there will be a price that we will pay.

In a speech to Stanford graduates a few years ago, Steve Jobs, who started the Apple industry, told a group of eager graduates how important it was to find something to do that they love and then keep doing it.  Click here to read his speech

He admitted that he was lucky because not only was it clear to him what he loved, but it was something that made him a fortune. In the same speech he talks about how he thought he was going to die when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It turned out that he had a rare form of cancer that was curable and hence he is alive and well today, but for a while he was faced with the idea that it was all over. Jobs warn us to make sure we are doing something we love. Whether we have an illness that shortens our lives somewhat or whether we live to ripe old ages, we are all going to die and in the not too distant future. Thus, we better make sure we are spending our living moments doing things that have great importance to us individually.

Can we become skillful at planning our days so that we have time to ourselves and time for others? Can we see ourselves progressing in the direction of our personal dreams and also make space for our children and our spouses/partners to pursue what is important to them. Are we living true to ourselves or are we allowing others to manipulate us? Yet we cannot blame others for how we live our lives; it is all up to us. Perhaps a way to look deeper at conflict is to reflect on whether or not we are finding ways to balance the dichotomy. For example:

  1. How much time do I take care of myself? > How much time do I take care of others?
  2. Do I follow my passions? > Am I afraid to follow my passions?
  3. How often do I feel proud of myself? > How often do I criticize myself?
  4. How often do I respond lovingly to my inner feelings? > How often do I tend to others’ feelings and ignore my own?
  5. Am I confined to a philosophy of life? > Do I feel free to explore new ideas or lifestyles?
  6. Do I value different kinds of people? > Do I find myself being judgmental of others?
  7. Do I allow my children freedom to explore for themselves? > Do I try to confine them in a controlling way?
  8. Is my work life out of balance? > How often do I have free time to nurture myself?
  9. Is it hard for me to say no to others? Is it hard for me to say yes to myself?

In trying to look at both sides of any conflicting paths in your life, perhaps it will be easier to see where imbalance has brought you to a standstill. This poem by Rumi encourages us to be grateful for conflict and to invite it into our awareness.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Scenic sunsetPhoto by Angel Adams


Looking deeply into the beauty and balance in nature can help. Walking by the River Thames at sunset is one of my greatest refuges, especially when there is internal conflict that needs to be resolved. Though I often walk the same path, the river always looks different as it is constantly changing. It has different moods from its glassy calm surface to its rippling waves excited by the wind and passing boats. The poet John O’Donahue, writes:

“ I live my life like a river flows, always carried by the surprise of its own unfolding”.

At sunset one can see a miraculous scene where colors in the sky are reflected on the river. They seem like they must have been carefully chosen to paint a picture that is soothing, healing and majestic. Yet we know that this feeling of peace might be interrupted at any time by a disappointing rainstorm, a blazing fire or even a terrifying earthquake. There is no peace that lies forever uninterrupted. Our life is truly an adventure unfolding and this river is a symbol of our strength forever meeting its challenges. Awareness and curiosity about our conflicts comes first, and then we move on to solve our conflicts which arrives next.

Albert Einstein wrote “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving”. Sometimes we just need to find a bit of humour to get us unstuck form the seriousness of our lives. If we can see that in the nature of conflict lies some humour, it may be helpful to us. If we can laugh at ourselves when we are taking things very seriously, it may help us to clear the air and see a new direction. Children are great when it comes to humour. They can switch gears in a heartbeat. One time when my child was seven, she was in tears about something before she went to school in the morning. She was still crying when she walked out the door. I was worried about her all day. In the afternoon, she came bouncing into the house, no shred of lingering grief. I asked her if she cried all the way to school. She said she had. I asked if she had cried in school, and she answered no. She said, “When I got to school, I said to myself, well, you’re at school, you better stop crying, so I did.” Its twenty-five years later, and I always remember that. Sometimes when you feel conflicted, you just have to say to yourself, “Okay, enough of that, back on the bicycle and ride!” Get your balance and off you go!

Bike rider
Photo by Patricia Papciak 

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