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#76 - Getting Past The

Every time a human spirit is at the brink of breaking through to the next level, there comes a stuck point. This happens no matter what the new level is - a relationship, a career path, a life goal, an athletic achievement, an art, a writers block, or a search for a deeper spiritual understanding. You reach a balance point where the comfort and safety of the old place where you have been is about equal to the desire but uncertainty of the new place you need to grow to, and they are in conflict. This is the stuck point. Many of us spend years, or even lifetimes there, hovering just short of becoming who and what we could be.

This is not just fear, not just lack of discipline, this is a true dilemma. We will find ourselves in this position many times in our lives, if we are truly living. It feels a lot like that first time I was standing at the edge of the high-diving board at age ten, about to make my very first high board jump into the local park swimming pool. I tell myself "Other kids have done it, so I should be able to do it too."

But at the same time I'm thinking "What will it be like ? I am so high up now; I've never been this far off the ground before. This thing feels kinda shaky too. I'm not so sure I want to do this. I'm not sure I'm really ready to do this. I'm not at all sure I'm big enough to do this."

Funny how the basic things don't really change very much when we grow up. The venues change; the challenges change; but the point of departure – from the limits of the past to the wider world of the future – stays just as scary as ever. It is always a heroic challenge for body, mind, or spirit, to move through the stuck point to the next level.

I don't remember exactly what finally made me go off the end of the board, to take the leap and fly through the air for that long long moment of nothing but terror and air, before I hit the water. Maybe it was the line of kids on the ladder behind me saying "Go ahead! Hurry up!" They were eager to jump. And when I did hit the water, it hit me, hard. I was amazed how hard, and it pushed and pulled on my arms and legs underwater every which way, until the lowest point - the pause, and the turnaround. Then I struggled, thrashed, and kicked upward as hard as I could to break the surface of the Water, to the wonderful air once again. It was exhilarating. I was alive, gasping and excited, and the other kids at the sides of the pool were cheering and yelling "Do it again! "

So I did, and it was easier this time. I was through the hard part. The unknown was now known, and it was fun. In fact, it was wonderful.

A couple of decades later I was training for a much bigger challenge - to become firefighter. There were many challenges of every kind in the years I spent in fire service, but one of the earliest and most basic ones was simply getting strong enough physically to do the work and pass the physical agility tests. That didn't happen overnight. It took a couple of years of weight training and constantly "raising the bar" both metaphorically and literally.

One of the basic lifts to build upper body, chest, and arm strength is the bench press. You lie on your back on a small sturdy bench that has a rack for a barbell about 2 feet or so above your head. With both hands you lift the barbell from the rack straight up, then lower it slowly to your chest. Then you push it upward again and back to your chest as many times as you can. Each push is one repetition or "rep." The barbell is extremely heavy - the idea is to have it heavy enough that with every ounce of strength you've got you can only lift it a few times. Over days or weeks of this, you get stronger, and then you can do more reps. So then you add more iron plates to the bar to make it harder again. Whenever you do bench press, you should always have a trainer or workout partner standing there to assist you, called a spotter, to grab the bar if it waivers too much and is about to fall and crush you.

When you have done absolutely as many reps as your body possibly can, you take a few deep breaths and then try to do one more. About halfway up on that one, the bar sticks in mid air; it just won't move any more. It's right over your face and you are straining your whole body with every ounce of strength you have left, but it just won't go any higher.

In any serious workout, in order to build strength you've got to work till you absolutely cannot do any more. You work till "the point of failure." That's what it's called, though it actually is the point of success in the strength training process. But you've still got to get that barbell back up there onto the rack, or else it will come down onto your chest or possibly your face, and you will be trapped beneath it. This is both embarrassing and potentially dangerous. (Hence the spotter, to prevent serious injury.)

When I was first learning how to lift at the local YMCA and I weighed about 140 pounds soaking wet, there was a great guy who was a trainer there. He was spotting me one time. I don't remember what the weight was, but it was something fairly ambitious for someone my size. And of course I "hit the wall" at the stuck point.

He was a good trainer; he he knew how to push me to keep going, firmly with a calm quiet voice. He said things like " Good, now do one more." Just as if that was actually possible. And on this particular day he said that several times when I was very ready to quit, and amazingly I did manage to push through two more reps than I thought I ever could. Then I hit the stuck point for real.

This is the point where you push, grunt, shove, with everything you've got, struggle and squirm, but the barbell just sits there right over your face and simply absolutely will not move. Your face turns purple as you strain.

Then he told me something. The secret to getting past the stuck point. I had never heard it before, but I have used it ever since. He said "When you get to the stuck point, let the bar move just slightly toward the top of your head, and then push through." He was there to catch the thing if it started to come down on my face, so I did what he said. As soon as the bar moved laterally about three-quarters of an inch, it began to move up. I shoved it with all my might and it moved all the way up, and slammed into the steel rack with a loud clang.

I was stunned. It worked. It was almost as if the barbell floated, for a fraction of a second and then let go. In life I have discovered that this works in other places too.

I did become a firefighter. Not a very big one, but a very capable one, and I served with an outstanding record as a firefighter and officer for eight years. There were hundreds of new challenges, many of which were "more than I could do" or "impossible." Yet I was able to do them. I had plenty of stuck points, but I learned and experienced that when you hit the stuck point, there is always an option, or a way, to move through it one more time.

When your hard work and striving for something has become frustrating and impossible, try moving just a little bit in any other positive direction. Nine times out of ten, it will release the stuck point, and you will push through to the next level. Maybe that "other positive movement" will take the form of a compromise, or an apology, or an agreement to disagree peacefully. Maybe it will take the form of reconsidering an option, a plan, a goal, or a direction. Maybe it will take the form of letting go of a habit, a situation, or a belief you've been holding onto that really is holding you back.

Breaking through is the most wonderful feeling - It's all about becoming who you can be. It's really up to you. "Nothing is impossible, if you have faith." Even if you haven't done it yet, you have not failed. It is still possible, as long as you believe it is.