Turning rubble into gold.

"The marvel of transformation abounds in the world wherever the human spirit endures and soars. Bits of rubble turn into gold everywhere, if only we have eyes to see and heart to embrace the impossible possibility."

Taitetsu Unno in 'Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn into Gold'

There's a Shin Buddhist saying, that you can turn rubble into gold, that you can transform it.

We spill milk, we break things. Sometimes, that kind of thing just happens. But those kind of things, with a little practice, we can easily let go, by just being in the moment. The moment when it is over, in the breathing space that comes after.

But what of the bigger things? What about when we get a diagnosis of a serious illness, we lose our home, or our best friend dies? Then what? Then is it so easy to let it go? Then is it so easy to move into the present moment, to simply be?

Sometimes, life just stinks. Sometimes, we have to just accept that, but we still need to move on, because if we let ourselves get stuck, if we immerse ourselves in our pain too deeply, it can stay with us, because, without realising it, we hold onto it, and stay with it.

There's a concept of transformation in Buddhism. By using the power of our mind, we can transform events, even our suffering, into something we can be more comfortable with. We can even go one better than that.

For example. Some years ago, I was a university lecturer and research fellow, a top end academic, with all the credibility and kudos that comes with that. Good wages, all that I needed. I enjoyed my job, but suspected the exhaustion of mind and body it gave me could be replaced with something better. It would be nice to come home from work feeling relaxed, without a stack more work with me to do once I got home. Change would be great, imagine what I could do with change! Then one day, something happened, out of the blue, I was shot down like a bird from the sky. Serious, life-threatening illness struck. It was nothing short of disaster. Within a year, it took my health, my energy, my ability to walk, my ability to drive, my ability to be happy, it took the job, the career, and all that kudos to which I was so attached. It left me with close to nothing, or so it felt. For some years, I was barely able to travel, mostly unable to leave my home, unable to eat normal food. It was, at the time, a devastating experience.

Then one day, I realised that the job I had wished so much to be free from was wonderful, that I missed it, I missed my old life, the money, all the good stuff [funny how we never miss the bad stuff]. But it was gone, it was too late. There was no going back. There never is. In that moment, I looked around me, and saw the piles of rubble that my life had become. I realised that I had to somehow begin to rebuild it. But I couldn't rebuild the old life. I had to face up to certain facts, and look at what was left, honestly, and see what I could do with that. How could I work with this rubble to create something precious again?

First, I had to see the possibility. That rubble was filled with potential. Potential futures, directions I could go, small steps I could take. But I had to get a bigger vision. I needed a plan, just like an architect. If you can't visualise the house, how can you build it?

I took that pile of rubble, and in it's place, I saw a future, I saw travel, adventure, escape from the four walls I had been trapped in for so long, from the weary body, into a fit, strong one. I saw it, I believed it was possible, and I began to direct my life towards it. I started cleaning up the debris, and my design became clearer. It began to happen. Today, four years later, I sit writing this from a beautiful house, in the mountains of Crete, I can see the sea, the snow capped peaks, I will be out hiking, cycling and swimming in the ocean this week. I have travelled several times around the coast of Europe, I have made friends in many countries, I have beautiful memories that will stay with me until the day I die. I made it possible, because I believed. Now, I sit here, a writer, sharing my story with you, recognising with such great gratitude what a joy and health filled life I have.

You can transform even the most dire of circumstances, you can turn rubble into gold. But first you have to believe it's possible, then you have to create a new vision, in place of the rubble. If I hadn't have started that day, to transform my vision, I would still be sitting amidst that rubble today, instead, I am sat, looking at the radiant gold that is all around me.