When I went to technical college, I lamented to my father about having to take Calculus classes. I knew that in my chosen field (which I had already been working in for several years), calculus was something I would never be called on to use. In responding, my father described having a similar experience while studying Latin in Jesuit grade school. “The point,” he explained, “is not that you learn how to speak Latin or perform Calculus equations. The point is to learn another way of thinking.”
Fans of Star Trek should recall the infamous Kobayashi Maru simulation that all Federation cadets face at Starfleet Academy. (I fully acknowledge that that was a very nerdy sentence; get used to that kind of thing on this blog.)
Every cadet assumes that the objective of the test is to win in battle, but of course the battle is unwinnable. The real test is in how the cadet faces death.
In Freemasonry, initiates are required to commit certain things to memory and are tested in that capacity before they can advance to the next degree. While practicing for this test, the initiate is caused to ruminate on basic concepts of fraternity and morality, but he is also given an opportunity to learn his first lesson in finding his center. To accomplish what can be a very difficult task, the initiate must learn to concentrate his energy on the present moment and to put away all distracting thoughts, including the fear of failure and the desire to impress the other members. (This of course has the added benefit of creating a stronger bond of trust with his lodge; embarrassment and ego have no place among brothers “on the level.”)
These are not lessons that are taught overtly. Rather they are lessons that one must learn somewhat by chance, because there is no guarantee that the student will ever have that particular lightbulb will go off in his head.
I don’t think I would be saying anything particularly groundbreaking to suggest that all of mortal Life is a series of invisible lessons. We are not humans having a spiritual experience, but spirits having a human experience. Every crisis we face has something to teach us, is a hero myth after which we are either exalted in victory or condemned to defeat. Each of us is analogous to Hercules, Jesus Christ, King Arthur, and Luke Skywalker. Our hardships are our own Seven Labours, our crucifixion, our sword in the stone, and our Death Star.
But unless we turn our minds toward thinking about what we have to learn from what just happened, we can be victorious and still not reap the real reward of having our lives enriched by the experience. Why were you angry with your wife? Was it really because she threw out the sports section again, or was it because you’re afraid that if she can’t comply with a simple request then maybe she doesn’t really love you? Why did you cry at your old friend’s funeral? Was it really because you think you’ll never see him again, or was it because he has gone where you fear to follow?