The Beauty of Perseverance


There is so much wisdom to be gleaned from life but who has the time? I am such a busy person, with a busy life and busy days filled with endless activity. But the truth is– I learn so much more by taking the time to sit quietly observing what Creator places before me each day. This morning I discovered from a long forgotten plant that there is beauty in perseverance. Life is indeed a series of transitions and it is helpful to understand the value of transition. There are seasons and critical growing cycles often rejuvenated from near death. I learned that what we sometimes discard–can actually be our greatest blessing. I am learning that perseverance is a quality, a strength that will enable all of us to bloom even when we think we cannot flower yet another day.

I am beginning to fully understand that the lessons of my mother and the teachings of my ancestors are meant to enrich my life experience. I need to learn to sit still and take the time to fully contemplate what their life experience taught them and how I can apply their wisdom to my life journey.

I was smiling this morning thinking about my Japanese mother and her many parables. My mom’s answer to almost every difficulty or challenge is to “ganman suru” to persevere. Believe it or not her parables use to annoy this sensitive young child especially hearing it hear over and over again. There were times when giving up seemed so much more logical than persevering.

I was born significantly premature barely 4 pounds but right before I was born– my older brother who was two years old had fallen off a twelve story penthouse not being properly watched by an Uba (nanny). My parents lived in Japan where my father was stationed and now his first son was dying–there was little hope. My brother suffered broken arms and legs. He cracked open his skull bracing for the fall. My Mom was engulfed in worry but she persevered nonetheless in prayer. My brother was in a coma and my Okaasan (Mom) was focused on his survival so in the middle of winter she dumped seven buckets of ice water on her back at sunrise to ask Buddha to have mercy. Needless to say, the first few months of my life as a preemie and my brother’s life was all about ganman suru. My brother came out of the coma after a week and the Pediatrician had to continually remind my mom to feed the newborn or I would not endure the stress she was going through during a difficult time. Awareness and self-care are integral to perseverance.

Ganman is a Japanese term with Zen Buddhist origin. It literally means “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity”. The phrase is translated as “perseverance”, “patience”, tolerance, or “self-denial” but to my mother ganman- suru or gaman-tsuyoi was a cultural and spiritual way to beckon her seven children to “suffer the unbearable” no matter what we faced. My mother believes that mastering a capacity for endurance was the best possible survival lesson to equip her children as we journeyed to the land of my Father’s people.

For me—perseverance was a tough lesson. I was a sensitive emotional child. I quietly whined about how unfair life was when I was kid being born darker than other kids, being challenged with a sturdier physique, facing relentless sexism coupled with hurtful racism, being bullied and not being appreciated for my sensitivity. Now as a mature adult I wonder how my mother endured the growing pains of seven children simultaneously as different as the variety of Orchids she also enjoyed. My toughest challenge growing up was love. I was so naive. I was— I am– a very loving person but I was easily devastated by how others did not keep promises or remain loyal in love. It was painful being admired one minute like a delicate Orchid only to be cast away or taken for granted after sharing my most sacred flowers. I cannot believe I actually got annoyed when my Mom would encourage me to find the lesson in my pain. Okaasan (mother) would encourage me to retreat to a time of contemplation, to seek wisdom and then she promised– I would “flower again.” It is tough to grasp these Monk-like concepts when you are a child. Who knew or even understood when we were kids that life is really a series of cycles? Life is very much about birth, growth, flowering, hibernation, near death and yes even death.

In the Native American community in which I am called to serve, I am approaching “elder status” so I figure I should have gained some wisdom by now don’t you think? I often contemplate what real pearls I can share with the young people in our community and with my three precious sons? I watch our elders and I listen to how they speak of our ancestors perseverance and I realize that their stories of survival have the same heart or wisdom my mother tried to convey to me over and over again. When I was told by medical experts I would never have children my mother would say “ganmansuru.” When I did not think I would get in to college because my SAT scores were so oddly dismal even with a near 4.0 GPA my mother would say “ganmansuru.” When I was going through the most painful transition of my life (divorce) my mother would say “ganmansuru.” Whether it was single-parenting, enduring financial challenges, finding work that is meaningful or pursuing an Executive MPA my mother would always smile and encourage me to “ganmansuru”—to persevere with dignity.

This morning, the sun rays pointed me in the direction of a life lesson. I saw for the first time in a long time an Orchid I had long forgotten. I placed the near dead plant in a secluded spot high up on a shelf next to my beloved Tea Ceremony set. I forgot about it. Now–the Orchid is flowering. It not only flowered but there is another delicate bud emerging. I am excited. I was so delighted gazing at the plant admiring at it as if it was a Lotus flower emerging from the mud. To me—it is a lotus flower emerging from the deep recesses of darkness. My enlightenment today is that even despite my own short-comings or my inability to sit still and learn—there is always a beautiful lesson to be learned from what God places before us.

The truth is–I am terrible at horticulture. My ability to grow plants or garden vegetables for that matter would make my Japanese ancestors cringe. My Native great-grandmother would probably chuckle if she were alive because I can’t tell the difference between a weed, edible root or a rare plant. I am as seemingly hopeless as the near-dead plant I set on a high shelf far away from opportunity. Despite my short-comings this plant came back to life to teach me something powerful this morning. This Orchid is also special to me because my sons gave it to me when I was recovering from a life-threatening surgery. During its first bloom it displayed multiple flowers, the blooms were magnificent but even more beautiful because my sons gave me the Orchid in hope. I cannot believe that something so precious to me was set on a back shelf in a dark office in my Camas home but those were days of fierce survival. Soon after the Orchid gave up its magnificent display the plant retreated in to an almost dormant like state, shriveled ugly and seemingly hopeless. When we moved from Camas to Warm Springs I almost threw it away thinking “I enjoyed it during it’s time, it will never bloom again.” What I now realize is so much of what we discard or readily waste, actually has significant value—we just need to see the value.

So today, I want to share with all of you the beauty of this Orchid. I want to share the pearls from my beloved mother, wisdom from my ancestors and gift from my sons. Perseverance, ganman suru is not simply a parable or an annoying reminder. Ganman suru is a way for us to see the beauty of what is given to us by Creator (God), it is a way to understand the many seasons of life and to value life’s cycles. It is a way to remind us that yes—even in the most difficult of circumstance or when we face near death in our relationships,work or love– we can (indeed) bloom again and display our most magnificent bloom.

Sometimes rising to excellence requires digging deep. Searching for the possible in the impossible, the probable through the improbable, persevering even when others say there is no way. I have learned from my beautiful mother that there is always a way–if you believe enough, care enough and persevere long enough to seek the value of the life lesson. Ganman suru to all.

© Elizabeth Asahi Rising Sun Sato


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