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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

On Adversity

As I wrestled with a seemingly endless tangle of vines and weeds that I swear did not exist just a few weeks ago my thoughts turned to the subject of adversity. Now this is the kind of adversity that we could all accept if it were the worst we would ever face. Unfortunately, most of us have and will again come up against more daunting obstacles and our patience, strength, and perhaps our faith may be tested.

To be sure, not all adversity is bad—sometimes the trials we encounter help define our character, or at least how we respond to those challenges defines us. I assured myself of this as I soldiered on in 94-degree heat. I could have quit, no one would have cared and anyone who saw me sweating away would probably have advised me to stop and take a break. But clearing this ground of the weeds had become personal; the end was in sight and I was determined to reach it before resting. Maybe it was obstinacy or a trace of OCD that compelled me to finish. I would prefer to think it was my father’s counsel that any job worth doing was worth doing well that drove me the last few minutes and I will admit I felt good about it, especially when I retreated into the coolness of the house. There is something to be said for adversity.

It has been said that rewards easily won have little merit. I would agree. Those few moments of recognition in my life I can recall savoring came as a result of a great deal of hard work, and yes, not a little adversity. Maybe that’s the way we are wired, or maybe it’s just my own work ethic. Whatever kept me at the chore this morning is the same benign spirit that has whispered in my ear whenever my indolent self would have gladly put down the plowshare. Now that I think of it, I am not sure exactly what a plowshare is, although I know it can be beat into a sword…or is it the other way around? Well you get the point.

I don’t mean to trivialize adversity, however. Sometimes it can drive us to our knees; sometimes it is too much. Stubborn as I am, I know when a challenge is greater than I can overcome on my own. While I ask for strength to persevere against adversity, I ask as well for courage to accept with serenity those obstacles I may encounter that exceed my ability.

Both of these qualities have their origin in the same place, a conviction that there is an order and however chaotic it may appear, a guiding force to what occurs in our universe. Humans are capable of extraordinary insight, valor, and integrity. They are equally blind, cowardly and lacking in resolve or honor. What is it that summons the best from us or permits us to indulge the worst?

I have written in the past about a higher self, a consciousness that is both a part of us and separate. We have many names for this being, and it is not my purpose to argue for one or another but simply to acknowledge what we might all agree upon. There is something palpable that summons our best qualities, something more than those feathery words called values or morality. They are slippery concepts and too easily subjected to perverse interpretation. No, I am talking about immutable truth; a guiding energy that presents us with no option but to be the best versions of ourselves we are able to be.

I confess that I find a great deal of old testament scripture off putting and inaccessible. It is often bleak, scolding and mean spirited. Perhaps that is because humans tend to respond more readily to fear than any other human emotion. And, perhaps it reflects the times in which it was written and subsequently translated. It’s not a problem for me, I am comfortable picking my way through to mine some nuggets of truth here and there. By the way, I feel the same way about the Quran and other great works. The one consistent thread I find running through all these works is this: men and women of conviction, those who heed the voice of that higher self and are called to acts of strength, courage and compassion have changed the world.

Who of us knows what we will be called upon to do or when? I certainly do not, but I am staying in practice just the same.

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