Friday, September 2, 2016

Some thoughts on the necessity of hardships in our lives to help us grow and achieve our goals...

Thomas Jefferson said that a nation should have a revolution every twenty years. Since our human lifespans are much shorter than a nation’s, our inner revolutions should be more frequent. Overcoming hardships is how we develop the necessary skillsets to achieve this inner human revolution, which enables us become capable of manifesting the positive changes we pray for. 

Any religion worth practicing tells us that hardships are what make us grow. This is an absolute truth, while some ways of presenting this truth are more helpful than others. 

I heard it said once that we should pray by requesting that God send us hardships for our betterment. There are two problems with this approach. The first is that it invokes a negative response. Upon hearing this guidance, I watched an elderly friend, who had endured her share of suffering, physically recoil and exclaim with embarrassment that she couldn’t bring herself to do that; and because she had been advised that this was an ideal prayer practice, she immediately implied that she felt her inability to pray this way made her less strong or advanced in her faith than the people who do pray this way. 

Our religious practice should make us happy, by giving us the spiritual tools to manifest joy in our lives; I’ve always found the idea of exalting pain and suffering for spiritual elevation, a sort of masochistic piety, to be absolutely abhorrent. 

The second problem is, instead of invoking resonance, it invokes resistance in people, especially if they’re already facing major obstacles and already feeling they have a deficit of happiness and good fortune in their lives. 

We don’t need to pray specifically for more challenges, because life will deliver plenty on its own anyway; any effort we make to change our lives will invoke them. Any time we pray for self-betterment or goal-achievement, some challenge inevitably arises that seems intentioned to block our progress. 

Since that always happens as a law of the universe, why waste our prayer-energy asking for what we’re guaranteed? A better use of our prayer energy is to pray for what we want, and for the wisdom, courage, and endurance to overcome the challenges that inevitably come with that wish. 

That not only feels like a less stressful way to pray, it also keeps our prayers focused on what we want rather than on what we don’t want. If we force ourselves to pray for something that causes us anxiety, we’re going to be sitting there praying with anxiety instead of praying with empowerment. Pray for positive outcomes and the strength to overcome any negativity along the way, instead of praying to manifest negative so we can overcome it. It’s all about perspective. 

We’re already taught in our society to over-emphasize the negative, to seek to connect through complaining and suffering rather than through discussing how we’ve triumphed (or how we intend to); we certainly don’t need to add any more negativity to our lives by tainting the purity of our spiritual practice. 

By purity here I don’t mean some moralistic idea of “piety” (whatever that means) or being untainted in the sense of trying to attain some inhuman idea of perfection by renouncing all human desires and quirks. I mean purity in the sense of being incorruptible—uncorrupted by persistent doubt, resentment, or fear that we allow to stop us from what we’re trying to achieve. 

One of my favorite quotes by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda speaks to this kind of incorruptibility: “True freedom does not mean an absence of all restrictions. It means possessing unshakable conviction in the face of any obstacle. This is true freedom.” 

This kind of purity of conviction is the key to our enlightenment as human beings seeking to fulfill our missions in this lifetime, not praying for specific things to happen (positive or negative) as though our human revolution is a process we can successfully micro-manage. 

There’s always going to be a chaos-factor in our lives; we will have much better outcomes if we learn how to work with that chaos rather than pray in extremes: The extreme of resisting it or the extreme of asking it to do its worst. 

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Image: “Prayer tobacco bundle” [detail from “Spirit Vine Climb”] by Karla Joy Huber, 2008; oil pastel

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