Broken jetty

The path to an awakened life

In Insight and Experience by Michael LewinLeave a Comment

Many difficulties filter through life, but the wise traveller accepts this condition of imperfection in order to find the condition of perfection within. For without the struggle, without the engagement with challenging issues, we would have little chance to cultivate and develop the qualities of character that are so valued and honoured – the very qualities that will lead us on for the greater good.

 

“If anyone strikes my heart, it does not break, but it bursts and the flame coming out of it becomes a torch on my path” – Hazrat Inayat Khan

Difficulties in life can strike at any time, in any place, wounding us with anxiety, resentment and fear. Often coming with such speed and force, they can attack ferociously to take our breath away. They can also filter through like intruders in the night, unannounced, uninvited to enter and disturb our lives in so many different, and at times, troubling ways. Frequently, when their intensity is so great, we can feel a profound sense of powerlessness in resisting their influence over us. Resignation can then set in, paving a possible way to accommodation and acceptance. But should this be so? Should we readily allow life’s difficulties to impede our growth, to dictate a controlling presence over our lives?

Walking the path

Difficulties are part of the path. An expression of life, real life, that challenges us all. They may vary in their scope and intensity, their timing and duration, but are constantly presence, in some form, influencing our lives. Wherever we are, whatever we do, difficulties never seem to be far away. Even wealth and power, privilege and rank cannot provide a safe haven from their force, once they sweep into our lives. There appears to be no escape that would allow us to live completely sheltered and protected from their influence. Therefore, if they are so omnipotent and omnipresent, shouldn’t we start to recognise this reality and work with them, in the most appropriate and effective way we can, in order to progress in life?

Opportunities are always available for us to turn things around. Indeed, where there is a problem, a corresponding solution is never far away – if we look deeply enough. But we must be engaged in the search for resolutions; awake and receptive enough to grasp them as they appear. Then we can utilise their power to transform our lives for the better.

The imperative of challenge

Difficulties, problems, troubles, trials, tribulations: these are just labels that should signify to us – if we are true to ourselves – the need to engage more deeply with life, drawing on our inner strengths and resources in order to move forward. Without difficulties in place to help sharpen our spiritual practice, enticing us to grow and develop, we miss valuable opportunities. In Tibetan Buddhism, much emphasis is given to the notion of ‘the usefulness of difficulties’, where it is felt that a life without challenge and adversity – a life without stretching through difficulties – is not a real life worthy of attention. Facing challenge head-on, with skilful resolve, is the calling backed up with fully engaged commitment. This latter quality is a prerequisite if we are to make the necessary breakthrough for change.

In order to make a fresh beginning in the New World, the 16thCentury conquistador, Cortez, burnt the entire Spanish fleet. He realised that while there was always a possibility of return to the homeland, his men would not give fully of themselves. They would always be looking back, unable to fully embrace the new. He had seen Spain in their eyes. So he dramatically and willfully destroyed their only means of returning. Because of his decisive action, no-one had a choice; everyone had to step forward into a new landscape, a new life, totally committed.

Too often we can become all fired up and passionate about undertaking certain changes and then pull back at the last minute, subdued with fear and anxiety. We have probably all touched this feeling at some time. But to enable us to push on through to a better life situation, we must be prepared to abandon all the negative feelings that hold us back, binding us to the past, and with commitment breakthrough to the new.

When we commit to a new path, there always seems to be a corresponding shift in the universe to support us. But often, as we venture along this path, we realise that is it far from straight and so we must have faith and confidence in the direction we are led and continue with the journey. We just do not know what lies ahead, but we must show commitment and enthusiasm for the adventure and continue anyway. Along the way we may face many challenges – some that seem to penetrate right through to our inner core – but we must be strong and go forth, knowing that success in life is largely a product of our determined commitment and perseverance.

I suspect we do not really, fully know what power is inside us – our potential and hidden abilities. And that’s the call, the excitement of exploring further to find out. We often react in certain ways and then tell ourselves that it was our decision. But on closer inspection we may start to uncover previous, accumulated thoughts (not always ours) that form around certain issues and become solidified into fixed, habitual attitudes. Pavlovian, knee-jerk responses then find expression under the guise of free will – ‘my decision’. Ask yourself the question: “Am I thinking my thoughts or am I letting thoughts (other people’s recycled thoughts perhaps) think me?”

The road to an awakened life often starts by asking many questions about our ability, commitment and desire to change. Then we do need to cut through this self-doubt and move forward, knowing that, at the very point of challenge, we can dig deeper for the hidden, extra reserves of energy within us. Fear will be present, overshadowing our journey, speaking of failure, but we must continue because if we stop and hold back, we run the risk of even greater loss – a diminished life. In other words: “If you are not failing regularly you are living so far below your potential that you’re failing anyway.” – (Anon)

The path deepens

Despite all our best efforts to tackle life’s difficulties, we do need to acknowledge the persistent and repetitive nature of their confrontation at times. Some will stretch us beyond measure, challenging us to breaking point. However, with strong and determined resolve we can push through. This is not the time for ‘lukewarm’ commitment that will weaken any attempts to achieve success. It’s the time for a wholehearted pledge to do the very best that we can, and not a fraction less. To reinforce this attitudinal stance we may need to articulate it in written form. One good way is writing up a ‘mission statement’ – words of intent and encouragement that will support us when we are most vulnerable and likely to weaken. Another method is the reciting of positive affirmations that will inspire and lead us. The power of mantra, meditation or prayer could also be considered; any methodology, in fact, that uses words in a positive, creative way in order to shift our staid, awkward thinking that keeps us locked in limitation.

Too often people talk about ‘destiny’ and ‘fate’ as if they were cast in concrete, absolute and fixed, leaving us powerless to implement change. And if we start to believe this then obviously, over time, this is what they will become – immutable. The only problem is this acceptance and resignation of the ‘given’ fails to recognise our innate ability to work with the material of life, to construct new meanings in order to effect positive change.

If we think deeply and reflectively, with an open heart, we touch a wisdom that is greater than the whisperings of fear that hold us back, that impede our progress to a better life. But the choice is ours – what thoughts do we want to choose: positive ones for growth, or negative ones for restriction?

Breakthrough: claiming back our lives, claiming a new life

With repeated and persistent effort in dealing with our problems, we enter a threshold that leads us into a new life; a better life that we are deserving of, one that reflects the degree of commitment we have shown to embracing change.

If, at any time, we fall back, we are able to re-new our commitment, knowing that we will show full engagement again. We are aware of our position and know that we cannot afford to give up, let ourselves down. We recognise that our very own struggle has awakened the deepest strengths within us, and that is inspiring. We also acknowledge the real value of trying to set an example to others, helping and encouraging them on their journey and that is inspiring too.

Many difficulties filter through life, but the wise traveller accepts this condition of imperfection in order to find the condition of perfection within. For without the struggle, without the engagement with challenging issues, we would have little chance to cultivate and develop the qualities of character that are so valued and honoured – the very qualities that will lead us on for the greater good.

“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials” – Confucius

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