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Through Struggle to Achievement

And he who flagg'd not in the earthly strife,
From strength to strength advancing—only he,
His soul well-knit, and all his battles won,
Mounts, and that hardly, to eternal life.
—Matthew Arnold

In the life of everyone who has really tried to make his life something finer and nobler and more impressive in its influence than a mere existence could be, there come retrogressions, backward eddies in the tide, unforeseen obstacles and hindrances. What then? Shall he give up the struggle and relax into commonplace activities? 'There is no sorrow I have thought more about than this,' wrote George Eliot, 'that one who aspires to live a higher life than the common should fall from that serene height into the soul-wasting struggle with worldly annoyances.' Nor is there any sorrow or loss or pain of life equal to such an experience. To deny it would be false; to ignore it would be foolish. It is an experience which may come to any one, which does come to many of us; and it is not blindness to it that will aid, but rather the clearer sight to recognize the experience at its true value—to hold the serenity of spirit that will not be unduly terrified and exaggerate the evil, and also the seriousness of contemplation that will not flippantly pass it by.

The mysterious principle of vicarious atonement has prevailed in the universe, and revealed itself, in some form, through every age and in every national and individual history. The Christ on Calvary is but the supremest, divinest form that the truth has taken. The Roman legend that tells how Curtius leaped into the dark gulf which closed over him, is but another attestation of the way this universal truth has taken root in every literature and every land. No work—not even the individual work of one's own life—is ever assured until sacrifice, in some form or other, is made. 'That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.' It is the power to recognize this relation of temporal defeat to eternal success which is the all-determining factor—the power to see, not the mere paltry annoyances of the moment, but the vision shining fair beyond, and to endure, as seeing Him who is invisible.

To recognize loss, or pain, or annoyance, not flippantly nor with undue dread, is to assume the conquering attitude. No one is defeated until he gives up. The point is, then, not to give up. Life is, after all, a supernatural affair, an affair of supernaturalism; and it is the invisible powers which are its stay, its guide, and its inspiration. We live and move and have our being on the divine side of things. We only live, in any true sense, as we are filled with the heavenly magnetism. 'Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy, with thy countenance,' says the disciple. Here is the true gospel to live by. There are 'ways of life'; and through toil and trial they shall be reached. The one is eternal; the other temporal. It is unwise to lay too much stress on the infelicities of the moment. Exaltation alone is real; depression is unreal. The obstacle is not intended to stop the progress but to stimulate new energies.

For one mounts to eternal life now—not in some vague tomorrow, but today. Eternal life is a condition, not a period. Live in immortal energies, in noble purpose, in true lift of soul, and one lives at once and here the immortal life. His soul has already put on immortality.

There is, too, a charm of going out into the unknown which has seldom been sufficiently appreciated by those to whom changes in affairs come by ways outside their own choice, or from causes with whose origin they are not familiar. The ordinary feeling is of shrinking from the new; of dreading to go from the known into the unknown; of leaving with reluctance the old familiar ways for the new and untried. This implies a want of adjustment to the divine harmony, and not only ignorance, but unbelief in the laws of the universe.

As we all realize, mere existence is not life. Not existence, but experience, constitutes living; and experience is gained largely by a continual succession of new environments. With the immaterial as with the material, the law holds good that two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time. One experience crowds out another, save that the best of each is, in its essence, assimilated into life and becomes a part of one's character. Now, there is such a thing as spiritual as well as material enterprise. On the visible and material side of life, those who have conquered have always been they who have gone out and on into the unknown. The hero is he who takes risks; although the converse is not, of course, true, that he who takes risks is invariably a hero. But no man conquers who is afraid to venture outside his own garden-plot. No one conquers spiritually who is not willing to accept risks—to go out into the untried and unknown immaterial realm. New experiences are the very material from which it draws its life and weaves its fabric. They are something to be largely welcomed and embraced. They are possessions; they are spiritual capital. Change is apt to be development. Under new skies new voices call to one—new inspirations are in the very air.

It is commonly said that no one can escape his fate. But fate is—unpenetrated causes; and cause and effect are as indissolubly linked together as night and day, or as the succession of the seasons. The law of cause and effect can no more be escaped or annulled than can the law of gravitation. One who, from creating the cause, sets in motion the current of activities that produce the effect, must accept that effect. As the Theosophist would say, it is a part of his karma. But causes wear themselves out, and their effects then cease. If one does not like his life in its present aspect, he can change it for the future by changing the sources from which the present flows and is shaped and colored. Every individual is simply the result, the exact sum and amount, of the causes he has, by his own series of choices, set in motion. But surely no life is ever so perfect in all its fulfillments or appointments, that there are not possibilities or preferences for something different. If a change may be worse, it may also be better; and whether better or worse depends, after all, wholly on ourselves. It is the mental attitude that stamps circumstances, and not circumstances that stamp the mental attitude.

Outward life is the reflex of inward states. It is the expression which the spirit makes of itself. The mind stamps its impress upon the material surroundings. Goethe has said that the highest state is a 'tranquility of soul, in which a man loves what he commands himself to do.' There is more in this than meets the eye. To love what one commands himself to do is to endow the action with that vitality and magnetism which creates success. To command oneself to do it without loving it, is to perform merely a mechanical action which generates no power to perpetuate its influence. Let no one fail to realize the infinite potency that lies in devotion to the work which he has commanded himself to do. Love that into which one goes forward. Endow it with life; generate for it the magnetic atmosphere of hope and belief and conviction. One's personal power carried into a new environment shall produce external circumstances as beautiful as is the power he brings to bear on them. It depends wholly on himself. If one is afraid of new conditions—if he dread the untried—it is really the fear of himself. But if he be strong in integrity of purpose, in singleness of aim, in that larger love and in the sweetness of spirit which is serenity and peace, he need feel no terror in going out into the unknown. The cloud by day becomes a pillar of fire by night. The need of the morning is met by the heavenly manna. Nor need the manna be stored and hoarded: it is offered anew each day. One need only trust. The force in today will rival and re-create the beautiful yesterday. If the angels go out, the archangels may come in; and whether they do depends wholly on oneself. That power is 'to him who power exerts' is as certain and unvarying a truth as any law of mathematics. The power that is within rushes to meet one from without. All that is one's own—that is to say, all that one has conquered of the invisible potencies by means of his own spiritual energy—all that power is his. No external change can deprive him of it. Nothing can lessen its force to create his outward life. The external circumstances, the surroundings amid which he shall dwell, the friends that shall bring untold sweetness and grace into his life—all these are predetermined by his own mental state as certainly as the stone falls to the earth by the law of gravitation. We always come to our own, and enter in and possess the land.

Trial and perplexity teach one the wiser meanings of life, and the way to speed their departure is to grasp the meaning as quickly as possible. Then, with this, let one demand from the higher powers the aid to overcome the plane of trial, and to rise to that where all work is done with exhilaration, and it will be given in even greater measure than he could ask.

It is these matters that are now those of chief concern to the public in general. It is a very striking fact that, of all the long series of congresses held in Chicago in connection with the World's Exposition, none began to attract such crowds and throngs as those which discussed religion and the higher life. The psychical, the theosophical, and the great Parliament of Religions—a sublime assembly—were those to which the people pressed and thronged, in a degree tenfold greater than to those devoted to science or economics. For the whole world is feeling the electric thrill of a new life. Our Sinai is before us, and we realize that we must climb it and hold converse with the divine. A wave of new invigoration is sweeping over the entire world. The gospel of hope, of faith, is bearing men to a winged vantage-ground.

To keep one's foot firmly set in the way that leads upward, however dark and thorny it may be at the moment, is to conquer. All trial is, in its very nature, temporal; all joy is, in its nature, eternal. Legions of angelic powers wait upon the soul, and guide it to the Mount of Vision.

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Lilian Whiting

  • Born on October 3rd, 1859 in Niagara Falls, New York and died in 1942
  • Author and journalist
  • Edited The Boston Traveler and The Boston Budget

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