We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen. - Paulo Coelho
The Buddha languished in point C for about six years. He put all his energy into rooting out truth to the point where he nearly died of fasting. He'd copied and outdid the ascetics whom counseled they knew the way. As he regained his strength, he went his own way. One fateful day under a bodhi tree he rejoined the world yet never the same.
People came to him asking what he was. Not "Who are you" but "What are you?" "Are you a god?" they asked. "No." "An angel?" "No." "A saint?" "No." "Then what are you?" Buddha answered, "I am awake." - Huston Smith, The Illustrated World's Religions
Many non-Buddhists know snippets of Buddha's story. We have a propensity to wipe out those six hard years and focus on the forty years that Buddha taught as an enlightened being.
Darkness is not the whole of the story - every pilgrimage has passages of loveliness and joy - but it is the part of the story often left untold. When we finally escape the darkness and stumble into the light, it is tempting to tell others that our hope never flagged, to deny those long nights we spent cowering in fear. The experience of darkness has been essential to my coming into selfhood, and telling the truth about that fact helps me stay in the light. - Parker J. Parker, Let Your Life Speak: Listening For the Voice of Vocation
In The lllustrated World's Religions (highly recommend), Huston Smith calls Buddha the rebel saint as he defied all six features of religion: authority, ritual, explanations, tradition, grace, mystery. In fact, Smith states that these six features "appear so regularly as to suggest that their seeds are in the human makeup." Smith paints of picture of Hinduism in Buddha's day:
Authority had become hereditary and exploitative as Brahmins took to hoarding their religious secrets and charging exorbitantly for ministrations. Rituals had become mechanical means for working miracles. Explanations had lost their experiential base and devolved into arguments. Tradition had become a dead weight. God's grace was being misread in ways that undercut human responsibility, and mystery was confused with mystification - perverse obsession with miracles, the occult, and the fantastic. - Huston Smith, The Illustrated World's Religions
When Buddha came out of point C, he completely flipped the table of established wisdom he was surrounded by.
I suppose you could call him an innovator. Before his epiphany, his local max was a pretty nice gig as a prince in a fine palace, surrounded by beautiful women, one whom he took as wife. One night he snuck off because he was plummeting. He experienced and witnessed more pain, less creativity and more conflict that he felt there should be. So as to not be pulled back by the persuasions of his family, he left the palace in the middle of the night. Only his charioteer was in on the plot. As they crossed the boundary of his kingdom to the mountains where the sages taught, the charioteer was concerned and tried to convince the prince to go back for god's sake.
Buddha looked back and told the old man, "I don't see any palace there but only a great fire. The palace is on fire, only flames. Simply leave me here and go back; if you see the palace, go back to the palace. I don't see any palace there, because death is coming closer every moment. And I don't see any palace there because all palaces disappear sooner or later. In this world, everything is momentary and I am in search of the eternal. Seeing the momentariness of this world, I can no longer fool myself.
These are his exact words, "I cannot fool myself anymore." - Osho, Buddha: His Life and Teachings
Let me not fool you. I know from experience that Point C is not easy. We do everything under the sun to avoid it. Until we cannot.
Robert Kiyosaki in his Rich Dad Poor Dad series talks about his low point. He'd had to face the music, close down his company and with integrity pay as many debtors as possible. That left him living out of his car. A while of this, he is given a chance to go backwards, maybe to point B. A sales position wth a nice title to boot. Not his dream, but it'd be more comfortable than the car.
“Rich dad [Kiyosaki's close mentor since he was 9, not his real dad] was always more interested in what character I chose to become rather than the profession I chose. During this period of time, the two characters I had to choose between were the wimp and the warrior. After facing the real world with nothing, for about two weeks, the wimp in me was winning.
Then one day, the warrior won and I felt good for a whole day…then the wimp took over again. By the fourth week, the battle was tied. I was a wimp for half the time and a warrior the other half. That is when things finally began to change. Life began to change once I was comfortable with my status of being a person with no money, no job, and no professional status. In other words, I was becoming comfortable with being a nobody. I was no longer a kid, a student, a ship’s officer, a military pilot, or an entrepreneur. I had nothing and I kind of liked it. It wasn’t that bad. I was facing nothing with nothing…and the more I could do that, the more the warrior inside of me was growing stronger. One of the reasons I turned down the possibility of the job as national sales manager was because I was in the middle of my own personal experiment and I simply wanted to find out which character would win.” -- Rich Dad's Prophecy, by Robert Kiyosaki
Kiyosaki eventually climbed out of that trough, and not by going backwards. He turned down the national sales manager job. Today he writes about becoming a multimillionare because he is one.
Those who follow the Way might well follow the example of an ox that marches through the deep mire carrying a heavy load. He is tired, but his steady, forward-looking gaze will not relax until he comes out of the mire. Only then does he relax. - Buddha, The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters
If I weren't so lazy, I'd scour through my old journals or the January post entries to find exactly when I read Lance Armstrong's autobiography It's Not About the Bike. All that's intact in my memory is that I was laying in bed midday, bandaged knee straight up on a pillow, and devouring it soon after I returned home from Thailand. Reading it was a brush with grace:
I wanted to live, but whether I would or not was a mystery, and in the midst of confronting that fact, even at that moment, I was beginning to sense that to stare into the heart of such a fearful mystery wasn't a bad thing. To be afraid is a priceless education. Once you have been that scared, you know more about your frailty than most people, and I think that changes a man. I was brought low, and there was nothing to take refuge in but the philosophical: this disease would force me to ask more of myself as a person than I ever had before, and to seek out a different ethic.
A couple of days earlier, I had received an e-mail from a military guy stationed in Asia. He was a fellow cancer patient, and he wanted to tell me something. "You don't know it yet," he wrote, "but we're the lucky ones."
I'd said aloud, "This guy's a nut."
What on earth could he mean?
When I write my memoir every chapter is starting at minor and major point C's. Those that have come out the other side of this unnamed alchemical vessel - this seemingly bottomless point C - know precisely what Lance means. And the survivors of one of the worst natural disasters in the past hundred years the world over are a rare specimen of guides through one point C.
The Way is gained by daily loss. - Chuang Tzu
I'd been harping on a theme of resiliency. Resiliency's out: sounds like weathering through something intact. Armstrong wasn't merely resilient. He was transmuted, transformed, and enriched. Invincible at his essence, from the brink of succumbing to testicular cancer, he went on to win seven Tour de Frances and create the successful Lance Armstrong Foundation.
It's no accident that Armstrong's book subtitle is My Journey Back to Life.
Instead of resiliency, I'm talking regeneration. Perhaps I was prescient when I named my consulting practice the Koru Group. Koru is a Maori name for the fern frond which unfurls into the fern leaf. It's their symbol for new life, new beginnings, creation, growth, movement.
Point C can go on and on feeling like the end.
Trust me, it's not.
The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning. - Ivy Baker Priest
Bonus: Complete passage from Parker J. Palmer's Let Your Life Speak above (and he touches on why naked blogging and writing is important):
Many of us arrive at a sense of self and vocation only after a long journey through alien lands. But this journey bears no resemblance to the trouble-free "travel packages" sold by the tourism industry. It is more akin to the ancient tradition of pilgrimage - "a transformative journey to a sacred center" full of hardships, darkness and peril.
In the tradition of pilgrimage, those hardships are not seen as accidental but as integral to the journey itself. Treacherous terrain, bad weather, taking a fall, getting lost - challenges of that sort, largely beyond our control, can strip the ego of illusion that it is in charge and make space for true self to emerge. If that happens, the pilgrim has a better chance to find the sacred center he or she seeks. Disabused of our illusions by much travel and travail, we awaken one day to find that the sacred center is here and now - in every moment of the journey, everywhere in the world around us, and deep within our own hearts.
But before we come to that center, full of light, we must travel in the dark. Darkness is not the whole of the story - every pilgrimage has passages of loveliness and joy - but it is the part of the story often left untold. When we finally escape the darkness and stumble into the light, it is tempting to tell others that our hope never flagged, to deny those long nights we spent cowering in fear.The experience of darkness has been essential to my coming into selfhood, and telling the truth about that fact helps me stay in the light. But I want to tell that truth for another reason as well: many young people today journey in the dark, as the young always have, and we elders do them a disservice when we withhold the shadowy parts of our lives. When I was young, there were very few elders willing to talk about the darkness; most of them pretended that success was all they had ever known. As the darkness began to descend on me in my early twenties, I thought I had developed a unique and terminal case of failure. I did not realize that I had merely embarked on a journey toward joining the human race.
The story of my journey is no more or less important than anyone else's. It is simply the best source of data I have on a subject where generalizations often fail but truth may be found in the details. I want to rehearse a few details of my travels, and travails, extracting some insights about vocation as I go. I do so partly as an offering of honesty to the young and partly as a reminder to anyone who needs it that the nuances of personal experience contain much guidance toward self-hood and vocation. [See also Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey and Maureen Murdock's The Heroine's Journey.]