"You've got to be tough, kid."
These were the last words that Hilda, my spiritual teacher, ever said to me. (Hilda called everyone "kid"' whether you were three or a hundred and three.)
Two years later on the set of a TV show, I discovered that one of the cameramen had worked on the Mother Teresa documentary that so many of us have seen on PBS. When I queried him about his impressions of her, his first words were, "She's tough."
A few weeks ago, Oprah's guest was Will Smith, who was sharing his experiences preparing for, and shooting the film Ali. He was radiant in both mind and body -- at the very peak of his form, he felt. He spoke of the arduousness of his process -- not only the relentless physical training necessary to portray this legendary athlete but equally, if not more challenging, getting inside the psyche of the awesome, much-bigger-than-life, Mohammed Ali. He recounted times when he was so totally exhausted he felt that he could not continue another second.
He'd find himself repeatedly saying deep inside: "Do you want to be champ?"
The answer was always "yes" and he'd keep on truckin'. Tough! (I'm not sure whether this motivating technique was Ali's or Will's. In any event, tough!)
Then, the other day I came across a Time magazine dated June 18, 2001. I'd put it aside to read the cover story which was of Eric Weihenmayer's Mt. Everest climb. Eric was 33 years old at the time and he'd been blind since he was 13. To me, there are no words to even begin to describe the unmerciful trials inherent in scaling Mt. Everest under the best of circumstances. But sightless? Mind boggling! He made it to the summit. Tough. One of the sentences in the article stated, "On Everest, toughness is perhaps the most important trait a climber can have."
There seemed to be a theme here.
The first dictionary definition my eyes fell on defined tough as, "so strong and resilient as to withstand great strain without tearing or breaking." I liked that. Strong and resilient make the word tough much more palatable.
I, for one, was not raised to be "tough." My mother and father would not be amused at all. But strong and resilient -- now that's totally appropriate; and in our current circumstances on the planet, a must for the life scenario into which we were so brashly thrust, on September 11. As a race of people, I feel we are all now being called upon to toughen up and roll with the political and economic punches that are assailing our peace of mind.
And there's the pertinent word. No matter how physically strong we are, or well-trained and fed and nurtured our bodies are, it's our minds that are running the show. And fear and depression and worry, and all those negatives that hover so near these days, cannot be allowed "air time" in our precious minds. They're destroyers -- they disempower us. Certainly we have to acknowledge that they're there and not stuff them. But the trick is then to focus our minds on the positive and the creative. Do you want to be champ? Oh yes. Whatever that equivalent is in our own lives, we need to fly with that. Giving our all to whatever we're involved in at the moment. Having a sense of our own being and becoming, and making decisions about our priorities and dreams.
"More than doers we are deciders," says The Book of Runes, the oracular writings that many refer to as the Celtic I Ching. So let us decide this moment that, whatever travail may present itself, we'll take a few deep breaths -- breathing in all the power and courage the Universe has to offer us, exhaling the fear and anxiety and upset, and then respond to the situation from a place of wisdom and strength and resiliency. Our tuning into the energies of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela and, of course, Mother Teresa would be most helpful. And let me not exclude Joan of Arc from that list. Invoking the courage of St. Joan is extraordinarily powerful.
One of the characters in Victor Villaseñor's brilliant book, Rain of Gold says, "Some people think that the things of the heart are so delicate that they must be handled with care. I say that the heart is tough and vigorous, overflowing with life's juices, so we must be tough and decisive and get to the heart of the matter or we lose everything."
To me, the heart is the higher intelligence. In coming home to our hearts at this time on this Earth, I feel it's imperative that we act with a heightened sense of alertness and vitality. Let's have a divine toughness join the repertoire of love and tenderness and caring and compassion deep in our hearts. As we launch into a brand new year, may we all be of good cheer, of clear and decisive mind and, most of all, of courageous and strong heart.