Why we need rough seas, a big mess and a great challenge

a smooth sea

Sometimes in life we end up in a big…no, a huge mess. Whether we created it ourselves or with lots of help from inevitable, difficult circumstances matters little. It’s a mess, the kind that makes every move forward seem impossible and unthinkable. Of course a deep pessimism sets in, along with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Not to mention indescribable frustration. We want and need to get out of it, to fix things somehow. But if we didn’t act or think it possible in more favorable circumstances, how on earth are we going to manage doing anything now?

Yet, the saying goes “a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor”. Great. To master anything, we need to face and sail through the roughest seas…face and make it out of a big mess. We need a great challenge. Sounds very inspiring but it’s so much easier said than dealt with. Which is why, like you I’m sure, I sat with this issue many times…in the middle of a mess, throwing my arms up in the air, shouting in anger at the gods, at life, at circumstances, at myself, at others.

And then one day I saw a commercial about athletes training that really struck a chord. Never mind the Gatorade. Anytime we want to actually make progress in whatever aspect of our lives, to know what we’re capable of and get rid of fear for good, we require great challenges. Really great ones….the greatest! And if we back away from them, it is as if a serious athlete would back away from a race with accomplished peers in favor of a race with preschoolers. Of what value would winning be then?

A great challenge often comes in the form of a huge mess. These most difficult situations we end up with and dread are actually the best things that can happen to us. They truly might be the ONLY times in our lives when we have a chance to really grow, achieve something that’s really valuable, and also completely overcome major obstacles within ourselves that have always weakened and blocked us.

It’s very annoying to consider we ended up where we are not because life decided to give us a really bad hand, not because we’re on the wrong path or after the wrong things…but because we are lucky enough to have an opportunity to finally, definitively master a fundamental, liberating, amazing thing that we’ve always wanted but never believed possible…one that was not possible to achieve without a huge challenge standing in the way.

Years ago when I started practicing visualization and meditation, I ended up one night in a very loud nightclub with a friend who was quite accomplished at what I had only begun to learn. He had congratulated me earlier on my progress, but once in the club, he shouted in my ear that I should try to meditate. I looked at him like he was mad.

“What, here? With THIS noise?” I shouted back.

He smiled and nodded.

Of course. Anyone can meditate in a quiet place, but go do it in a ‘messy’ place….in a crowd, with people bumping against you, and music so loud that it pounds in your chest. Silence your mind there, in the midst of chaos…go into your serene bubble that nothing can penetrate, and THEN you can say you’re meditating.

So yes, it seems that to genuinely progress, achieve or overcome something major, we need serious challenge, otherwise we can not know what we are truly capable of, or value what we achieve…and worse…fully trust in ourselves or in anything else. To know…we need to know, and the gateway to knowing is through the seemingly impossible and unthinkable, which don’t appear when the sea is smooth or life is easy.

It may sound absurd and it’s certainly ironic, but when something seems hardest to do, that is the time to do it…the only time that counts really.

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