There is a thought in western society that adversity is something to be avoided, a hindrance towards whatever it is we seek. This eternal search for comfort may be associated with the emergence of the industrial revolution years ago and everyone seeing the ideal of relaxation as within their grasp due to the influx in the economy during that period, or perhaps it stems from something further back and a basic divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Regardless, this pursuit for comfort and the easy life is misleading and I would like to explain why.
If you go back to the beginning of written culture some 6,000 years ago, you will find evidence of creation (Samarian, Greek, Norse, Judo-Christian, etc.) and redemption (Buddhism) stories. Apart from whatever you believe as an ideology, you are more than likely familiar with at least one of the stories. What you may or may not have realized, is they all borrow roughly the same parts when devising those stories. Why is this relevant? For thousands of years, societies around the planet have been expressing the same story to share a process of fulfillment that meets our biological requirements for satisfaction.
What I want to do is share the framework of those stories with you in a process I call The Improvement Cycle and highlight how a life of comfort is misleading and it’s actually a life injected with continuous challenges, adaption, and improvements that we seek. Once we realize this, our lens of the world shifts from one of constantly chasing fleeing emotions attained from chemical responses manifesting from short term arousal to one of admiring the journey of personal growth and continually gaining satisfaction from accepting that process.
When you look at the above diagram, view the entire process as a matrix in which something new arises from the individual processes within. Then drift your eyes to the top center of the diagram and you will notice a cloud labeled Harmony. Harmony in the stories I mentioned above is described as a childlike state of pre-awareness where no improvement is occurring. It is only after we instill chaos that development can occur. In mythology and theology, harmony is often referred to as paradise (a walled garden) or Eden (delight).
If you follow the small arrow to the adjacent clutter, all the pieces of the puzzle are there, but we cannot yet make sense of them. This is chaos and it symbolizes a state where everything we need for growth is present, yet we do not have orderly access to it from which we can make use of all before us. Imagine this state as being a young child who has their whole life before them yet has no idea what to do with it. In history, chaos is often represented by an ocean, serpent, or mother figure.
As we progress to the right, order begins to form as we bring our thoughts into focus and are able to clearly communicate those thoughts through language. This is essential to our inner dialogue which forms our sense of self as well as when interacting with others. We cannot clearly communicate our thoughts with the world if we first do not communicate effectively within ourself. This is why it’s important to work on your own wellbeing before expecting to effectively communicate with others. When we feel we have a lack of control, bringing focus and clarity to the situation brings order which we can devise a logical plan through logos.
During this process, chaos begins to take form. Logos means bringing something from nothing. In its simplest form, a word is logos. Bringing order from chaos or forming random thoughts into an idea. Mythology and theology refer to logos as The Word or The Way. Often representing logos with deities, culture, or a father figure.
Once we have order from the chaos, we have a rough idea of the world. Our character has developed into a shallow sense of being. Yet pieces are missing that provide us with satisfaction. This brings us down the diagram and into a funnel containing challenges, hero, and awareness. Challenges are agents of chaos or change that arises and push us towards improvement. They stimulate our otherwise stagnant life. Internal challenges are something forbidden such as an apple that we can learn from through trial and error, distractions are represented as something evil via a snake, and external challenges are natural or societal disasters such as a flood.
The hero emerges in response to these challenges once we leave paradise and are willing to learn where we belong and our limits. The hero’s role is to overcome challenges and force themselves, nature, or culture towards a higher state. During this process, Armageddon or an abandonment of what you believe must be scarified for something greater.
From the hero who rises up to the challenges and overcomes them awareness is achieved. Awareness is a sense of self-consciousness. People need limits to be human. Possibilities mixed with limits give us rules. These rules make life a playful game. They are what make us “Being” rather than stagnant deities. It’s being aware of our limits that gives us awareness and meaning.
Continuing down the diagram, the constant balance is a matrix in which our being is always challenged, and a hero must emerge to form a new sense of self. This matrix is often symbolized with a tree rooted in chaos. Once being has stabilized and life becomes static, we are in harmony and need chaos to inject itself into the equation and re-jumpstart the improvement cycle. This is the part that I feel we are missing and leads people toward a feeling of lack of fulfillment. Rather than desiring the cycling journey of challenge, adaption, and improvement, people are choosing to stay in a sheltered childlike state of harmony where by definition, no growth can occur. This is not a life, without growth, there is no biological life so why would you expect different from a psychological or sociological perspective?
My hope is that you notice this framework has been present since the impregnation of religion into society. It’s the basis from which all of culture is established and if you look back at the diagram again, it is also a direct representation of a person’s life cycle. There is a mother which provides us all we need, a father to help us make sense of the world, challenges, learning, and discovering who we are as we grow-up, only to realize that as we mature the environment we live in is also changing and we must adapt to those rules and adjust our framework or risk a sense of failure or lacking.
I hope this helps and nudges you to welcome adversity as a constant force that will always be there, always has been there, and will continue to help you improve.