Smiling at the Furnace

Today, my writing is again inspired by a blog post from the eternal wisdom-seeker, TK Coleman. I wonder if it is cheating or lazy to respond and expand upon ideas from other people instead of spewing out my own thoughts… oh well, call me lazy I guess, but I prefer the term “efficient”. Anyway, in his post Coleman wrote about gaining optimism from adversity. He is made stronger and encouraged to go on when more obstacles stand in his way. My favorite passage from the short post is this:

I insist on giving the middle finger to all the shittiest aspects of life and saying “you can bake me, but you can’t break me” while being tossed into the fiery furnace of trial and tribulation.

That furnace visualization instantly made me think of the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego myth from the 3rd Book of Daniel in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. I think there was a couple of popular songs about the story performed by Veggie Tales, Carman, dc Talk, or something. Anyway, in this story the three protagonists are thrown into a fiery furnace because they are unwilling to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzer.

Despite the shittiest of all aspects in life (death by fire) they stayed true to their beliefs and came out stronger. In the end they were rewarded for their faith with life and a promotion. (Yeah, it is kind of weird that they would continue to work for a king that demanded them treat him like God and tried to kill them… but whatever).

When it comes to our own life we should model the behavior of Shad-Me-Abed, we should smile at the flames and use the struggles of life to make us stronger. As we overcome greater and greater obstacles the things that seemed insurmountable become easy. Even Michael Phelps probably thought he was going to drown the first time he was in the water. And he probably thought that smoking pot would have a detrimental to his performance and career… but now he can naturally do both without barely batting an eye. There really are only two options to “demon standing before me, waiting to feed on the deliciousness of my anguish”, you can feed it and grow weak or you can laugh at it’s hunger and grow strong.

I find that people are often those demons trying to feed on our anguish. Something about humans makes us love the failure and self-destruction of others, maybe it is a cultural thing or maybe it is evolutionary (or maybe both), but we seem to enjoy watching people stumble and fall. We gossip about mistakes people are making instead of helping them make better choices and we discourage them from taking chances because of all the things that could go wrong. Maybe, seeing others succeed acts as a mirror and shows us all the ways in which we failed to take risks and, instead, just took the safe road that everyone else follows.

I remember a party I went to right before I started my solo bike ride in 2012. The “nay sayers” fell into two categories. The first group had my best interest in mind (I think) and tended to express concerns about my safety and how dangerous the world is. They primarily overestimated the challenges ahead and the danger that came from things outside of my power (weather, robbers, cars, etc). The second group seemed to want me to fail. They didn’t think I had the ability to do a solo bike ride, they were demons waiting to hear the news that I gave up or got hurt because they would feed off of that.

There will always be furnaces in life, and we should face them head on. Our bodies and minds are pretty fucking durable, more so than many of us imagine. Certainly, we all have limits, but those limits will never be known if we get comfortable walking away from obstacles and feeding demons. And when we start to become inspired and motivated by obstacles we may push so far beyond our limits that we even surprise ourselves.