I have a friend who has a friend who had a friend who turned on her in a verbal attack that absolutely devastated her. Not only was her entire life and being discounted as being a complete moral failure, but her condemnation was steeped in an even more corrosive solution of contempt. Unfortunately, this is not all that unusual of an occurrence. What is unusual was her response: she came to understand this event as a singular gift. No other event in her life had as yet presented itself as such an opportune occasion to grow in her awareness of herself and others. She was actually thankful for what amounted to the most hurtful event of her life.
Since first hearing of this occurrence I have had the opportunity to meet and speak with this woman. Here is some of what she had to say. First, she acknowledged some of the 'truthfulness' of these accusations. Indeed, she declared herself to have already been more fully aware of them than her attacker had apparently imagined. In this sense, her attacker added nothing to her self-awareness. What he (it was actually a 'she', but making it a 'he' helps to keep the actors straight) did was to simply reinforce her already acute sense of self-condemnation and self-contempt. And this, in turn, brought her to the point where she realized that it was this self-relationship that was her greatest challenge, not the various contingent behaviors which only appeared to reinforce them; the behaviors were the consequence of the self-relationship. The first aspect of the giftedness of this event, therefore, was that it provided an ever-present (because ever-painful) opportunity to break the bonds of self-rejection and enter the freedom of self-acceptance.
Secondly, it offered her a wonderful opportunity to discover what it means to embrace and accept others. She had her great external nemesis — not an abstract and theoretical enemy, but one whose dagger still lodged in her heart — and if she could pull him into the sphere of her affirmation, she would have learned a great lesson in the way of true inner harmony.
There are also the many ways in which this event illuminated the complex workings of the human mind — its bondage to moral discrimination and judgmentalism, its incredible capacity for projection, the thick fog of self-deception which renders self-awareness near impossible. When I asked her if this was her assessment of her attacker, she replied that yes, he had helped her to understand these things by being the aggressor, but that no, she understood how they equally applied to her. She understood the commonality of human bondage and thus the folly of finger-pointing.
Needless to say, I saw this woman as an easy convert to the Church of Zhuangzi (doubling our numbers!), but when I shared how similar her process was to Zhuangzi's, though she found that quite interesting, she declared that her life was itself sufficient to teach her how best to live.
Perhaps the greatest lesson to take away from all this is that those events which hurt us the most are indeed the greatest of gifts, if we are truly committed to the process of self-cultivation.
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