Life is not a struggle, but understanding that, is
Words do more than define ideas, for they also define our beliefs and the actions that spring from them. Words and thoughts are also magical, for whatever I say is true. That is, whatever I say is true for ME at the time I say it. For example, as long as I say and believe life is boring, it is, for ME. And it will remain that way until I question that belief and look for something interesting. And as soon as I do that, life changes (for ME) because we find what we look for. Eventually, I will discover that it was my attitude and not life that was boring.
Because the words we use either build walls and imprison us or demolish walls and free us, we need to be careful of what we say and believe. For instance, if I were to say that life is a struggle, I set up a chain of events that are self-defeating. Struggling with life makes as much sense as Don Quixote attacking a windmill. We cannot vanquish life; we cannot change it in the least. Struggling with it is fruitless.
Does that mean we don’t have to struggle? Not at all. If we wish to reach our potential, if we wish to move from self-indulgence to self-actualization, self-transcendence, or self-realization, we have to engage in a fierce battle. But to become victorious, we need to know who the enemy is. The enemy is not life and the circumstances it brings. The enemy is not outside us, but lies within. It is our own self-limiting beliefs, self-doubt, fear, and weaknesses that hold us back.
This revelation can turn our lives around. It can change us from a Don Quixote to a valiant and victorious warrior. It can set us free. For although we cannot change life, we can change ourselves. And when we do so, we change the world, for when we make ourselves kinder, there is more kindness is the world; when we make ourselves stronger, there is more courage in the world, and when we make ourselves successful, there is more success in the world.
Images are more potent than words. Whatever can be visualized, can be understood and remembered. The 22 Major Arcana (important cards) of the Tarot are powerful images depicting man’s rise to greatness. One of them (card No. 7, The Chariot) illustrates today’s lesson. The image I am about to describe may differ from that appearing in some modern Tarot decks. For the traditional images, we need to refer to the Tarot of Marseilles, which is still published in France and dates from the 17th century. Now for the image.
The Tarot card called The Chariot depicts a prince in a chariot drawn by two horses. The purpose of the card is to teach us about the struggle for self-mastery. The prince represents the Self; the chariot, our body, and the horses, our emotions. To reign supreme, we need to rein in the horses (our emotions), which in the card are striving to move in different directions. The chariot itself represents our body. Unless it is cared for, it will not bear the weight of the prince or the pull of the horses. This powerful image of man’s mastery over his emotions is not new with the Tarot, for the same image appears in the ancient Hindu Scripture known as the Katha Upanishad, which was written somewhere between 1400 BC and 600 BC. In it, it says, “Know the Self as Lord of the chariot, the body as the chariot itself, the discriminating intellect as the charioteer, and the mind as the reins. The passions, say the wise, are the horses.”
Now that we recognize that the enemy that blocks our progress is within us, let’s look more closely at some obstacles we have to struggle with. The first is greed, or the desire to HAVE more instead of BE more. Insatiable craving for the things of this world diverts our attention from higher goals. We settle for popcorn when we could be feasting with kings. We chase after trinkets when we could be filling our coffers with unbridled joy. The flames of lust, ambition, and greed have destroyed many. We can avoid the same fate if we heed words of wisdom, such as that found in the Bhagavad-Gita (III, 38 ~ 39), “As fire is enveloped by smoke, as a mirror by dust, as an embryo by the womb, so wisdom is enveloped by greed. The constant enemy of wise men is the flame of greed, which is difficult to extinguish and which conceals wisdom.”
Returning to the image of The Chariot in the Tarot of Marseilles, one horse is colored red, the other, blue. Red symbolizes action and blue, passivity. It is a reminder that we are driven by our emotions to either act or refuse to act. The refusal to act can be just as harmful as taking the wrong action. British Author, Mary Cholmondeley (1859-1925), explains, “Every day I live I am more convinced that the waste of life lies in the love we have not given, the powers we have not used, the selfish prudence that will risk nothing and which, shirking pain, misses happiness as well.”
We also have to struggle with the wish to get a free ride, the wish to succeed without making any effort. B.C Forbes (1880 ~ 1954) was just as blunt as he was successful, and he put it plainly when he said, “A price has to be paid for success. Almost invariably those who have reached the summits worked harder and longer, studied and planned more assiduously, practiced more self-denial, overcame more difficulties than those of us who have not risen so far.”
Four more faces of the enemy are temptation, bad habits, shortsightedness, and self-pity. Temptations constantly swirl around us. Memories, urges, people, and places lure us away from the path of freedom. The victor walks away from temptation, rather than yielding to it. Bad habits enslave us, and until they are replaced by good habits, we will remain in bondage. The shortsighted follow the road of expediency. They are more interested in quick and easy fixes than in long-term successes. They also chase after fleeting, shallow pleasure instead of lasting happiness. As to self-pity, Dr Megan Reik writes, “There are few human emotions as warm, comforting, and enveloping as self-pity. And nothing is more corrosive and destructive. There is only one answer; turn away from it and move on.”
The struggle with oneself is the greatest struggle we will take part in. But the rewards for winning the battle are even greater. Self-mastery brings with it freedom, security, self-respect, and power and control over our destiny. It also prepares us for moments of greatness, for as Henry Parry Liddon (1829 ~ 1890) wrote, “What we do upon some great occasion will probably depend on what we already are. What we are will be the result of previous years of self-discipline.” Well, I guess the choice is ours. We can lose control of the chariot and lead lives of discontent, boredom, and unhappiness, or we can keep a firm grip on the reins and lead lives filled with inspiration, joy, and serenity. Which will it be?