From Greek drama and the tragic figure of King Oedipus in the masterpiece of Sophocles, to the diary of a New England invalid, seems a far cry indeed. But when Alice James, the beloved sister of the famous brothers, William and Henry, wrote "Ah! Those strange people who have the courage to be unhappy! Are they unhappy, by the way?", she recorded a glimpse of the same profound secret revealed long ago in the Greek drama at a time when the Mysteries were still being taught in Greece.
Alice James's intellect had been tempered by pain and frustration valiantly accepted. This enabled her to perceive the truth that, in the agonies undergone by human beings, causes set in motion in some forgotten past come full circle when they are expressed on the physical plane. There they expend their power to inflict suffering, only to release a new power, to initiate a spiritual experience — but only for those whose sharpened weapons of discernment have not been corroded by rust of resentment or fear. This experience may be a fleeting glimpse of the ineffable Law which restores harmony in the cosmos; it may be insight into the deepest significance of the Atonement. It may bring exalted peace, that peace with power to bless, which transcends happiness and radiates healing for human woe.
All this is set forth with magnificent artistry in the tragedies of Sophocles that deal with the working of Karman in the destiny of the royal house of Labdacus. Faced with bitter humiliation and disgrace, with the horrid agony of having brought misery to all he loved and wished to serve, and, moreover, all this utterly unexpected and seemingly undeserved, proud Oedipus in his despair tears out his eyes. But he recovers his sanity and heroically submits to his joyless destiny. He lives out his allotted span of life, demanding nothing, accepting the painful discipline his own forgotten acts and defects of character have precipitated, challenging it to purify and strengthen and do its blessing to his people. The final message of Oedipus at Colonos is the assurance that heroism like that of Oedipus invokes the presence and the participation of the gods in the adjustment of human destiny.
One of the earliest reactions to severe sorrow and loss is the conviction that it is not to be endured. To the man who would become wise, Plotinus wrote:
As for violent personal sufferings he will carry them off as well as he can, if they overpass his endurance they carry him off. And so in all his pain he asks no pity, there is always the radiance in the inner soul of the man, untroubled like the light in the lantern when fierce gusts beat about it in a wild turmoil of wind and tempest.
Do we estimate justly the strength of the human heart? Even in those who are quite young it is frequently found. Katherine Mansfield, young, happy, greatly gifted, when she learned that she was ill unto death wrote:
One must submit. Do not resist. Take it. Accept it fully. Make it a part of life. Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change. So suffering must become love. This is the mystery. This is what I must do. I must pass from personal love to greater love. I must give to the whole of life what I gave to one. The present agony will pass — if it doesn't kill. It won't last. Now I am like a man who has had his heart torn out — but bear it — bear it!
Triumphant courage is not achieved by denial of crushing realities. Today countless human beings have lost what brought them human happiness. Parents have lost that sustaining sense of continuance they found in the lives of their sons; wives have lost that other self that made their own lives complete; sweethearts have crushed hopes and fewer memories — and how can we bear to think of what war has done to children and the world they must grow up in!
What can this well nigh universal experience of suffering and loss yield for the human race? Theosophy teaches that this is the auspicious moment for the expansion of personal horizons into cosmic horizons wide and deep enough to include the causes, obscure at present, of the disaster and sorrow that overtake human beings individually and in the mass. Horizons wide enough to include future lives on Earth in which knowledge of man's relation to the universe, to Divinity, knowledge of the purpose of it all, can be gained in ever-increasing measure, with power to co-operate with higher beings in periods of activity expressive of the nobler side of human nature. Truly has it been said "The human heart has not yet fully uttered itself." There is no more effectual method of arriving at deeper knowledge of this glorious future than courageous acceptance of crushing loss. It is, moreover, wasteful ignorance not to make such experience count for something in self-directed evolution.
After all, as the Ancient Wisdom — mercifully restored to give timely aid to humanity at this crisis — teaches, the planet Earth, on which humanity is functioning at present, and with whose destiny man's destiny is indissolubly linked, is passing through but one of the seven stages, the fourth, in its evolution. We and our home-planet have reached a point where a significant turn is made into what is known as the Luminous Arc. Globe D, as the present stage is named, may have many heavy clouds of the karman of past evil-doing to dispel, but the turn has been made and beyond the threshold of the ascending arc lie all the opportunities for fulfilment, for meeting and loving again, for self-development, for boundless joyous effort, for the "glory of going on" — and on Earth.
For back to Earth we come, until Earth's destiny and ours have been lived out. Nightly we sleep and our inner selves wing their way afar; death, "the perfect sleep," gives time and space for wider winging; but with birth and morning it is to Earth we return.
It is true that there are always laggards, those who whine and fail when tried by suffering. "Try again" is a maxim that obtains in the cosmos as well as in narrower fields. But the heroic bid sorrow and loss sharpen higher faculties of discernment; they behold and gather the fruit of experience. They win insight into the vast framework of the destiny of Man and Earth. They gear their effort to the push and sweep of human and planetary evolution — and involution. Even voluntary faith in this wider outlook can "illumine the heart and fill the mind." It can fortify mankind for the spiritual adventure of the conscious leap, with Earth, into the Luminous Arc.
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