Getting Through Extremely Difficult Experiences. “Keep Going: The Art of Perseverance” by Joseph Marshall (May 2020)

Susan's Thursday morning note May 14, 2020
Keep Going: the Art of Perseverance by Joseph Marshall
How to go through extremely difficult experiences.

Good morning!  Complete stillness in the trees as I watch the teasing among little squirrels who get the entire stage to themselves this early.  A book sits to my right full of Native American stories between a grandfather and his grandson on handling pain in life.  I will write for you some of the dialogues (mainly from Indian storytellers), hoping to send words to help you gain encouragement and hope.

Keep Going: The Art of Perseverance.  This is written as a dialogue between a Lakota Indian grandfather speaking with his grandson through stories to pass on his wisdom.  I will just write out for you some of what I underlined throughout the book, letting you piece together the thoughts, taking what you need from his writings.  The young man’s father had just died and his question to his grandfather, “Why is life so difficult?”

Difficult experiences, whether they are sadness, loss, hunger, poverty, illness, or death, rarely occur because you invited them into your life.  But when life does place hardship in your path it always offers a chance to learn strength.  That is the unseen gift.  It is not easy, I know, to think of this time and this sadness as a gift.  But you can make it so by living through it, one moment at a time, one day at a time.  At the end of those moments and those days, you will be stronger.  That will be your gift.

Though life beckons it is not a sign that it will always look on you in favor.  It beckons because you must make your journey, and you soon learn that in that journey there is also disappointment, failure, sorrow, frustration, weariness, and doubt.  Just as you were carried along by your determination, you find yourself dragged down by failure.  Then you learn that inside you, along with the will to win is a willingness to lose, to stop when the hill seems too steep, when the road becomes too narrow and rough.  That willingness will speak to you of self-pity, and sometimes it will plead, and sometimes rant.  But always it tries to make you stop.

The Earth has a heartbeat.  In between each beat is silence.  That silence is the time when the Earth’s life force gathers strength for the next beat.  You must learn to do the same.  Use the silence to gather yourself.  (I love that part!)

…Facing those storms, those unbelievably hard times, means accepting the reality of life.  Because denying that bad things can happen never prevents them from happening.  Life is meant to be lived, not avoided…to face every day with its set of experiences and circumstances is fuel for the soul and energy for the spirit, because every day adds to what and who you are…Whether or not you come away stronger, more knowledgeable, or wise from whatever didn’t kill you is not a given.  You need to make it work.  It needs to be a ‘tempering’ experience.

Storms don’t last forever, but it nevertheless seems quite the opposite as wind and cold pound us relentlessly.  And it does seem that the storm has every intention to knock us down.  We can yield to the storm by staying down, or we can stand once more and face it, knowing that it will pass.  Rising to face the storm once again may seem foolish, perhaps even self-destructive.  But I like to think that in some corner of our spirit there is a spark of defiance.  That may be how storms teach us to be strong, by awakening that spark of defiance.  Whether we stand shaking in fear or shaking our fist, as long as we stand, we are strong enough.

The longer we travel on this journey that is our life, we learn that there is more than one way to be strong.  We can be strong of body, mind, and spirit.  In the days of our youth we put our faith in flesh, blood, and bone.  We think strength is going faster, farther, and higher.  We solve a problem by overwhelming it, or wearing it down.  But there comes a time when we can no longer do that…so we learn the value of turning to our intellect, our ability to reason…we discover that knowledge can sustain us.  It’s strength can grow and grow, indefinitely, if need be.  With a store of knowledge, we begin to reach for wisdom…our ultimate strength.  If knowledge is strength of mind, then wisdom is the strength of the soul.  (Why we continually need to learn scripture, to read classics, to learn, learn, learn, to know we can look up and drop to our knees in prayer – this is wisdom we’ve learned, strength for our SOUL.)

We must further remind ourselves that quitting, stopping, or giving in is a choice and not mandatory, no matter how seductive the voice of weariness may be.  We will always serve ourselves best to take one more step, no matter how small or slow or painful it is, or in spite of thinking that all we have is that one last step.  We owe it to our journey, and ourselves, to take that one last step – then determine what to do after we have taken it.  (Picture a toddler now)…The will, that force, that energy that drove us to crawl and then to stand, and then to take those first shaky steps on this journey is that which has sustained us throughout…that unrelenting part of our being that enables us to take one more step.

There are things other than death that can take away our will to go on…like despair, because nothing can cripple us more than the loss of hope.  Weariness may, and does, attack our body and mind.  But despair takes aim at the soul…the person who does not give in to despair will not long be deterred by defeat, nor weighed down by the memory of it…hope is most often the companion of the down-trodden.  It dwells in the hearts and minds of those who have experienced loss or tragedy, or anyone whose road seems more uphill than level…

…it’s important that you simply take the steps, one after another…that one more step will take us beyond where we were, somewhere, anywhere, ahead whether by a hairsbreadth or an arm’s length does not matter…there will always be those of us who will succumb to hopelessness, and those who act on hope.  I like to believe that most of the time hope will make a difference.

…the difference between a small effort and no effort can be gigantic…lack of effort, doing nothing, accomplishes nothing.  It is the absence of hope, and it empowers the problem.  Lack of effort is also self-betrayal.  When we do nothing, we become our own worst enemy…no matter how useless we think it would be in the face of overwhelming odds to take one more step, we must.  The least that can happen is that seemingly useless effort can inspire yet another step.  And if we can take one step, no matter how slow or no matter how small, chances are we can take another.  Eventually one of those steps will make the difference…  Every difficulty, every storm, no matter how large or however strong it may be, can never defeat even the weakest step, because it is an expression of hope.  Every step is a prayer answered.  Every step is a spark that defied the darkness of despair.  Defy the darkness.

That is just a taste of the 130 pages of these stories of hope.  We must search for knowledge, thirst for knowledge, hunger for knowledge, for then we will gain wisdom, which is what nourishes our soul.  Giving us the strength to take the step to fall on our knees to pray.  To take the step to look to the heavens – the promise is that our help is there.  One drop.  One glance.  Faith.  Unseen.  Our strength.  Thank you for letting me be behind your scenes trying to read for you to give you something to think about with me.  Susan

Latin for this week: 
Gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed saepe cadendo – "A drop drills the rock – not with force but by falling repeatedly" (Ovid).  Endurance can overcome an obstacle even without force.
Gutta cavat lapidem non bis, sed saepe cadendo; sic homo fit sapiens non bis, sed saepe legendo – "A drop drills a rock by falling not twice, but many times; so too is a human made smart by reading not two, but many books" (Giordano Bruno) 

Work cited:
Marshall, Joseph M.  Keep Going : The Art of Perseverance.  Grand Rapids: Sterling Co., Inc., 2006