The dilemma of not knowing whats good for us
Commentary by JOELLEN COLLINS
I try, I try, but sometimes my emotions get the better of my
intellectual grasp of an issue. I get all tied up in stepping over one small rock beneath
the current and forget that I do.
I have just been through a period of what I jokingly refer to as the
Chinese water torture, a long period of uncertainly.
As with most of my life experiences, I am now looking at what it was about
the three months that disturbed me most, and I am trying to put it in perspective. I do
not need to go into the details at all, and in fact, feel it would be injudicious to do
so, but lets just say that I was awaiting the results of something I had tried
seriously to attain.
It doesnt even matter what the outcome was. As in sports
competition, it is more important to play the game well than to win.
I truly believe that, and yet at times I found myself carping about the
slowness of the process. There were many days when I just wanted to get the news, even if
it was bad; I just wanted the uncertainty to be over.
I told myself that others were at fault, that the process itself needed
revamping, that it wasnt fair to ask people to wait so long to know the results.
However, I also countered those negatives with some wisdom acquired over my years of
One is the knowledge that this was a process over which I had no control:
thus, it was a waste of energy to try to speed it up. I did my best to present my case,
and I just had to wait for others decisions regarding my abilities.
"Zorba the Greek," by Nikos Kazantzakis, has a moving passage
where the narrator, a naive young Englishman who encounters the vital force of life
embodied in Zorba, has an epiphany.
He recalls a time when, as a young boy, he discovers a cocoon in the bark
of a tree just as the butterfly is preparing to emerge. In his youthful excitement, the
young boy breathes on it to warm it and speed up the process.
Instead of helping the new form develop properly, however, the boy is
dismayed to discover that he has crippled it. The butterfly appears crumpled, before its
The narrator then says, "That little body is, I do believe, the
greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to
violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we
should confidently obey the eternal rhythm."
I know that Kazantzakis is speaking of the great patterns of life and
eternity, but I can apply that lesson to such a time as I have just experienced.
It has been a lesson (put out there for me many times in my life) in
patience. I am also aware that I can easily forget the wisdom I may have acquired when I
focus on the immediacy of a situation and forget my long-range goals.
Because of my impatience, a friend once gave me a book called
"Dont Push the River." I try, I try, but sometimes my emotions get the
better of my intellectual grasp of an issue. I get all tied up in stepping over one small
rock beneath the current and forget that I do know how to swim.
The other reality I try to remember when faced with the conflict of a
desire I may have with the reality of achieving it is that a grander perspective
illuminates a vital truth. We dont always know whats good for us or recognize
it at the time.
We all know that things have happened to us that at the time seemed losses
or negative outcomes only to look back later and understand that the result was the
correct one, that we indeed profited in many ways from not reaping that particular reward
or achieving that victory.
I have learned that whatever the outcome, nothing is irreparably bad, and
that often we grow in wonderful ways by setbacks.
All this sounds very Pollyana-ish, I know. Of course I want the prize, of
course I dont want to be disappointed, of course Id rather have the issue
settled right this minute. Of course I want what I want now. But the world isnt
necessarily going to rearrange its timetable for my convenience. Rivers arent going
to slow down.
While Im playing with the water metaphor, let me confess to
something. I tried to find out the origin of the "Chinese water torture," since
I have been bandying it about. In my imagination it has to do with the slow and constant
dripping of water somehow driving a prisoner mad.
When I think of it, though, I dont know how that could cause
insanity. Id like to at least toss out the term with an accurate reference in mind.
So, if you know, please write.
I can wait.