I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested. I’d like to think that if I was I would pass
Look at the tested, and think “There but for the grace go I.” I might be a coward, I’m afraid of what I might find out.
” – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

I realize, quite often, that I am not the best communicator. I struggle with a rather off mix of education and just good judgement. I find myself regularly becoming tied up on simple words, breaking them apart by roots, finding extra depth to their meanings. It comes from being quite studied in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Bokmål, and Mandarin. I realize that what I am seeing, though, does not mean much of anything to those who haven’t been studying language.

….so, let’s abandon doing this for a minute and let me say what I mean in the simplest way I know how.

I was not tested for a long time. I had been through a divorce, had children who were born very premature, and this ended with me spending what was about 1.5 years living between my car, in waiting rooms in the NICU, and working the whole time to be able to keep up with medical bills. Had it not been for a few nice people who helped me and my ex-wife get a hotel room during in-between stages (we had decided to stay with the babies until they could come home too), it might have been more of a struggle. I didn’t struggle with this, not at the time. Each day was set by necessity. My ex turned to narcotics afterwards, and while totally understandable as the whole experience was quite traumatic for her, it ended up starting a chain of events that led to our divorce.

I hadn’t been tested yet.

This brings me to explaining the “test” and how it is useful. In alchemy, we often use one of 4 types of fire to explore deeper levels of how something is. In life, this works much the same on our own being. We don’t actually know ourselves until we’re put through situations that challenge our very ideas about who we are. What I’ve found is that “who we are” is an almost entirely mutable structure. It’s not set, ever. This is not a purely mechanical procedure, either. It comes from all present situations, what we were born with, and our workings on it.

A bit of a story, and then I’ll get to the point. When I was at Dr. Yang’s, studying taichi, I made a friend who I jokingly call “Shaolin Bob.” Primarily, because it’s fun to say. He, on the other hand, is a fantastic human being. He did in fact study at one of the Shaolin schools, and is highly knowledgeable in long-fist. When I asked him “What motivated you to study in China, and then find yourself here as well?” He answered very profoundly.

“I had reached a spot in my own training where I considered opening up a school, but then I thought ‘What gives me the right to teach anyone?’ I am still trying to answer that.”

Since then, Shaolin Bob has gone on to open a nonprofit to help stop human trafficking in Nepal. His schools are probably not at all what he was expecting to open, but there we go. He learned something, I assume.

Back to “testing.” Everyone has plans of some sort. They may not be clearly defined goals, but we generally have some sort of expectations about how the day will go. When this doesn’t happen as we plan, we tend to shut down. Until we are surprised, though, we don’t really learn anything. If we weren’t surprised, we’d already know it. By regularly allowing yourself to be surprised, you can learn a lot, and what you may learn if the test is life itself is that we know almost nothing about who we are because there’s not a static structure. “Be yourself” has no real meaning, because that is not a stationary target. You can change, and you will.

The purpose, then, of putting a substance to the fire is to explore it. This we can do in our own growth. Challenge yourself, and you’ll quickly find out exactly how wrong you probably were about you. I laugh a little inside about how some people are like, “You just have to make yourself do it.” We are so bad at this, in general. I don’t listen to myself very well, and often act almost spiteful towards the inner voice telling me what to do. I am a bad captain and a worse crew-mate. I set goals that I don’t really know if I want and then don’t listen to myself about how to get there, because I’m not sure if I trust my judgement.

The laughter at this situation may be the point. I know that I am alchemist and elixir. I am the thing that can set up the situations to change me. You are the thing that changes you, purifies your essence. You are the guide and the trip itself. If your work, though, isn’t cannot be surprised. If you aren’t surprised, you’re not really learning anything.

It’s scary, anxiety fuel, and lets us know exactly our own limits quickly. There seems to be a pattern that hits many adults around the age of 40 where they are getting just good enough at changing their own world that perhaps they didn’t set clear goals to begin with and that they’re causing changes they don’t even like. Call it a midlife crisis if you want, but I (due to my own patterns) prefer, “…and upon hearing that, the student was enlightened.” It has to happen like this, and in the face of it all, truth emerges. Some men will go from being “good fathers” to having extramarital affairs and buying sports cars. This is likely because they simply were playing at life like it was an avatar, and that they simply were tired of pretending to not be interested in those things. At the same time, though, some people do so much more. I have a very close friend who’s struggled with drug addiction, and the other day he came to me to help get materials to build a center to assist people struggling with their own addictions get their feet under them.

See, and here’s the point. He wasn’t the picture of solidness. He has been in the flow long enough to know where things can turn upside down for someone. He has actually been tested, and found himself coming up short. Drugs were stronger than his judgement for a time. He also figured out a way to be rid of them, and that…that’s significantly different than what our previous “good husband and father” may have done in his life. It also produces very different results.

Don’t mistake me, I’m certainly not saying that the drugs themselves are beneficial, but it’s the struggle against something that we cannot immediately defeat where we actually begin to grow. Life itself is all about growth. Plants grow from seed, humans from infants, and our inner nature from our thoughts. What you think becomes you. You are the author and the main character.

…make it a good story.

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