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ImageI have encountered during my life many thresholds, some theoretical and others literal. I remember when a young college freshman decided to participate on the swim team, first because it was a no-cut sport, and second because the training table was infinitely superior to dorm food. These reasons, no doubt, are not particularly noble; pragmatism is also a virtue!

The college freshman of record was slotted in the 800 resulting from a lack of speed. What impressed the coach was an efficient stroke and apparent stamina; hence, the 800. The highest finish of my swimming career was third – of three. What distinguishes this experience from others was the threshold. The 800 is a long swim and it did hurt. However, there was always a moment somewhere around 4-500 meters when the pain would evaporate and, for want of a better term, I became a machine. There was no pain, and I just swam.

An Evolving Threshold

That experience has remained with me for a very long time, although I have seldom applied it to much of anything – regrettably. It is one of those lessons we learn without ever really understanding the depth of the implications. All I knew was that at some point the pain of swimming disappeared for a while, and I swam freely, confidently, easily. I passed through some threshold…

Presently, many years later – and I emphasize many – I have a far richer appreciation of that threshold. The pain, on one level, from creating new behavior, or habits will lessen with time and is a powerful tool. It also speaks, on another level, of the pain I am, or was, willing to endure to create a new habit or behavior. This is, as you might guess, significant for anyone undergoing a transformation or re-invention.

Pain and Gain

A recent post by me addressed my level of commitment and discipline regarding my work. I compared it to the remarkable discipline of a Thai woodcarver who had sculpted an intricate jungle scene of a herd of elephants walking beneath huge trees, filled with other animal life. The entire sculpture was carved from a single log some three to four feet thick and approximately six-feet long. The carver’s discipline seemed infinite compared to my own short bursts of creative energy. In short, I came face to face with my own failure to endure the pain of creation – sadly, I am of the instant gratification club, for the moment.

The polite way to evaluate our work ethic is to talk about discipline; it is clean and philosophical, given to wonderful turns of phrases as we explore our commitment to our craft and art.

That’s Not Real

Reality is more demanding and unforgiving. The reality is: how much pain are we willing to endure on the way to the top of the mountain, any mountain – it needs no name; it needs no historical import or significance in any physical way, other than it is a mountain. It hurts to swim the 800 with some intention of speed. The Thai woodcarver no doubt experienced pain in his hands and arms, pain in his eyes, pain in his fingers, pain in his brain! Some renderings within that sculpture were so delicate and small that one slip and a portion of the carving would be ruined, irreplaceable.

A Different Perspective

This element of pain struck me this morning during my twice weekly spin class. The instructor pushed us unmercifully. My legs ached, my lungs ached, my back ached, and my feet felt like lead. I pushed through the pain to a threshold of achievement for that day.

My take away was that the issue of writing is not so much talk of discipline, commitment, needs, etc., but is really an honest confrontation with ourself and how much pain we are willing to endure to create what is in our heart.

My question to fellow writers is this: what thresholds have you experienced and how did you find your way through?