I heard a story a few years back about honey bees. The story goes that NASA gathered up a group of honey bees and packed them away on a rocket headed for outer space. The bees were studied in the zero gravity environment of space for a couple of months, and then they were rocketed back to earth. Once they arrived back on gravity-rich earth, the bees could no longer fly.
According to the story, their inability to fly was directly attributed to the fact that in space the bees no longer used their wings since they could float around without gravity. This lack of use produced wing-flapping-muscle-atrophy. The gravity that normally forces the bees to exert effort to fly was removed and therefore the muscles used to propel the bees through the air shrunk and they could no longer achieve lift off. The once majestic honey bees of insect nobility were ground-bound like an ordinary centipede. They needed the struggle of fighting through gravity to strengthen their wing-flapping muscles and enable them to fly.
Although I have been unable to verify the bees-in-space story, it illustrates a principle: Without hardship, opposition and struggle there is no progress or achievement; depth of becoming is attained through the struggle. Another story, one that can be verified, will further illustrate this principle.
This is the lesson of the butterfly: A man was working in his garden one day when he happened upon a chrysalis, also known as a cocoon. He noticed some movement within and so he sat down to watch. He knew inside the cocoon was a butterfly struggling to emerge and he was anxious to watch the beautiful insect be born-again, as it were, and stretch its new wings. After several minutes of watching a small hole appeared in the cocoon. He witnessed the butterfly work feverishly to enlarge the hole big enough so that it could squeeze through to freedom. After enormous effort the butterfly collapsed within the cocoon, exhausted.
The gardener watched for a while, but the butterfly remained still, resting. Eager to watch the butterfly spread its wings and take its first flight in his own garden the man made the decision to help the butterfly escape the grip of the cocoon. He removed a small set of shears from his pocket. Carefully gripping the cocoon in one hand he deftly inserted the tip of the shears into the hole and began a slow, methodical cut being careful not to injure the bushed butterfly. After a few seconds the small hole had become a slit the entire length of the cocoon. Certainly the little butterfly could easily slip through now.
The gardener let go of the cocoon and sat back to watch the show. Eventually the butterfly did crawl out but the event was not the spectacular triumph the gardener was hoping to witness. Instead a crumpled butterfly with shriveled wings and a bloated body emerged and stumbled across the branch. The man continued to watch and wait, waiting for the wings to unfurl into a glorious spectacle of color and pattern, waiting for the butterfly to stretch and flap its wings to enlarge and dry them in the warm sun, waiting for a quick hop from the branch and a soaring, magnificent flight; but he waited in vain.
The poor butterfly never took flight. Its small, shriveled wings never opened up and spread out and the butterfly’s bloated, swollen body never shrunk down to the sleek form butterflies need to become airborne. The poor insect, once destined for a grand transformation, suffered a miserable and short life dragging its useless, soggy wings around on the ground until it finally succumbed to the elements. The gardener’s kind-hearted, but ill-advised, act doomed the butterfly for life.
The principle the gardener did not understand is the hardship law. The butterfly needed the hardship -- the struggle to escape the cocoon is what ultimately saves the butterfly. Through that immense effort the butterfly becomes what it is meant to be. Working through the cocoon develops fortitude and strengthens the butterfly’s wings; squishing through the hole squeezes the fluid from the butterfly’s body into its wings slimming down the body and inflating the wings. The butterfly is meant to struggle; it needs the struggle to forge it into a complete and functioning butterfly. The struggle is the thing!
Butterflies and bees are not the only example of the hardship law. It is abundantly evident in nature. Alligators and turtles and birds and other egg-borns utilize it much like the butterfly; salmon struggle through miles of hardship and fight tremendous river currents to reach their spawning ground to spawn -- the journey kills them; however, they triumph by living on through their progeny.
We humans often create artificial hardships to achieve certain results. For example, if you have a chicken coop that keeps getting raided by weasels and you want a dog that will ferociously hunt down weasels and protect your chickens then you can create a hardship for your dog so that it will develop the tenacity and aggression needed for the tough job. It is called weaseling a dog and the practice goes something like this. Catch a big, mean weasel and put him in a barrel. Take a dog, typically a small tenacious terrier, and throw it in the barrel with the weasel, then slap the lid down tight. An incredible fight will ensue and when the rumbling stops you lift off the lid and retrieve the dog. The dog will be banged up but will forevermore hate weasels and hunt them down relentlessly. The struggle, as extreme as it was, is what created a dog that will protect your chickens against weasels with his very life!
I had lunch the other day with four good friends. Each one of them has endured incredible hardships and has struggled against the hand life has dealt them. These are not minuscule or shallow challenges but jugular heart-wrenching injustices that include disabilities, heartache, medical maladies and death.
I felt very humbled to be sitting in their presence, completely inadequate as I listened to them recount their lives. Years and years of struggle is manifest in their everyday lives and yet somehow they cheerfully push through the painful torrent. I am secretly in awe at how each one of them have triumphed in their lives. I don’t know if I could ever manage what they have, if I could even get out of bed day after day if I was walking in their shoes. I see in them the beauty and grandeur of what the struggle has done to them. They are successful, kind, glorious, intelligent, caring people that without the struggles, without the hardship, would somehow be different. I am glad to simply be counted as one of them and although I don’t deserve it, I revel in their friendship. They are role models of success through struggle; they are four beautiful butterflies and to them I say thank you. The struggle’s the thing.