The Enduring Determination of the Human Spirit

“Why do we stumble and fall and somehow miraculously rise and go on…?” – LTJ Bukem

I am in Vietnam and what strikes me (just as much now as it did 6 years ago when I first visited) is the strength and tenacity of the people. You see it in their sinewy bodies and etched in their faces with their calm look of determination. The smiling, affable lady (pictured) is tiny, over 70 years old. She has been cooking for people, carrying her kitchen around with her most of her life. I don’t know how much it weighed but I could only just lift it off the ground. I will never forgot her – such an inspiration (the food she made was also delicious).


On the tele the other day I caught a glimpse of a completely silly show. It was an American reality cooking show, strangely enough sub-titled in Vietnamese. The contestants were cooking french fries (I call them chips) – all very serious with dramatic music. The judges were mostly taking the contestants to task for their terrible, soggy efforts. One woman started crying. Are they kidding? The chips are soggy – what a complete and utter disaster. A tsunami of the ego. Talk about disconnected from humanity. Not to worry there is hope – I just think of the courageous smiling lady in the picture carrying her kitchen around.

As the intensity of the planet ramps up, the media becomes more shrill, the environment trashed, the tendency is to withdraw to protect ourselves from all the nonsense. We see it right across the world – especially in the West where people are scared. They want to build a wall – they want things guaranteed and given. The more governments and institutions prop them up, the more they demand, the more they think the world owes them, the softer they become and it weakens their spirit. Governments love this because it makes them more powerful.

A part of this “demand” is people jumping up and down about their rights. Ok so people do great work helping others with rights written in law, but spiritually we have no rights – all we have is the energy within us that is projected out into our daily, walking, talking life. And as for God – the great gig in the sky doesn’t understand rights. Couldn’t care less.

So if we look at our world and our lives – how do we as individuals step into strength? How do we hold on to this natural enduring determination to always pick ourselves up? How do we muster courage and align to the energy of the old lady carrying around her kitchen?

The first step to understanding the human spirit and our ability to endure is to move beyond our rights by becoming as self-reliant as possible. It’s one of the first great spiritual lessons. A part of this self-reliance is participating in the great feast of life. We need to wake every day and celebrate our ability to express our energy without shutting ourselves off from the world.

I have known a couple for some time who have disconnected from the world. They are nice, polite, wealthy and have created such a plethora of rules and do’s and don’ts that it’s impossible for them to participate in the real world. They can do this fairly easily with money but their lives are very controlled and whenever I meet them they seem very distant. It’s impossible to relax in their presence lest something is not right in their emotional desert, which extends like a dominating, amoeba infecting everything around them. If we are going to infect people with our presence then we need to be sincere in our hearts with as few rules as possible.

We all stumble and fall and need help from time to time (and if people are taking care of you – then give the greatest thanks you can). The fact you are reading this means you are a survivor, you have a tenacity of spirit. In times of duress you have summoned your courage, picked yourself up and got on with life. Also it means you are interested in exploring new ideas and feel the need to change aspects of your life for the better. This suggests going out on a limb. It is very important to be aware that this pushing out for change gives your life a measure of uncertainty – you have a greater chance of falling down (or falling out of your tree) exposing your vulnerability. But don’t be deterred – this is what gives life it’s beauty, it’s meaning. For the gathering up of courage and rising is the rapture flowing in our veins – it is the shining jewel.

Many people preach the notion of a better life if you get different job, change your diet, get another partner. Not necessarily. It may be more exciting, but when you create change, to adapt you have to generate more energy and initially it may be difficult. True – some of us have had it easier than others. Some people go through unimaginable horrors and have an acceptance about the way their life is peddling along. Some have a gentle life and one mishap shunts them aside, making them ever more cautious. Change is one of those things that takes practice but mostly it happens naturally without any exertion at all.

So I would say the second step in our little sermon here is the one of “improving our lives through change”. Countless books have been written on this topic and it seems such a tenuous concept. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this in an intellectual sense – it gets us out of bed and motivated to do the things we love in life. But I always remind myself that in the the Eternal Tao – there is no improvement. No higher or lower. No us and them. Life is simply all flowing energy.

I drive my partner crazy at times because I am one of those annoying personalities that likes constant change. We are in Vietnam and I have always wanted to go to Cambodia to the Angkor Wat temples. But it’s quite complicated because we didn’t organise it beforehand and there are visa problems in getting back into Vietnam. So Fiona hesitated and complained a bit (fair enough – she also had a bit of a tummy ache from some suspect noodles). But I said “So what you are saying is that you don’t want to go to one of the great archeological sites in the solar system because some government says you need to organise some more pieces of paper?” She saw the light, which I am very grateful for, and we changed hotels, flights, organised visas and we are off tomorrow.

The Enduring Determination of the Human Spirit

A third and vital step is our creativity. Any creative process means you can fall and fail, but every day you should do at least one creative thing – even it is something very simple. Being creative opens us up to freedom and is vital for our connection to our fellow people. It also exposes us to uncertainty and criticism, for what we create is often for the world to see. Don’t be afraid of criticism. We have to accept it. If we don’t then we are destined for blandness. We can actually revel in it, understanding that it actually means very little in the great scheme of things. After all it’s only a French fry for Buddha’s sake!!

Aside: But what about fear? Feel the fear and do it anyway? Really? Nonsense. This is one of the silliest anecdotes ever. Most of my life I have felt the fear and stayed put – and I have done some pretty wild things that most people wouldn’t dare touch. Fear is one of your greatest teachers – understanding fear is the key. But I digress – more on this in another jotting.

The last and probably the most important step is nature. Get into it any way you can. Not much more to say on that really – simple. It is our greatest teacher.

So why do we stumble and fall and somehow miraculously rise and go on…? We are human beings, and to be is to endure: not in the suffering sense; although that may be a part of it; but to endure in the temporal sense through the courage of the human heart.

May your path be full of surprises

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