“People with the help of conventions have oriented their solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must hold to what is difficult; everything alive holds to it, everything in nature grows and defends itself in its own way and is characteristically and spontaneously itself, seeks at all costs to be so and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us; … that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to it.”
Rainier M. Rilke
But our quick fix, microwave, sound bite, instant food, texting and Twitter dominated world, proclaims quite the opposite. Daily we are provided many opportunities to avoid the difficult. If tasks take too much time and involvement, there is a tendency to simply abandon them for something that is easier. If a relationship is too complex there is always a chance that the next new relationship will be easier. We are steered away from the hard work of problem solving because we are encouraged to make sure we don't have any problems.
This is the type of thinking that leads to addiction, illness and all types of psychological and spiritual disruption in people. Life is filled with challenges and some of them are very difficult. But, at times it is in the midst of the most difficult of situations that we learn about ourselves and people have been known to discover they are much stronger than they had imagined while “holding to the difficult.”
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Actually no one is crazy enough to go searching for the difficult. Most reasonable people do not seek to bring any unnecessary hardships into their lives because the normal pace of life can be very challenging. But, when the challenging times arrive, whether or not they are embraced and accepted as a part of the normal pattern of being a human person on this earth will make a vast amount of difference in how a person enjoys their journey.
It was very helpful to learn early in life that this time on earth is a journey and that there is much to learn. There were many good teachers along the way for me who clearly understood the journey aspect. Recently, I was recalling many of those teachers in my family who have gone on to the next realm of life and the ways they held on to the difficult. My mother is the best example of all of them.
She was able to spend at least two decades completing a college education because of the difficulties involved in a black woman trying to get a college education in Arkansas where access to higher education was quite limited for black people. She took classes through the mail because this was before the days of computers and distance learning. Along with the correspondence courses, she took what was known as extension courses offered at night in nearby towns.
Mama would work in the field all day and drive 25 miles to a nearby town for a class after coming in from the fields and getting my brother, sister and me ready to go with her to class. She had no fear of the difficult. She graduated from college in 1964, the same year I graduated from high school.
She never said much about the difficulties she faced. She did what she had to do each day with a reasonable amount of grace and acceptance. Life was simply made up of mountains and valleys and her job was to travel over both. Our 21st-century hearts and souls can learn a lot from folks like my mother. They knew the journey to wholeness required holding on to the difficult. They did it.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.