Herrington: The Capacity of Weakness

Chris Herrington, Contributing Writer

     What may seem at first to be a glaring weakness is after all the source of our greatest strength. Those of us who have met in ourselves a person who is reluctant to be brought out because of our anomalies, our oddities, or our differences are in fact people who have overt and covert challenges to our exterior anticipations, those pressures we may feel to meet the expectations of the world, our families, society, or our neighbors. They may meet our seeming lack with pity or ridicule, but this is the road all scholars of humanity must travel, for we come to know what the needs of the world are by how they treat us, with their grimaced glances and their distant or confrontational remarks and observations. We know them for who they are, for their weakness is a lack of understanding and that they go out of their way to display it need not be any surprise to us.

     So then, by a referential system of analysis, we can see that each personal challenge is both a revelation and a hiding, a display and a secret, a moment yet to be fulfilled and a suppression, and it is within this paradox that we find ourselves, our true selves, waiting in the dark to be found and brought out into the light of understanding.

     Evoking this stream of consciousness takes little effort; that is, seeing its observation in the halls of human expression, is simple enough. Walt Whitman famously compares this pathway to the observation of summer grass. Basho sees it as the very path we are on, an inescapable trajectory, even if we never become aware of it ourselves. Eliot contends that we go out and come back and in this returning we see it for the first time anew. Emily Dickinson, John Steinbeck, Jack London: the progenitors of this concern, seem endless in the march of history, and the stories that support its truth are everywhere in Greek mythology, Biblical passages, and modern movies.

     So then, it may eventually seem like the story of our lives is to make peace with what is wrong with us, to know ourselves as we are, to accept ourselves. As the teacher, Pema, says in so many words, “Enlightenment is simply ceasing to be annoyed.” We have seen how difficult it is for some comedians to endure an interview without their being “on,” without their having to be funny, without their constantly performing, without their trying just a little too hard. We cover and we avoid and we duck and we parry and we volley, but in the end we wear thin and our thinly worn defenses show their age and disguiseness, and we stand naked, observed and defenseless, like a Corso poem, or a canvas by Jackson Pollock.

     What are we to do then, other than to simply endure the journey to ourselves? How can we either stop it in its tracks or else hurry along this painful stage of development? Is there any rushing the aging of a fine wine? Is there any way to push the geological clock to reveal the rugged display at long last that is the hallmark of hard living and wise consciousness? How can we maintain the sense of awareness we gain and the innocence we have lost in our traveling from naiveté to enlightenment? Isn’t there some short cut that would allow us to miss the beginning and middle part and go straight to mentorship and the cultured pearls of wisdom?

     Why, yes, there is. And that answer is found everywhere, too. In those previous resources, and in the daily words that flow from our own lips and the tender flowers that grow before us. When Jesus was asked, “Master, what else must I do?” by the rich young ruler, he simply looked deep into the man’s security blanket, the one he used to cover his weakness, and he asked him to step out into the light of insecurity. It is easy to be the one pointing the finger, ridiculing, facing humiliating someone else, expressing rage, poking fun, searching out scratches and dents, and then using a marker of some kind to circle and outline the findings; imperfections are everywhere, and those who make a living pointing them out are the weakest of us all. God only knows the trauma it must be for them to get ready to face the world every single day, the horror of knowing just how imperfect you are to yourself. These are moments that bring to mind the hideous abuses of plastic surgery, those “no more wire hangers” moments in life where the mentor becomes the poster child for ugly behavior and crumpled psyches.

     To know, and to abuse one’s power, is one thing. To look directly into the eyes of the damned and know that the one who is above all is below all; this is the weakest of the weak. What are we then to make of those who condemn us and put us down, who point out our faults and sneer in self-righteousness? We can know that rather than our being upset by their observations of our imperfections that they are screaming at us from their own personal hell. The rich young ruler in fact did not follow even the first Law, thou shalt have no other gods before me, for he worshipped money, the safety he felt in its possession of him; it was his idol.

     This then is the lesson in our weaknesses. Those who observe them in us are themselves weaker than we are. They cannot let it pass. They see every imperfection in a world filled with scratches and dents. They are addicted to the drug of self-torture, the path of self-righteousness, and they are without excuse. This is their weakness, their downfall, their own imperfection. What are they to learn from that?

     To see imperfection is to fill your world with the lesser, the ugly, the non-beautiful, the horrible, the ain’t-it-awful, the poor-pitiful, the loneliness-at-the-top, the place of judgment, the rigid and austere prison of self-loathing. Imagine that all you see is the broken, the lesser, the cut, the busted, the scratched, the dented, the slashed, the deadly, the horrible, the ugly, the imperfect, the sinful, the ripped, the crippled, the anguished, the ragged, the abused, and the yet to be humiliated, and your addiction is the need to point out and circle and illuminate and torture and humiliate and say out loud what every 5 year-old child already knows. That is a weakness crying out for the wisdom of silence.

     Just so, for all of us, there is a perfect remedy for our imperfections. In the polarization of this realization, in this perfect light of day, from this point of parallax, we can see our former weaknesses from a setting of strength. This is why Lao Tzu says that those who know don’t say and those who say don’t know. This is standing in the fire. This is walking in wisdom. This is how Yoda, who walks with a cane fights like a bojutsu master, because his limp is what throws off his enemy and allows him to pass along the path of the master: His weakness is the source of his greatest strength. A person who masters his weakness masters himself. A person who points out the weaknesses of others broadcasts his own weaknesses, telegraphing his insecurities like a novice boxer, giving advantage to his opponent. “Hand me whatever you want me to use as the instrument of your destruction,” the master martial artist says. “Whatever you attack with will be the thing at the bottom of your destruction. Whatever you own up to will be the base of the tower, the foundation of your stability.” Think on these things. Or not.


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