When I was in elementary school, we had to recite certain affirmations daily before class. One that stuck with me through all the years is: "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again." In other words, if you fall, get back up. Don’t give in. Each time you make a comeback, you have taken yourself to a new level. This is how we develop physical, mental and spiritual strength.
During my first year of chiropractic training, one of the most-liked professors was a Chinese Biochemistry instructor. He had a way of making biochemistry fun. Every year he would pose a "challenging question" to his incoming class.
"What is the one thing you need to succeed in chiropractic practice?"
After several attempts by the students to give a correct answer, he would rebuff them in his thick and charming Chinese accent, "No…no…that is not the correct answer; let me tell you the correct answer. To succeed in chiropractic, you must have zeal! You need zeal to succeed in chiropractic," he would finally reveal. He invariably received multiple rounds of applause as students delighted in the long-awaited answer.
You need zeal to succeed in any significant undertaking in life, including spirituality. One does not become holy at once. Spiritual enlightenment requires discipline, and sometimes long, painful and unrelenting effort on the part of the seeker. Spiritual enlightenment is one of those things that money can’t buy. Like exercising in the gym and getting in shape, you must do the work yourself. It would be unreasonable to pay someone to go to the gym and workout on your behalf, so that you can reap the benefits of his or her physical exercise. (Wouldn’t that be nice?)
Spiritual aspirants sometimes get lazy with their spiritual exercises and they turn around and complain that they are not making much progress. Have you ever seen an Olympic athlete train? Have ever seen a ballerina train? Have you ever seen an entertainer or a composer train? How does your spiritual training compare?
Every spiritual tradition emphasizes the need for an unquenchable resilience for illumination. The Christian Bible makes references to the holy zeal for God, a selfless thriving to serve God with decisive non-cooperation with evil.
In Kriya Yoga, Paramahansa Yogananda emphasized, "Everything else can wait. But your search for God cannot wait."
"So you see," said spiritual adept Rebazar Tarz in the book Stranger by the River by Paul Twitchell, "Man’s greatest fight is against his fault for not trying to avoid or overcome ignorance, or the darkness of the world, and to overcome it requires wisdom. The best way to acquire wisdom is by unremitting endeavor. You do not get it any other way than by the Eck (Divine Spirit)."
Perhaps, the words of Brother Lawrence sum it up: "That we should not wonder if in the beginning we often failed in our endeavors, but that at last we should gain a habit which will naturally produce its acts in us without our care and to our exceeding great delight."
Knowing thyself through resilience
The Blackfoot Indians tell this story: While climbing in an area of steep cliffs, an Indian brave came upon an eagle’s nest. There were several eggs in the nest, and he managed to steal one and carry it back to his village. He placed the egg in a hen’s nest, and after it hatched, the young eagle followed the mother chicken about and grew up believing itself to be a chicken. All day the young eagle walked about with its head lowered to the ground in the same way the chicken did, scratching in the dirt, pecking at worms and seeds.
One day, when the eagle was fully-grown, it looked up and saw a magnificent bird soaring in the heavens above. The eagle went to the grandmother hen, who knew many things about the world, and asked, "What’s that bird, Grandma?"
"That’s an eagle," said the old chicken.
"How beautiful it must be to fly like that," the young eagle said, looking up at the great bird.
"Yes," Grandma said, nodding in agreement, "but you must forget about flying because you are a chicken." Deplorably, the eagle spent the rest of its life scratching in the dirt and peeking at worms and seeds like a chicken.
In nearly every spiritual tradition, we hear the same saying, "Know Thyself!" The great Taoist master, Lao Tzu, taught, "Knowing others is wisdom but knowing yourself is enlightenment."
Endeavor to know yourself. Also, accept the responsibility of being you. To be yourself is your greatest spiritual heritage.
Live life fully and learn from your experiences.