How Do You Respond to Difficulties?
It's been a rough year for many of us. Rev. Kathy shares these thoughts on dealing with adversity:
We have all endured a difficult 18 months. Many of us have witnessed a wide range of reactions to life circumstances. Some of these reactions make us cringe, and others make us smile. We might even judge others for how they deal with life’s bumpy road, forgetting that we, ourselves, have made missteps.
I reflect on this quote when I think about my own actions and thoughts and responses to difficulties:
“The Buddha, in the causal stage, made the universal Vow.
When beings hear my Name and think on me, I will come to welcome each of them.
Not discriminating at all between the poor and the rich and wellborn.
Not discriminating between the inferior and the high gifted.
Not choosing the learned and those upholding pure precepts.
Not rejecting those who break precepts and whose evil karma is profound.
Solely making beings turn about and abundantly say the nembutsu.
I can make bits of rubble turn into gold.”
--Tz’u-min, Chinese Pure Land master of the 8th century
We all change as a result of different conditions we are subject to, but we change in different ways. I want to share a parable called “Carrots, Eggs, and Coffee” which can help us about life’s bumpy road and how each individual might deal with difficulties:
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.
The young woman’s mother took her to the kitchen and filled three pots with water and placed each on high heat. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first pot, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil and didn’t say anything to her daughter.
Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted the rich aroma.
Her mother went on to explain that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The boiling water represents an experience that we might label as negative or bad—illness, financial disaster, family problems, the sudden death of a loved one, injury, an argument with a friend. Each one of us will react differently to these experiences, and each of us will change or be changed in the process.
Before being placed in the boiling water, the carrot is strong, hard, and unrelenting. After being subjected to the boiling water, it becomes soft and weak. Many of us, when faced with adversity, start out strong and unrelenting. When we find that adversity is followed by yet another calamity, we weaken and give up.
Think about the egg. The egg starts out fragile. It has a thin outer shell that protects the liquid interior. After sitting in the hot water, the liquid interior becomes hardened. Many people are like the egg. They start out very fragile inside but develop a shell to protect that softness. However, when the going gets tough, they harden themselves inside. We think that if we ignore the pain and suffering, maybe it will go away. We don’t want anyone to see that we are vulnerable so we harden ourselves to protect our own fragile egos.
The coffee beans are different. After they are in boiling water, they change the water. The water becomes flavored, and the aroma fills our senses with comfort.*
Which one are you? When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength? Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?
Or, am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the coffee bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change how you perceive the situation. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
*The origin of this parable is unknown as far as we can tell. If you know the source, please let us know.