The traveler walks through the forest singing as he goes and with a spring in his step. It seems like the birds and fawns and all of nature are rejoicing in his journey and the decision he has made. He knows where he is going and the reasons he travels.
He comes upon a heath and takes a rest in the shade of three cedars. Fastened to one of the trees is a tablet with the description of four different paths ahead of him. His joyful mood evaporates. He is at a crossroads and now has to choose which path to take.
A question we ask ourselves when taking on a challenge (including facing an illness), even after choosing the destination and knowing well the why, is the how:
How do I get there from here?
Whenever I think of the various possible ways to approach this question, I think of Johannes Valentinus Andreae’s manifesto from 1616 AD named TheChymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, which contains the scene above (paraphrased for you).
There are four roads.
“The first is short but dangerous, and one which will lead you into rocky places, through which it will scarcely be possible to pass.
The second is longer, and takes you circuitously; it is plain and easy, if by the help of the Magnet you turn neither to left nor right.
he third is that truly royal way which through various pleasures and pageants of our King, affords you a joyful journey; but this so far has scarcely been allotted to one in a thousand.
By the fourth, no man shall reach the place, because it is a consuming way, practicable only for incorruptible bodies.”
For our protagonist and for most decisions we face in health it boils down to deciding between two: the rocky, dangerous road which is short and difficult to pass, or the slow and steady option which is a sure thing as long as the compass is continually noted.
The traveler takes the slow and steady route. The shortcut is tempting but evidently most often ruinous.
For better or for worse, life is relentless in its design to provide us with challenges.
The slow and steady path to meeting these challenges is in essence a path of suffering. There is the pain of monotony, the pain of loneliness, the pain of growth. It is demanding. Patience, perseverance, and attentiveness are requirements on this path. The reason the shortcut tempts us is because of its promise of minimal duration of pain.
If I had one wish it would be for the world to better understand Pain.
A Fact of Our Condition
The ancient texts speak of pain’s centrality. Leaving the protected garden, for instance…
“Then God said to the woman,
‘I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy,
and in pain you will give birth.’ “
Pain is the main result of the fall… along with toiling to produce nourishment from nature. Time spent coming to terms with strife and struggle is not time wasted.
There is so much confusion and fear that accompanies misunderstanding about pain. So much time spent on lamentation, soothing, shielding, numbing, and running: energy much better spent elsewhere.
Pain has a counterpart. To know pain well you have to know its partner. There is no left hand without the right. There is no up without down.
“Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast,
And each will wrestle for the mastery there.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust
Joy and pain make a polarity that lives in us, and they make each other what they are.
“What is joy without sorrow? what is success without failure? what is a win without a loss? what is health without illness?”
— Mark Twain
Pain represents contraction, a winter experience inside us. Joy, as its counterpart, is expansive — a summer experience.
When we are in one polar aspect it won’t be long until the inevitable swing to the other occurs. The oscillation from one to the other, and back again and then back again, creates a balance, even a harmony.
Seeing our challenges as essential and being clear we can settle for nothing other than the whole truth of our experience invites perspective and the healthiest orientation to ourselves.
“Give thanks to god when I am feeling pressed
— Eurythmy verse
and give thanks to god when I have needed rest.”
If we are open to our struggles, we are starting on a slow and steady path that leads to treasure. The challenges are inherently valuable. They are where we meet ourselves most intensely. We see what abilities we have. Can we remember to honor them when they appear?
At the end of the long day, we are nostalgic for our joyful times but most proud of the challenges we faced.
So lace up your boots, put on your backpack, and get going down that long and windy path you’ve got laid out in front of you…
“There is always going to be suffering. it’s how you look at your suffering, how you deal with it, that will define you.”
— Mark Twain
Here’s to today’s steps!
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