Finding Gold in the Mud

06/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Often, the most difficult experiences carry within them hidden blessings. In the process of undergoing difficulty we struggle mightily, seeking to avoid the pain, only to discover later, to our surprise, we had received a gift of great value.

Basic Training USMC Quantico Va. -- summer, 1955.The temperature was 98 degrees -- I was carrying a field marching pack weighing 50 pounds and my helmet and M-1 rifle were another 15. I was in a platoon making its way up the steep scrubby pine hills of Virginia.The sweat was pouring off my whole body. We reached a clearing and stopped. I badly needed some water.Our drill instructor yelled "Break out your canteens."We did and awaiting the next command to drink,he shouted,"Pour it on the ground."Most of us listened in disbelief at this command but all obeyed and after a brief rest hiked the 3 miles back to base, several dropping with heat exhaustion along the way.

That same summer one Marine in our battalion died during training as a result of hyperthermia and dehydration. This was no laughing matter, no fitness program for well-fed jocks. This was, in the finest tradition of the Marine Corps, an exercise to prepare its men for wartime and the suffering, such as the canteen episode, might take place daily on an overseas battleground.

This heat training was only one of many different disciplines we underwent in the hot and humid Va. hills. It all would have been inhumane and pointless except for one fact: it was designed to prepare us for survival in real warfare and if carried out faithfully might even save our lives one day.

I learned that summer what I was made of. I stretched beyond what I thought was possible and became aware of my potential like never before. I also learned to bear up under the harshest treatment because I believed in reaching towards a greater good that might come as a result of my sufferings.

When I graduated that summer and received my commission as second Lieutenant, I stood straight and felt several inches taller than my 6'1". I had grown inside and there was a quiet inner pride and knowledge of what I had dealt with and the place I had reached. It felt really good deep down. It was gold.

I think, after the training, I began to understand much better the difficulties of the world and how embracing them with patience, tolerance, and faith nourished my very soul. I became a better person because of it. Most of us in life instinctively seek pleasures such as food, sex, wealth, and power. We consciously try to avoid their opposites as things of lesser value that subject us to what we perceive as deprivation. Yet, my Marine Corps training produced a spiritual state made possible by the very difficulties I would normally have tried to avoid.The end state far outweighed the pain and suffering undergone.

An ancient Sufi Saint put it well.

"When a person is genuinely sincere, he is grateful for the blessing he has received and he patiently endures the misfortunes he must bear......Our hearts are involved in a process of development.To be grateful for blessings is to cause those blessings to increase, and to endure misfortunes with patience is to make it easier for them to accomplish their purpose.

You must endure with patience the death of children and other relatives, the departure of wealth, the loss of a good reputation, the failure to achieve desired goals, and the damage done by fellow creatures. You will experience many good things,if you always respond with gratitude when easy circumstances come your way, and with patience to the advent of hard times. Ease and hardship are the feathers that give strength to the wings of your faith,so that your heart and your innermost being can use them to fly to the door of your Lord.*

*Abdul Qadir Jilani (ral)