Life is Not a Mountain

Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, J. M. W. Turner, 1812

Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, J. M. W. Turner, 1812

I was reading John Gardner's piece on Personal Renewal, there's a lot of nuggets of wisdom in here.

But the part that I want to internalize the most is where he describes what life is.

My whole life I believed that there's this concrete goal that I have to put all my efforts into achieving, a checkpoint in my life where I can feel I have arrive, a scoring system that tells me I've accumulated enough points to reward me the title of success, signifying that I've made it.

It's like a mountain that we scramble to climb to reach what we thought was the goal.

But when we finally get to the top and look around, chances are we feel empty. You wonder if you climbed the wrong mountain.

Gardner describes what life really is.

But life isn't a mountain that has a summit, Nor is it -- as some suppose -- a riddle that has an answer. Nor a game that has a final score.

Life is an endless unfolding, and if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves. By potentialities I mean not just intellectual gifts but the full range of one's capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring.

And these potentialities don't stop at any certain age. They only stop when you run out of challenges in life, which can never happen.

The thing you have to understand is that the capacities you actually develop to the full come out as the result of an interplay between you and life's challenges --and the challenges keep changing. Life pulls things out of you.

The beauty of our complex and inexplicable minds is that there's a depth to us that can never be fully explored, and we're constantly discovering new things about ourselves. Don't put a ceiling on your own growth.

You know about some of the gifts that you have left undeveloped. Would you believe that you have gifts and possibilities you don't even know about? It's true. We are just beginning to recognize how even those who have had every advantage and opportunity unconsciously put a ceiling on their own growth, underestimate their potentialities or hide from the risk that growth involves.