By Suma Varughese January 2004 In the many struggles life presents us lie our growth, glory, joy, purpose, our true Self. Life’s meaning unfolds only as far as we face it courageously and tackle the tasks it issues. The more we battle the odds, the richer the rewards—inner strength, confidence, realisation of potential, understanding, love and success Evolution is an ongoing process, constantly pitting us against problems that enable us to grow. The law of life is progress or perishAll of us go through the ‘hero’s journey’ to grow. It begins when we sense a deeper, fulfilling life awaiting us, if only we can move towards itBy entering the heart of the storm, you confront your deepest fears so that the real you can be released. You embrace your expanded selfAs we absorb the lessons of life, we change within. We have seen into the heart of pain and the experience has transformed us When Ahmed was born after just seven-and-a-half months of gestation, he weighed a meagre 1.2 kg, had immature lungs that required him to breathe with a ventilator, and developed meningitis. A tough call for a baby just launched into life. Yet today, at three and a half years, he is a happy, thriving toddler, his early struggles only strengthening his capacity for survival. What made this frail little morsel so strong? What caused him to struggle heroically against such formidable odds? What gave him such a passion for life? In truth, admirable though it is, Ahmed’s victory is no surprise, for life is nothing if not tenacious. The fragile blade of grass breaking through a rock is an even more dramatic testament to life’s indomitability. Heroism is everywhere. We may be enthralled and inspired by the great feats of mankind, like the Buddha’s enlightenment. Or the martyrdom of Jesus Christ. The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi. Edmund Hillary’s conquest of Mt Everest; Roger Bannister’s conquest of the four-minute mile. Nadia Comaneci’s perfect ten. Mother Teresa’s compassion. Beethoven’s brilliant compositions after turning deaf. Sachin Tendulkar’s batting. These and many others draw for us a graph of what is humanly possible. For that we salute them. No less inspiring is the heroism of everyday life. A plant’s ceaseless struggle to move towards the sun and light, the mongoose’s battle with the mighty cobra, the stoicism of the mother of a handicapped child, of a blind man feeling his way through the streets of a busy city, of a dauntless battle against cancer, and every individual’s ongoing search for truth, beauty and happiness. The struggle never ends and with reason, for strife is the calling card of life. Nature of life Scientists tell us that the laws of thermodynamics dictate the nature of the inorganic universe. Of these, the second law states that natural processes always move towards an increase of disorder, measured by entropy. In other words, the universe has a tendency to run down. Yet life, far from running down, has only evolved to higher and higher states since it first appeared on planet earth. Says James Lovelock, author of The Ages of Gaia: “Life is the paradoxical contradiction of the second law.” Despite the force of entropy holding it back, life prevails and triumphs. It is therefore the very nature of life to fight against the odds, to overcome and to evolve. How can this universal theme not be present in human life? M. Scott Peck begins his book The Road Less Travelled by echoing the Buddha: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.” Yes, life is difficult because it is meant to be difficult. We are here to battle against the odds, to strive against the circumstances of our lives, to defeat the entropy of deadening habits, lethargy and conditioning. It’s no use pining for an easy life. It’s never going to happen. Indeed, as Dr Peck writes, the more we long for an easy life, the more difficult life is. So why this torturous game plan? Why are we meant to struggle all our lives? You don’t go too far in life before you get a glimmering of the answer. In the struggle lies our growth, glory, joy, purpose, our true Self. Life unfolds its paradoxical meaning only as far as we face it courageously and tackle the tasks it issues. The more we battle the odds, the richer the rewards—inner strength, confidence, a realisation of our potential, understanding, wisdom, love and an abundant flow of the life force, not to mention external rewards like success, money and fame. Writes Scott Peck: “It is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning. Problems call forth our courage and wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.” Give up the struggle and we fall into the dread hands of entropy. Our stores of energy, enthusiasm, happiness and positivity dwindle and die. The law of life is stern: progress or perish. And yet, life’s complex pattern is woven with a strand of infinite mercy and grace, for we are offered innumerable chances to redeem ourselves, to seize the moment, to move from entropy to growth. This happens all through our life for the universe never gives up on us, and perhaps beyond the present life as well. For today, there is proof proffered by psychiatrists like Brian Weiss, whose book Many Lives, Many Masters is a classic of its kind, that reincarnation is a fact. Indeed, if we can accept that evolution is an ongoing phenomenon, and that as crown of creation, we are meant to birth the next phase of evolution, it seems logical to assume that we get to live again and again until we can, in fact, reach the desired stage of evolution. What may that be? Classic spiritual literature of our country tells us that it is to become God. We are meant to grow in stature and perfection until we become one with the Divine, who scripted this whole plan for us. God wants us to grow—and this growth will be facilitated by pitting ourselves against the circumstances of our lives—until we reach that lofty peak of perfect freedom, happiness and peace, which is God. The road might be difficult but the goal is sublime. Yes, life expects the most out of us, but that is because it wants us to reap the highest reward it can offer us. With such a motivation, why should we not take up the gauntlet? Why should we not strive against all odds? The hero’s journeyWe start, of course, with our everyday selves. Striving against odds does not necessarily mean wrestling with a dragon or taking on Osama bin Laden, though these would be included. It means the daily push and pull of our lives, as we struggle to rise above our circumstances, to make something of ourselves, to get the better of our anger and sloth, and to contribute something to the world. It is the daily struggle to rise above habit, about making the things we want happen in our lives, about becoming better human beings. It is also about the bigger things, about coping when disasters happen, when illness strikes and death overcomes. It is to be able to vault over all circumstances. It is about releasing the hero in each of us. The famous mythologist Joseph Campbell talks about the ‘hero’s journey’, an archetypal pattern that runs through every story ever written, including the story of our own lives. The pattern consists of stages we all have to go through in order to grow. The hero’s journey begins with dissatisfaction with some aspect of life brought on by limiting assumptions, fear, and conditioning. You sense that a deeper, more fulfilling life awaits you if you can only move towards it. At first you resist, overcome by fear of the unknown. The universe steps in and creates an event that forces you towards your dream. Perhaps you lose a job or a relationship, or experience a spiritual insight. It is then that you commit yourself to the journey and turn your back on the ordinary world. En route, you meet challenges that force you to evaluate yourself, and to go beyond the masks and superficialities with which you shrouded yourself. Entering the heart of the storm, you confront your deepest fears and your inner demons so that the real you can be released. As your old identity dies, you embrace your true, expanded self. Finally, you return to the ordinary world, renewed. Now you are ready to live your life’s purpose, which is to give of yourself selflessly in service to the world. These are the elements of the journey all of us must make through life. Inner resistance Let us start with the things that stop us, what Campbell calls ‘resistance’. For Scott Peck, it is laziness, which he sees as the embodiment of entropy. He writes: “No matter how seemingly healthy and spiritually evolved we are, there is still a part of us, however small, that does not want us to exert ourselves, that clings to the old and familiar, fearful of any change or effort, desiring comfort at any cost and absence of pain at any price, even if the penalty be ineffectiveness, stagnation or regression.” This resistance accelerates to furious proportions when the Universe shakes up our life. “When my son Vivek died in a tragic car accident on July 8, 1990, our world literally came to an end. My husband, daughter and I were completely shattered and broken,” says Chitra Singh, wife and one-time singing partner of ghazal singer Jagjit Singh. Healer and personal growth trainer Meeraa Kotak recalls her state of mind when she emerged from an unsuccessful marriage in 1990. “I had feelings of low self-worth. I felt rejected and sorry for myself. I lost interest in health and my appearance and felt socially inadequate.” The writer Ashok Banker, whose recent retelling of the Ramayan, The Prince of Ayodhya, i
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