Zen Buddhism and Martial Arts

Home » Literature Archives » Assault On The Summit Home » Comments to the Female Path Climber


The Qualifications for Crisis

It sometimes happens that a woman comes to the realization that fatigue has invaded every part of her life, and that in each of those parts it has destroyed the hope that once thrived there. She is emotionally spent and physically exhausted; but it is not the kind of weariness that repairs itself with an ocean cruise or two weeks at a desert retreat. It is the fatigue that comes from years of struggle and frustration, of losing, and of finally accepting that there is no way to replace what has been lost.

She knows now that while she may still be needed, she is no longer 'wanted.' Somewhere along the way, she moved from the center of her life to its edge - a useful buttress that supports the roof under which others live but which no longer shelters her. She feels excluded; and whenever she is approached by others, she suspects, not without reason, that it is always with profit or loss in mind, as how much money or other advantage can be gained from being kind to her, or how much money or inconvenience her relationship is going to cost them. She finds cold comfort in being the recipient of dutiful niceties.

She is disappointed in everything, but mostly in herself. There were people to whom she should have shown more care, and there were interests, too, that she should have pursued. Too much is now beyond remedy.

Sadly, she counts the years of her life that were squandered on those who did not appreciate her efforts, and she wonders why it took her so long to recognize this waste. One by one, and in a variety of ways, she had been apprised of her failure to gain affection. Sometimes the news arrived slowly, in dribbles of neglect. At other times it came in torrents - hurtful words delivered in a heated argument; or in a blatant show of disrespect; or by betrayed confidences, manipulative lies, and exaggerations. And there may even have been that old familiar "lipstick on the collar" syndrome, the explanations for which compounded infidelity with the assumption that she lacked even ordinary intelligence.

At last she understands that all that she did, all those repetitions of responsibility, were her own foolish attempts to cross-breed present sacrifice with future benefit; efforts which produced only immediate results - like a mule or a capon - but which generated nothing further. The gratitude died quickly and without issue, leaving her an heiress to sterile expectation.

And so it begins, that feeling of having become a worn-out object, a tool used by others to the point of uselessness, too dulled now to serve even her own needs.

This moment of realization is bitter and painful. Curiously, she discovers that her own guilt is the only balm that eases the grief. For she also sees that every injury she has sustained, she once inflicted upon someone else. She, too, has gossiped and regarded her own parents with the same greeting-card obligations; she, too, had sometimes been less than a good wife and mother and a loyal friend.

The days are past in which she can continue to identify herself in terms of being somebody's daughter, sister, wife, mother, employee, or friend, and to act in accordance with the requirements of those roles. Yet, how is she to cope with her newfound awareness? Some women respond by being militantly gregarious, others withdraw into silence. Some numb themselves with medications or alcohol. And most, in an awful irony, find that though they are tired unto death, they cannot sleep without the aid of drugs.

But some decide that it is not sufficient to ask, "Who am I when I am not being identified in a role of relationship to someone else? Who would I be if I were alone on a deserted island?"

And the woman who realizes that she is bereft of every other identity is finally free to search for her own self.

This ordeal and the resolute quest that results from it are the currency with which she pays the entry fee that allows her to stand at the base of the sacred mountain.

The work of climbing lies ahead. Not knowing what to expect, she shrugs and makes a mental note: Opus #1.

Humming Bird