11th Apr, 2011

Good Luck or Bad Luck May Depend on How We Choose to See Life's Struggles

By: Bruce Heustis

Published in the Kalamazoo Gazette

Once upon a time in ancient China there lived a man with 14 beautiful horses. One day the horses broke out of the corral and ran away. All the villagers said, “Oh, bad luck, bad luck.” The man replied, “Good luck, bad luck, who can tell?”

The following day the 14 horses returned and with them they brought 10 wild horses. All the villagers said, “Oh, good luck, good luck,” but the man answered, “Good luck, bad luck, who can tell?” The following day the man’s son went to ride one of the new horses, the horse threw him and he broke his leg. All the villagers said, “Oh, bad luck, bad luck,” but the man said “Good luck, bad luck who can tell?” The following day the army was coming down from the North on its way to war in the South. They were drafting all the young men along the way, but they could not take the man’s son because he had a broken leg. All the villagers said, “Oh, good luck, good luck,” and once again the man responded, “Good luck, bad luck, who can tell?”

Caught in the emotions of the present moment we tend to make knee-jerk, black-and-white judgments about our immediate circumstances, calling one thing success another failure. But looking back on these same experiences years later our judgments about them can dramatically change when informed by a new and enlarged perspective.

Take the dramatic case of J. K. Rowling, author of the famed Harry Potter series. Her childhood dream was to be a writer, but her parents, familiar with the struggle of an underprivileged past, only saw a starving artist in that scenario so they encouraged her to choose some vocation that would be more “financially practical.” Years later after studying classics in college, Rowling found herself jobless and a divorced single parent living on welfare.

In a recent commencement address at Harvard University, Rowling stated, “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”

We tend to see life’s failings, struggles, disappointments, losses and hardships in a purely negative light and we basically equate success with getting what we think we want, potentially negating a deeper, though unseen necessity within ourselves. In Rowling’s case her failure woke her up to the truth of her real vocation. She had to go through an ordeal, a failure, in order to find herself. “You will never truly know yourself or the strength of your relationships until both have been tested by adversity,” Rowling told her audience.

It is just these ordeals and trials of our lives that ask for an often dramatic change in us. It is as if we have become stuck, petrified, too narrow and blind to the profound, unique individual reality within us and around us. It is as if our constricted consciousness of ourselves and others needs to be broken open by failure and loss in order to wake us up to a larger, fuller, more meaningful way of living and being in the world.

It is as though life’s forces seek to grow our awareness of an instinctive hidden largeness or wholeness within. But, for the most part we do not see the necessity that would have us value failure as a rite of passage into a new, enlarged way of living and being. Rowling was not a passive victim of her failed circumstances. Those who cannot or will not go voluntarily on a journey of self-knowledge and discovery may end up experiencing themselves as helpless victims rather than active instruments of their fate.

In the stream of providence, life is a mysterious pathway, a story that wants to unfold in you. It needs your conscious and willful participation to open you to a new attitude, a new reality, “Good luck, bad luck, who can tell?”

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