In one of the paperback books I read on zen, a European studying zen in Japan related that one of the zen masters said this world is a forge. The zen master may have meant that our spirits (or our consciousness) are tempered and strengthened and purified or refined by our experiences in this life. Perhaps, this growth and refinement prepares us for future challenges in future lives.
Is it possible that some of the trials, the tests or challenges or obstacles we encounter in life do help us to grow in understanding, in perspective or outlook? Do these, often painful experiences, help us to mature and serve to build our strength of character?
As to zen, even while being fully present in the present moment, and experiencing (living) our experiences with immediacy, directness and intensity without letting the mind interpose itself between our experiences and ourselves (and thus distort our experience), we can be learning and growing.
The process – life – is difficult. There is no denying this. There is much sorrow, disappointment, hurt, pain, frustration, loss, regret, grief, etc. along the way. Efforts and sacrifices we make do not always lead to positive results. There is much suffering and much injustice and much tragedy. We all carry scars – both physical and emotional – with us through life. (We quickly learn at a young age that fairy tales that end with “they lived happily ever after” are just that – fairy tales.) It is a real world and it is not very pretty.
At the time we experience bad things we may ask why did this befall me? Or, we may think what is the purpose of this? Or, why did I have to have this experience? What good is it? Or we may say to ourselves, I really did not need this experience. These and related questions have entered my mind many times over the years.
Looking back, in many trying instances, I could not see it at the time, but years later the lessons painfully learned did help me not to make the same kind of mistake, or at least to better cope with a similar mistake, a similar setback, another trial, than previously.
(Do not get the wrong impression. I have not found it easy to suffer. And, I am well aware that many people have suffered much more than I have. I have hurt others and been hurt by others. As well, I am not suggesting that suffering is a “good” or desirable thing. (Masochism is simply sadism direct at one’s self.) But, some suffering is unavoidable and we can learn from it.)
Forgiveness is important also. For some, forgiveness is not easy. But, as many have said “forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself”. For some, forgiveness of others is easier than forgiving one’s self. Learn from your mistakes, and from the harm you have done to others. Make amends or restitution with those you have hurt. Strive not to harm others in the future. And, let go and forgive yourself – even when the only one you harmed was yourself!
Life is a struggle the whole way through. (My father was not joking when he told me life is tough.) But, we can choose to keep the flame of hope and love alive deep inside us. Others can harm us, betray us, yes. Others can break our bodies through violence. But, others cannot harm our souls, unless we let them.
In this sense we are free: We are free to choose how we react to what befalls us. Tragedy may strike us through no fault of our own. (And, with 7 billion people in the world today, there are personal tragedies occurring every second of every day.) But, we can choose how to live through the experience, and how to continue living albeit scarred.
There is a reason to continue, to go on living even when despair and depression are heavily upon us, and there is little hope for the future. Even when we may see no reason to go on. When things are darkest and most bleak and most painful. And, we are most alone.
We can never know the future. This is no trite remark. This is no joke. You may be of great help to someone one day, a person you do not yet know or will not know even at the time. If you are not there, there may be no other to help. Each of us has a contribution to make (and we need to make that contribution). Each of us can help others – and by doing so can achieve meaning in his/her life. Do not think that you cannot help someone else just because you may still be hurting or because your scars are fresh and ugly and very sensitive, very painful.
Make a statement with your life. Continue to help others and continue to love. Do not let the pain and difficulties we all endure in this hellish, unfair, and unloving world – this forge, this crucible – scar nor crush your spirit.
There is an eastern proverb or aphorism that goes like this: The man who conquers himself (self-mastery) is the greatest conqueror of all.
end of essay
Hopefully, all is well with our wayward, intrepid photographer currently on assignment in far distant Asia. She is either 9 hours behind our home time zone or 15 hours ahead of us. If there are no technical difficulties with her camera, we may be able to post some photo essays as early as next week after she returns via Air Canada to America del Norte (North America).
Below, we include the image from our twilight essay of last October.
Thanks for reading.
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