March 28, 2012

The Capacity to Be Honest

If anything is definitely, unarguably true, it’s that life is hard. However good or smart or talented or rich a person may be, however humble or unselfish or spiritual, problems and challenges surround us at every turn, and just when we think we’ve got one crisis solved, it either turns back to bite us again, or another one, equally exasperating, pops up to take its place.

Certainly, the future is unpredictable. We cannot know what situation, what momentous decision will confront us around the next bend. No amount of preparation or forethought can protect us absolutely from the unforeseeable. As Robert Burns so famously observed, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”

And yet, for the most part, for those who’ve survived enough drama and trauma and mistakes, and have learned to savor the sweetness, life can be so wonderfully, joyfully, indescribably good. Indeed, it’s very often the difficulty and the suffering that drives us to our knees and leaves us nowhere to look but in the right direction, which, consistently and inevitably, is up.

Looking, of course, is not the same as seeing, just as reaching for something worthwhile carries no guarantee of its materialization in our lives. We can devote every ounce of our energy, the full force of our being to the achievement of the most admirable objective, and still fall short.

In a world where, so often, it seems that the only certainty is uncertainty, and the only constant is change, it becomes imperative that we lean our ladders against the right wall, lest we pour our hearts and our lives into a climb that proves, in the end, to lead nowhere.

How, then, are we to live? How are we to choose correctly? Our own human frailty and imperfections would seem to preclude any hope of success. Our only chance seems to be in the honest admission of our shortcomings, and in the willingness to sublimate our lives and our wills to a power greater than ourselves.
Honesty. It seems simple enough on the surface, but is it really? I find, in my own life, that it is not. When I think of my most pressing and significant problems, and begin to try to assess how I myself might be at fault, how I might be perpetuating and magnifying them through my own choices, I find that it makes me uneasy, and I soon create an excuse to turn my attention away. I dare not shine the light of truth into the dark corners of my own life.

I pride myself on positive thinking. I prefer to focus on peace and love. I’d rather be “for” the good than “against” the bad. And yet it occurs to me that we can’t get where we want to go unless we know where we are now. Even if we’re “looking up,” and are unflinchingly focused on the best and brightest of destinations, we still need a compass, and we still need to honestly assess and admit when and where we are going wrong.

“Thy Will be done,” is the mantra many of us chant when we pray, if we ever do. Yet, in reality, it is our own thoughts and actions, and their congruency with, or divergence from, that divine Will, that must determine, now and in the end, how good we feel about our lives.

Wishing you health, happiness and peace,

Dr. Frank Bowling

The Gentle Hero

 “It is the gentle soul that makes the firm hero after all.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I believe that the most difficult and courageous act a man can perform is to look humbly and honestly within himself, and to face the truth of what he finds there.

We cannot know the final outcome of our choices, whether they will lead us, in the end, to wealth or poverty, celebrity or obscurity, ecstasy or despair.

Our only chance for certainty, then, lies in the foundational principle that we elect to follow in the making of our daily decisions; our only hope for happiness and peace depends, now and in the end, on the one true star to which we affix our gaze, the one final, infallible, perfect authority to which we try in our own imperfect way to dedicate every thought, feeling, and action of our lives.

I have found, in my own life, that self-reliance is a failure. However strongly I may feel that I can trust no one and no thing absolutely except my own heart, experience teaches me that the practical application of that belief falls short of the desired result.

Try as I might, I find that I cannot stand alone, or at least, that I cannot stand as tall, or reach as high, as my heart tells me I must. Much as I try to listen to my own intuition, and to follow the urgings of my own inner voice, still my soul cries out to Something… or Someone… that is somehow… so much Bigger.

I have no idea Who or What lies Out There, beyond the stars, or yes, In Here, deeper than I can go on my own. I only know that I need some help, and that when I ask, clearly and sincerely, for guidance… it seems to come. I cannot “talk” to my own heart. But I can… (dare I use the word?)… pray, in my own dazed, confused, lost and stumbling way, having no real clue Where those desperate pleadings are directed, asking for no particular “Thing,” but only for direction, armed only with willingness and patience, and to my amazement, the better path, and the strength to follow it, is ultimately laid within my grasp.

I’ve had a pretty good life, so far – a good family, good friends, a certain amount of professional success, the knowledge of having done some good in the world and helped some people – and yet my heart always longs for something more. Jack Nicholson tells Helen Hunt in the movie, As Good As It Gets, “You make me want to be a better man.” Simply stated, I guess that’s what I want, too.

A wise friend, or at least one better schooled in the art of humility, suggested awhile back that I get on my knees, morning and night. I didn’t take him literally, as I don’t think my orthopedist would approve, but I did hear the message, and have tried to apply it. The results, I must now officially and with some embarrassment admit, have been nothing short of remarkable.

I won’t pretend to have found Absolute Truth – I still have many more questions than answers – but I do believe there’s a Source of help, and I don’t think it matters one bit whether we call it Father Time, Mother Nature, or Almighty God. What does matter is whether we have the firm resolve and the gentle courage to make the call at all.

Wishing you health, happiness and peace,

Dr. Frank Bowling

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