The Initiatory Nature of a Challenge

The Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times," evokes uneasiness in many people, especially given the current state of the world. Everywhere we look, we seem to be confronted by challenges.  For many of us, challenges are seen as afflictions.  They induce worry, heartburn, sleepless nights and a general sense of anxiety and fear.  And they certainly irritate the comfort zone!  

Some of you have asked recently how challenges are perceived by Visionmakers.


As with most things, a Visionmaker sees a  challenge differently than is commonly held. A challenge is seen as a test of the heart, intellect or will.  It's purpose on a journey of meaning is four-fold:


• first, as a means of calling forward our resources;

• second, to develop new resources;

• thirdly, to learn about right application of those resources;

• and finally, to expose that which requires strengthening in our nature.


"It is difficulties..." suggests Epictetus, "...which show what men are." To a Visionmaker, a challenge then is an initiatory crucible.  It induces the conditions of uncertainty, volatility, surprising events, surprising disclosures of what had been previously hidden from view, and tests of character to accelerate learning, growth and change.


Initiation is the commencement of a growth process that leads to transformation. For those committed to growth and change–a fundamental commitment of a Visionmaker– the arrival of a challenge is cause for both celebration and sober preparation. Celebration because we have proven ourselves ready to face the unknown with only our gifts, talents, character qualities, resourcefulness, experience, and creativity to support us. Sober preparation because we recognize that we must go into the wilderness of new experience, out beyond our comfort zone, and apply all of the resources at our command.  In this wild country of the spirit we will be changed forever.


Courage is a resource that is very helpful in facing an initiatory challenge.  To a Visionmaker, courage is the ability to stand for what has heart and meaning no matter what we may meet at the frontier of life's experience. Angeles Arrien, writes eloquently about strong-heartedness in The Four-Fold Way:


"Where we are not strong-hearted is where we lack the courage to be authentic or to say what is true for us. Strong-heartedness is where we have the courage to be all of who we are in life.  The word "courage" is derived from the French word for heart, coeur, and etymologically it means "the ability to stand by one's heart or to stand by one's core."


The tests of courage seek to uncover our attachments, weaknesses, and susceptibilities.  Any aspect of our nature that requires strengthening, softening, opening or deepening will be exposed through initiation.  


For those who stand behind the heart, there is much to be gained. Where we are weak, we will become stronger.  Where we are were attached, we have the opportunity to gain more freedom. Where we are tempted, we fund the character to overcome temptation.  Where we are overly concerned about what others think of us, we increase self-respect and the ability to overcome patterns of self-abandonment and the addiction to the acceptance and approval of others. Where we are fearful, we gather the personal power to overcome those fears and enter a new peace of mind and heart.


All of these are mighty advances on a path of heart and meaning.  It is the geography of a meaningful life.


© Patrick O’Neill 2008. All rights reserved.

Posted on December 9, 2008 and filed under Uncategorized.