One important distinction becomes apparent sometime after embarking on a personal challenge program: that you are suddenly at odds with the prevailing cultural attitude of convenience and pleasure craving. Someone obsessed with meeting and mastering challenges easily develops a counterintuitive yet healthy relationship to discomfort. The uneasiness of this feeling becomes a signpost letting you know you’re following the correct path, rather than a warning sign to turn around or shut down. Suffering (in appropriate amounts) becomes a valuable commodity, a friendly companion in a sometimes-lonely quest for betterment…
This has a profoundly transformative effect on one’s relationship to culturally reproduced meanings. It turns these meanings on their head, empties them of their prior significance. Suffering, discomfort, anxiety, displeasure, even failure—these demons of the cowardly—cease to be the dreaded indicators of personal shortcoming that our culture seems to indoctrinate us into believing. What this means is that you’ve taken an active role in your own mind, in the very production of meaning, rather than simply accepting it from outside sources, as a passive and helpless recipient. Quite simply, your self-challenge has resulted in a stronger and more capable mind.
Every day we are surrounded by people not yet comfortable with their edges, who protest and complain, whine and sulk, always denying or projecting their own fears. These projected fears become the imagined limitations of a harsh world around them. And it’s a scary place because it’s largely based on meanings and concepts they haven’t yet repurposed and reclaimed as their own. Think of the personal freedom for action and experience that exists outside of these traditional meanings and the excuses they engender! The great poet Rumi described this place in her poignant invitation, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”
The great spiritual teacher and Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has made this reversal of cultural attitudes toward pain the hallmark of her personal teachings. She sometimes calls the practices of inviting challenge or exploring discomfort for personal gain “leaning into the sharp points.” She writes (in her books, The Places That Scare You and When Things Fall Apart) that, “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest” of comfort and familiarity. She continues by explaining, “To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again…”
Concepts like this, though perhaps uncommon in modern times, have been put to the test and proven through the ages. They’ve lent an invaluable depth of understanding and much-needed encouragement to my personal mission of discovering my fullest potential, as well as to many others across the world on similar journeys.
(Nick can be found here: www.nickbaxter.com)