By Nick Baxter
Introduction: The Terrain
Imagine walking a tightrope stretched high above the ground, a wire so taught and thin that to slip to either side would result in certain injury, like traversing the edge of a razor. Behind you lies the wreckage of your former limitations—no turning back! On the horizon awaits the realization of all your life’s goals and dreams. To either side, nihilism and oblivion. Slowly, surely, forward is the way… the only way...
Just the thought of this perilous situation could spell fear for a great many people. But for others, the shaky uncertainty of this balancing act is a desirable mindstate, one that exposes new opportunity and potential. How do those folks get to that level of comfort and resolve in spite of such seeming danger?
What I’ve come to term “walking the razor’s edge” is, quite simply, a life strategy for harnessing your natural, inherent growth potential—a practice that can profoundly transform your attitude, perception, and way of life. It can be used in the most momentous of occasions and traumatic upheavals, or deployed in small daily doses, as part of an ongoing strategy for effective living. It can be found spontaneously in life’s trying moments and put to unexpected use, but I feel it has the most potential when used in continuous, intentional efforts.
Though I have by no means completed this journey nor perfected its practice, thankfully I’ve experienced enough of these moments and efforts firsthand to be able to share some concepts and suggestions. In the spirit of what is possible when we uncover all that lies within us, I offer this writing as an invitation to the horizon.
What It Looks Like
Before a person can walk the razor’s edge, they need to find where their personal edge is in the first place. This takes a clear mind and a dedication to knowing yourself, to maintaining awareness and a vibrant curiosity about what lies beyond your normal everyday, baseline state of existence. We all know what comfort and pleasure feels like, and we all know what discomfort, nervousness, and fear are like. But the question behind this whole practice is: how close can you get to those uncomfortable or fearful places, and how long can you maintain your focus and poise while you’re there?
This is the life of the explorer—always seeking, searching for what else might be out there, dancing with uncertainty while simultaneously allowing for contentment and enjoyment of the present moment. It’s about balancing the comfortable or pleasurable moments of life with the difficult or uncertain ones—and most importantly, gaining something from each. Finding that balance can be easier said than done, of course, but as long as you don’t get carried away by either extreme, your efforts for overall growth will be more fruitful.
These efforts toward finding your edges or limits can take many forms, and have the potential to be practiced anytime, anywhere. For example, some days I find the edge of my physical stamina or strength during an intense workout; other days this could be accomplished on a mental or spiritual level during a meditation session. It could also happen in the emotional realm during a difficult conversation with a loved one, helping a friend through a stressful life challenge, negotiating a resolution to a conflict with someone, confronting my self-righteousness in order to offer an apology, or by stepping outside my normal routine to donate my time, money or energy to a charitable cause. Other days I find my edge by reading a particularly dense philosophical text, or listening to a podcast about a challenging topic while simultaneously working on a challenging painting. In fact, working to solve any artistic problem to bring a piece of artwork to a place I can call “finished” is a constant endeavor, since that’s my chosen occupation. But in other moments, instead of being bored on a long flight I may attempt a crossword puzzle, or try to organize my thoughts (as I’m currently doing) into a coherent, insightful essay, challenging myself to help others through my words and the lessons life’s taught me. These seemingly insignificant tasks, often cynically dismissed as “nerdy” and considered trite in today’s culture, become the fuel for personal achievement and transcendence.
The unifying thread woven through all of the above examples is the intentional, mindful habit of challenging oneself in all areas of existence. This is built on an understanding of cognitive and behavioral research, which has shown that when habits are formed, it actually feels uncomfortable and unsatisfying to not complete the habitual action or behavior (William Glasser, Positive Addiction, Harper, 1985). Runners and other athletes become used to the endorphin high felt during their daily training session and may feel sluggish and irritable without it. Dedicated meditators and other spiritual practitioners might feel a lack of fulfillment and completion without their accustomed daily rituals.
Research has also shown that habits may take anywhere from one month to almost one year of daily repetition to become automatic and instinctual, depending on the complexity and difficulty of the action (European Journal of Social Psychology Volume 40, Issue 6, pages 998–1009, October 2010). Simple, pleasurable tasks may ingrain themselves in your psyche relatively quickly, but the most difficult challenges could take a while, which is why incorporating this self-challenge practice into your routine, in some small way each day, is so important. [Editors Note: This is Part I of six part series that will be published each day for the next six days. Stay tuned for more...]
(Nick can be found here: www.nickbaxter.com)
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