People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them. Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Defeat and death will visit each of us on our life journey. My mother lost her husband, and I my father, at a young age. Neither my mother nor I am unique. We have all suffered the pain of loss. It is the human condition.
Through the lens of the award-winning movie, Meru, this article provides ideas and tools to overcome adversity — whether the adversity is the loss of a loved one, a business defeat, or anything in between.
MERU: THERE IS NO PLACE BETTER TO TEST ONESELF THAN AT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
Mount Meru is a sacred mountain in India considered by Hindus to be the center of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes.
Meru is the story of three close friends who, after suffering dramatic set backs in their lives, battle their complicated pasts, inner demons and nature’s harshest elements in an attempt to climb the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru, the most technically complicated and dangerous peak in the Himalayas, one that has never been scaled to completion.
One need not be a mountain climber to embrace Meru. Meru is compelling for anyone who seeks to contemplate and understand loss, and how we all have the ability to recover and overcome obstacles and demons.
Equally so, Meru teaches us the importance and value of the team — why having a social fabric is so important to pulling oneself up and facing life’s challenges.
PERSPECTIVE: WE ARE NOT ALONE IN OUR PAIN
In The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama writes:
In the time of the Buddha, a woman named Kisagotami suffered the death of her only child. Unable to accept it, she ran from person to person, seeking a medicine to restore her child to life. The Buddha was said to have such a medicine. Kisagotami went to the Buddha, paid homage, and asked, “Can you make a medicine that will restore my child?”
“I know of such a medicine,” the Buddha replied. “But in order to make it, I must have certain ingredients.”
Relieved, the woman asked, “What ingredients do you require?”
“Bring me a handful of mustard seed,” said the Buddha.
The woman promised to procure it for him, but as she was leaving, he added, “I require the mustard seed be taken from a household where no child, spouse, parent, or servant has died.”
The woman agreed and began going from house to house in search of the mustard seed, but when she asked them if anyone had died in that household, she could find no home where death had not visited; in one house a daughter, in another a servant, and in others a husband or parent had died. Kisagotami was not able to find a home free from the suffering of death. Seeing she was not alone in her grief, the mother let go of her child’s lifeless body and returned to the Buddha, who said with great compassion, “You thought that you alone had lost a son; the law of death is that among all living creatures there is no permanence.”
Kisagotami’s story reminds us that we are not unique in undergoing challenges and experiencing grief. Everyone experiences searing pain — at times too deep to imagine. We can deal with this by understanding that we are not alone.
PAIN IS INEVITABLE, SUFFERING IS OPTIONAL
We have all heard it because it is true: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” A well-documented case revealing this truth is found in the following Psychology Today article:
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote about the psychological impacts of life as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. His mother, father, brother, and pregnant wife were all killed in the camps. Dr. Frankl describes in chilling detail how his captors took from him virtually everything of personal value and basic human dignity. The only thing that the Nazis were unable to take away was his choice as to how to respond to the deprivation, degradation, and trauma to which he was subjected. He made a conscious decision to focus his energies on “owning” that small but all-important space between the stimulus (whatever was said or done to him) and his response to it. His ability to retain that degree of psycho-spiritual autonomy in the most horrific circumstances imaginable provides a remarkable example of intrapersonal strength, grace under extreme duress, the power of personal choice, and the Serenity Prayer in action.
By adjusting our thinking, and how we think about our thinking, we can change our emotional responses, the extent to which we suffer (or not), our level of tension and stress, and in turn, our experience of pain.
Did you have a tough day yesterday or last week? Was it “just” a business defeat, or did you lose a friend, loved one, or relationship?
Dust yourself off, put things in perspective, and share your loss with a family member, close friend, or colleague. Plan and envision the way forward. Do not give up — ever.
Like the three men in Meru, work hard, give yourself a chance, and you can accomplish amazing things. No, you may not be able to ascend Meru’s iconic “Shark’s Fin”, but yes, you will climb your own mountain. And in dong so you will surely put fear and doubt where they belong: beneath and behind you.
In the words of Jack Kerouac, “In the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
Before confronting your next challenge, enjoy this clip from Meru and then watch the entire movie (it is now on Amazon Prime and Netflix) :
This Saturday I will head into the Grand Canyon and run a wilderness route that almost took my life on my 33rd birthday, some 20 years ago. I return annually to give thanks I am alive, remember life is fleeting and precious, and remind myself that mistakes can be costly and, at the same time, contain invaluable lessons (e.g. bring a map; speak with a veteran before tackling a new route).
Here is a picture I took on one of my annual pilgrimages — including the Anasazi ruin (on the left, overlooking the Colorado River) where I say a prayer for those no longer with us and give thanks for family, friends, and life: