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Never Before Revealed: Resilience Secrets of the Hobbit…

[Spoiler Alert – book and movie!]

“In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit…”

…and you find true resilience in the unlikeliest of places!

J.R.R. Tolkien created the hobbits to represent everything stable and ordinary and decent about rural Britain.  Hobbits tend their farms and eat too much and have fun, but are absolutely harmless and uninterested in adventures or the affairs of the Big People.

And yet, in The Hobbit, the fate of three kingdoms will hang on the actions of Bilbo Baggins, just as the fate of the entire world will hang on his nephew Frodo in Lord of the Rings.  It all comes down to a mysterious decision by Gandalf, the great wizard.  Thirteen dwarves intent on wresting their mountain kingdom from the evil dragon, Smaug, have need of the services of a burglar.  This dragon is a creation of Morgoth, a fallen higher being and the worst threat the world had ever faced; there are suggestions in the Silmarillion that dragons themselves may be spiritual creatures turned to Morgoth’s side.  Gandalf would know- he himself is a higher being, called into the world by Galadriel.  Having taken up human form, his mission is to protect the world from the next foray by the dark powers.  That means Smaug and his kind.  Gandalf’s answer?

 

Gandalf decides to back thirteen vagrant dwarvish warriors and their forlorn quest.  But, he emphasizes, the quest may depend on securing the services of someone even more formidable- a hobbit.  This decision to counter a fire-breathing dragon with a creature whose main concerns to that point had been eating, drinking, pipe-smoking and gardening might seem rather odd.  Even stranger, Bilbo’s role was to be The Burglar.  Not only was he no warrior, he most likely hadn’t stolen anything more than a few peeps at the neighborhood girls.

Bilbo certainly thought little of the idea: “We don’t want any adventures here- nasty, inconvenient uncomfortable things.  Make you late for dinner.”  Gandalf, however, would not take no for an answer and invited thirteen dwarves to dinner at Bilbo’s to make him listen to the whole thing.  You see, Gandalf knew that, once presented with the whole picture, Bilbo wouldn’t be able to bring himself to refuse.

 

But what made this hobbit ideal for his pivotal role?

Bilbo was stalled in his own personal development, so much so that he saw no need to develop.  But although stalled, he was neither corrupt nor cynical.  He had the values of an ordinary, decent person, and this is why he first embarks on and then sticks with the quest.  He doesn’t want to go- but the thought of turning down the opportunity to see the world and be part of something really significant was too much for him.  Although hardship does tempt him to abandon his friends, Bilbo chooses to stick with them when they are confronted with orcs and giant wolves, precisely because they don’t have a home to go back to as he does.  Bilbo was willing to sacrifice for his friends.

Zhuge Liang, Chinese strategist, administrator and polymath, once wrote, “Straight trees are found in remote forests; upright people come from the commons. Therefore when rulers are going to make appointments they need to look in obscure places.”  Gandalf certainly couldn’t have picked a more obscure place than the Shire and Bilbo is more “upright” – meaning he has more character and can be relied on to do the morally right thing where others would cave in to their own short-term convenience – than many of his fellow adventurers.

 

Bilbo’s second asset is his immensely flexible mindset.  Whatever circumstance he is dropped into, he reacts with presence of mind and does whatever needs doing to move forward.  If that means playing a game of riddles with a wizened schizophrenic cannibal in a dark cave, he goes along with it.  If it means charging a wolf to rescue his friend, he’ll do that.  If it means flattering a dragon silly to get it to delay eating him and reveal the chink in its armour he’ll do that.  If it means negotiating the dwarves’ mistrust and doubts with some hard-headed bargaining, he’ll do that.  If it means discussing the culinary vices of roast dwarf with three trolls until the sun rises, he’ll do that.  He keeps putting one foot in front of the other, and when he’s at his wits’ end, he changes the rules.  During the riddle game, Bilbo is one riddle away from being eaten and can’t think of another riddle, so he asks Gollum what he has in his pockets- breaking the rules of the game, but putting off being devoured.

Bilbo’s no great fighter, nor does he have any non-culinary talent worth mentioning other than this ability to be dropped into any situation and come back again better than he arrived.  That last bit is important, because it isn’t just ingenuity that gets Bilbo out of tight squeezes – it’s the universe rooting for him.  He’s open to what comes his way, and while it can get him into trouble, it saves his life several times.  He isn’t relying only on himself, and it is for that exact reason that he always comes out of a situation a little better than he arrived in it.

 

There is a rather weak scene in the film where Gandalf attempts to explain to the beautiful Galadriel exactly why a hobbit is necessary baggage on this mission.  The truth is that Gandalf does not like to, and until his transformation into Gandalf the White generally will not, rely on great power or might to do his work.  Good, as he says, is found in the little people of the world, not in armies or empires, and in order to work for the good, Gandalf will always rely on a small and unlikely band of people armed with courage, faith and sharp wits (your mileage may vary) and bound by integrity over armies or magic.  That his closest friend among his own order is the bird dropping-adorned naturalist Radagast reinforces this bent in Gandalf’s character.

 

On the other side, of course, there’s Bilbo, middle-aged, comfortable, not accomplishing anything in particular when Gandalf shows up.  Gandalf has faith that given the opportunity, this anonymous little scrap of hobbit will rise to the occasion.  He doesn’t force Bilbo to go, but he has faith that Bilbo will, not for the gold, not to have his name remembered or even because he particularly wants to but because the dwarves have given him something to believe in, a chance to matter, an opportunity to help their whole nation.   Without that chance, and without Gandalf’s belief and persistence, he would have remained just as he was until the end of his days.  With it, his actions lead to the downfall of the enemy of all life.

Throughout Tolkien’s work, Hobbits are the poster children for resilience and the certainty that ordinary, decent people can do surprising, amazing things when given the chance to do something that matters.

 

Dwarvish Brittleness

 

The Dwarves are an effective counterpoint to Bilbo’s form of resilience.  While on the face of it, the dwarves seem in every way tougher and more resilient than the hobbit, the reverse is true.

On the one hand, the dwarves are strong, courageous, extremely determined and have kept their cause alive throughout long years of wandering and exile.  But this limited form of resilience is offset by a rigidity that renders them extremely brittle, particularly where their leader Thorin is concerned.

 

Thorin sets out with twelve loyal companions to recapture his grandfather’s kingdom, showing courage and faith.  But he frequently quarrels with Gandalf, a rather powerful being and his most important ally.  When Gandalf proposes they take Bilbo, Thorin disputes the choice, and will continue to doubt and quarrel with Bilbo throughout the journey, even once Bilbo has repeatedly proven his worth.  Thorin likewise does everything possible to avoid getting any help at all from the elves, near-immortal beings of immense knowledge, at least some of whom might have been willing to assist the dwarves.  Thorin is bitter that the elves who lived near his homeland didn’t charge into certain death in a hopeless attempt to save the dwarves from Smaug, and this feeling extends to all elves, including the ones who weren’t there.  This inflexibility will continue to get Thorin into trouble, to the point where his admitted virtues will not be able to save him (I did remember to put a spoiler alert at the top, didn’t I?  Anyway, read the book.)

 

We hear that Thror, Thorin’s grandfather and king-under-the-mountain, was corrupted by his love of gold and of the Arkenstone, a gem found within the mountain.  Thror was deluded into believing that his kingdom was eternal, and not only ended up with few friends in the outside world, but attracted a creature even more gold-hungry than himself.  After Smaug drove him out of his kingdom, Thror spent the rest of his life fighting hopeless battles until at last, even his armour-plated beard couldn’t save him.  The dwarves united to avenge his death, and though they won in battle against the orcs, the dwarves were severely weakened.  Perhaps it is no accident that when Thorin attacks Azog, the orc who killed Thror, the theme music is the same used for the Ringwraiths in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  This pattern of rigidity, insularity, greed and general inability to get along with people who are on their side continues for the dwarves until Galadriel finally manages to get through to Gimli in Fellowship of the Ring.

 

Consider the Following

 

We all know a great many “hobbits” and a few “dwarves”.  In this world, the “hobbits” are not only looked down upon, they are taught to look down on themselves.  How many do you know that are ripe for new challenges and a more meaningful life?  What can you do to help?  How many people around you could do something extraordinary if given the chance?  How many are so far gone that they wouldn’t even believe in the possibility?  How can you help to restore their faith in themselves?

On the other hand, how many people do you know who have fallen prey to the tendencies which dog Thorin, and are suffering for it, some without even knowing it?  Chances are, a number of them are in leadership positions, and a number of others are collapsing into a state of bitterness.  What can you do to help them?

 

The Hobbit and the Dwarf, in fact, represent two sides of the resilience coin and both are necessary.  Another way of describing this that we’ve used before is the “Yin” and “Yang” of resilience:

The Dwarves are all too much “Yang” in their approach – they have the determination, ferocity and bravado, as well as the physical skills to match.  Yet they’re not entirely in charge of their own thinking – all too easily they’re carried away by their own prejudices, assumptions and preconceived ideas.  They allow their own eyes to deceive them.  And they don’t always have the character to do the right thing even when that’s damned inconvenient.

The average Hobbit, being much more “Yin” in his approach, does have that character and, when the moment arises, that character is what allows him to rise to the occasion in an astounding way.  He is far less the prisoner of his own limited vision and his temper seldom gets the better of him.  Now, let’s be clear; Bilbo could use a healthy dose of the Dwarves’ warrior skills, no doubt about it!  However, those skills can be taught and learned much easier than character and mastery of one’s emotions.

As we cultivate our own resilience day in and day out, we need to be conscious of precisely this “yin-yang” balance in our approach.  Some of us think resilience will come entirely from working out at the gym.  Others of us expect it to come exclusively from our meditation sessions.  In both cases we’re fooling ourselves – we need to strive for this balance in our training.

~Dr. Symeon Rodger 


Get a “Thick Face” – Regain Your Personal Autonomy!

As promised, here’s the first installment of how you can understand and cultivate the profound philosophy of “Thick Face, Black Heart” in your own life. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you MUST read the previous post FIRST.

THICK FACE

You probably know that Asians tend to be VERY concerned with matters of face (as in the expression, “saving face”). In other words, reputation means everything to them and what others think really matters. To us in our individualistic culture, this seems a trifle overdone at times and it has a couple of major disadvantages – it means you cede control over your behavior to other people’s ideas and standards and it also makes you reactive and highly predictable.

Not surprisingly, “Thick Face” (hereafter “TF”) is quite the opposite. It’s more like our concept of “Thick Skin”. It means you stop caring what other people think or say about you. You stop trying to live by other people’s standards and start living by the principles you really believe in.

Yes, at its worst, this could mean you’re a sociopath who thinks he’s the center of the universe and the fount of all wisdom. Hitler, Stalin and Chairman Mao all had very thick faces. However, consider the following…

Back in the early 1920s, a very enthusiastic young spiritual seeker arrived on Mount Athos, the most important center of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. Despite immense pressure to “settle down” and join one of the large monasteries, to become “one of the crowd”, he steadfastly refused. He knew exactly what kind of spiritual life model he wanted to follow and endured lots of abuse for it. And later on, when he was living the life he so ardently sought, he was verbally abused by other monks who condemned him as eccentric and unfriendly, all because he insisted on following a schedule and carefully managing his time and the time of those who had joined him (and that meant, “if you show up when we’re praying, we won’t stop to talk to you!”  Hence the reasons others felt slighted by him).

This young monk’s name was Joseph… later known as Joseph the Hesychast, one of the great spiritual masters of the 20th century. Joseph’s refusal to cave in to the pressures to conform or to surrender the integrity of his lifestyle to criticisms of others are the epitome of THICK FACE.

Politicians tend to have very thick faces. They have to. Of course, not a few of them are self-centered sociopaths who don’t care who gets hurt. On the other hand, consider Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King – they were all the object of violent criticism and they all survived and succeeded by having a TF.

TRUST YOUR OWN JUDGMENT

By now it may have dawned on you that you can’t have a TF without trusting your own judgment. That may sound arrogant, but it isn’t always. So let’s clear up a common misunderstanding – being humble does NOT mean you cave in to other people’s opinions. After all, Joseph the Hesychast’s whole life was about cultivating humility, and he never caved in. Humble people do not surrender their principles for any reason. Opportunists do… at the drop of a hat.

Think back through your life. Can you think of times where someone in authority was pressuring you to do something or agree with something you thought was inadvisable or wrong? Looking back on the incident, were you right? Should you have trusted your gut?

When have you been right all along? On the other hand, you need to admit the truth when your judgment has been wrong.

I’ve been viciously criticized and even plotted against because some people found the “controversial” things I wrote in The 5 Pillars of Life totally unacceptable. They would happily have banned the book and had me tossed out of the priesthood of the Orthodox Church.

However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s to trust my gut on matters of spiritual life and personal development. I’m so convinced I’m right about certain things to do with the history and development of Christianity, for instance, that all the opposition in the universe won’t even make a dent. Now, if someone comes to me with “new evidence” and can prove that I might be on the wrong track, I’ll happily listen. This isn’t an egotistical thing – it’s about what’s true and what’s not.  So far, no one has been able to present any evidence to the contrary.

And you can probably find a parallel in your own life.

The essence of TF is regaining your personal autonomy, no longer having your life controlled by the opinions of others, by what they think of you or say about you, by the standards of the prevailing culture – standards that always claim absolute truth is on their side, even though they differ from one culture to another and shift over time.

It is NOT POSSIBLE to do anything significant in life if you don’t have a TF, simply because anything worth doing WILL bring criticism. People WILL try to drag you down to their level. They WILL be jealous of your accomplishments and rain on your parade. Get used to it now and determine from this moment on to adopt a TF.

Fortunately, everyday life gives you lots of opportunities to practice. Think about it and make a list of what you’ll do this week to practice!  First, you need to know who you are and what you stand for.  What values are non-negotiable for you?  What activities and pursuits mean the most to you?  What makes you happy and fulfilled?  Then ask yourself what people or social pressures in your life are “asking” you (overtly or in a subtle way) to abandon what’s important to you?  Hint: they’ll be the ones telling you to “grow up”, “be responsible”, “be realistic”, “be a team player”, etc.

THICK FACE AS A WARRIOR PHILOSOPHY

Chin-Ning Chu was quite right to call TFBH a “warrior philosophy” in her subtitle. In fact, I’m convinced that the warrior traditions of the world’s “Authentic Ancient Traditions” (as I called them in The 5 Pillars of Life) already contain the essence of TFBH, simply because TFBH describes your natural state once you’re rid of all the cultural conditioning that’s holding you back.

In the next post, we’ll go on to discuss how TFBH can give you COMPLETE CLARITY about what you want to do, and very quickly!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


People WANT to Drag You Down!

Hi Everyone,

There’s a flip side to setting ambitious goals for your life. It’s one that the goal-setting and success gurus don’t spend nearly enough time on…

You know how they say that if you can imagine a goal, and it really excites you, and you go after that goal, then the whole universe starts lining up to make it possible?

It’s true… but…

Everyone who knows you and can’t identify with your goal or the new direction you’re trying to take your life in will rise up AGAINST YOU. Yes, there are exceptions but, generally speaking, when human beings – and expecially human beings living in “victim syndrome” – see you trying to rise above the pack, they’re going to do everything possible to drag you back down.

They will mock you. They will conspire against you, start intrigues and try to get you into trouble with your boss, your family, with anyone they can. And when you “fail” – and you will fail, because we usually fail before we succeed – they’ll be the first to say, “I told you so!”

This is pretty much a UNIVERSAL LAW.

It even happens in the most “spiritual” of places. One great Orthodox Christian holy man of the 20th century – a monk on Mount Athos in Greece – wrote something like, “Our spiritual struggles were difficult enough in themselves, but were made a hundred times worse by the mockery of other monks who didn’t understand our way of life. So the very people who should have supported us most were the very ones who turned against us.”

Yes, if you try to fly above the herd in ANY WAY, you WILL be attacked. Just remember the old saying that “just because you’re not paranoid, it doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get you” 😉

When I went into business and wrote The 5 Pillars of Life, I was viciously attacked by people in the Church. Only a few, of course, but the TREACHERY was unreal – going behind my back to try to turn Church authorities against me, trying to isolate and marginalize me. And then there were all the comments about the evils of business and money.

You should read Michael Jordan’s bio someday – he was determined to be a great professional basketball player yet nearly everyone he knew became an obstacle. They mocked him, they didn’t believe in him, they told him he was wasting his time. I wonder if any of those losers woke up in the end.

So the bottom line is this…

Before you dedicate yourself to those ambitious goals of yours, no matter what those goals are, you need to develop a VERY THICK SKIN. You actually need to PRACTICE not caring what other people think or say. And that’s especially true if you’re a sensitive person and have been conditioned to seek peer approval.

Yes, PRACTICE it. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us. You need to develop a special kind of RESILIENCE, and it only comes with practice.

The price of success is the willingness to persevere and to TOTALLY DISREGARD what everybody else thinks.

Now I know I’ll get people responding to this saying that if you don’t listen to other people’s advice, how can you expect to be successful. Or that it’s “arrogant” not to listen to others and think you know better. Of course, it should be obvious to anyone with two brain cells to rub together that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Yes, you need to stay humble and listen to whatever qualified advice you can get. You also need to be SO SURE AND SO FOCUSED on your goal that you’ll be able to persevere when everyone around you is trying to stop you.

In other words, you need to train yourself to become mentally and emotionally TOUGH. I know it sounds indelicate, insensitive and not politically correct. However, it’s the plain truth for anyone willing to listen. And if you’ve tried to fly high in any area of your life before, you KNOW this to be true already.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger




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