Q: What do I do when for some reason beyond my control the bottom falls out of the market or my product line becomes obsolete? What if disaster strikes? An earthquake? A war?
When I was very young,
I took refuge in the belief that if I was good enough, worked hard enough, prayed, meditated, and loved enough, nothing bad would ever happen to me. As I grew over the years, I found solace in knowing that while bad things could happen to me, I had sufficient inner resources to overcome anything that might come my way - all the time struggling to keep my comfort level sufficiently high so as not to have to put my faith truly to the test. As time wore on, I became increasingly desperate in my attempts to avoid facing my secret demon: my fear that when finally summoned, my selfless love and spirituality would falter.
During World War II my father faced such a test just after passing his exams to be a physician. He was thrown into battle as a doctor in the Philippines. Under extremely adverse circumstances he tended to soldiers struggling with their injuries and illnesses. He did the best he could until he himself succumbed to a tropical fever. He lay shivering on a cot in the medics tent, dehydrated and delirious.
As his fever peaked, orders arrived from headquarters that his battalion was to evacuate their position immediately. In the panic that ensued, the tent was disassembled, the troops boarded and moved out. When my fathers consciousness broke through the sweat and delirium, he found that he had accidentally been left behind - one deathly ill young man on a lonely cot in the middle of a barren field.
Perhaps it was the fever, perhaps it was something more than that, but when my father realized what had happened to him, he instinctively knew he had to make a choice. He could resist his fate, spending his final reserves of energy flailing against the unfairness of it all, or he could give himself willingly to it and live. As my father tells it, he remembers laughing a long, long time. In fact he was still laughing when his fellow medics returned to retrieve him, dodging bullets as they carried him back to the safety of their new camp.
This was not a laughter that trivialized suffering. This was the laughter of one who had willingly fed himself to his demons and emerged triumphant. His laughter chimed through the remainder of World War II and down through the years as my legacy of spirit triumphant of life emerging from the darkness, fear, and anger to proclaim again and again and yet again, I am willing.
Over seventy years ago, the English writer and critic Katherine Mansfield wrote in her journal, There is no limit to human suffering. When one thinks ‘Now I have touched the bottom of the sea - now I can go no deeper,’ one goes deeper. And so it is for ever...
I do not want to die without leaving a record of my belief that suffering can be overcome. For I do believe it. What must one do? There is no question of what is called ‘passing beyond it.’ This is false.
One must submit. Do not resist. Take it. Be overwhelmed. Accept it fully. Make it part of life.
When put to the test in my own life, there is only one question to be answered: Am I willing? Am I willing when fate has taken away my last refuge - when there is no place to hide?
I aspire to be a selfless person who has faith in life no matter what, but at moments like these, so painfully exposed, devoid of the comforting illusions of the status quo to cushion and protect me, often all I can say is that I don't really know the whole truth about me - and I fear the worst. But out of this very act of acceptance, I, too, make my choice.
The present agony will pass - if it doesn't kill, writes Mansfield. If I can cease reliving all the shock and horror of it, cease going over it, I will get stronger.
Invocation for Bad Times
When the sun arrives at its new dawn, it turns toward its setting. The moon when it is full begins to wane.
The flowering plant grows toward the sun, and from the weight of its own blossom bends to the ground and dies.
This heavenly law works itself out in the fate of man also. Knowing that he is helpless before the law of heaven, the superior man relinquishes the illusion of control, willing to surrender everything he has to the conditions of the time.
Even the cherished notion of his faith and selflessness, weighing him down like a heavy sack clutched in his grip.
He can not take another step, burdened as he is. To continue to hold it tight in a fist of fear is certain death. In such a time, he has no recourse but to tear the sack open and throw the seeds of his life to the wind
crying for mercy,
feeling the pain.
If he is blessed with willingness, he can watch many seeds blow away, rejoicing for even the one that lands at his feet in the fertile soil enriched by fallen flowers long past.
It will take root.
He may yet feel the urgency of resolution pressing hard upon him but he must not pull at the seed, forcing it to emerge from the nurturing soil before its time.
Rather, he tends the bare, dark spot of earth diligently with patience and discipline,
watering and weeding,
waiting and watching,
force of habit keeping order through the long winter.
Thus is the law of heaven that when the sun is at its zenith it rises toward a new dawn.
The moon when empty of light waxes again.
Through the dark patch of fertile soil, a seed sends up a tender, green shoot.
Can you find it in your heart to be willing to accept it all?
Carol Orsborn is the author of Inner Excellence At Work: The Path to Meaning, Spirit and Success (Amacom Books, Fall ‘99) and How Would Confucius Ask for a Raise?, from which this column is excerpted. She may be reached at 615-321-8890, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her website at www.msbn.com/carolorsborn.