I was out walking in my favourite spot along a beautiful path.
I strolled amongst the mangroves., the home of local birds, and a sanctuary for native Australian wildlife.
I took a moment to sit in a section where the path is elevated above the mangroves, looking out at an expanse of trees, seeing if I could spot a sleeping owl.
I was deep in concentration when suddenly approached by a stranger who felt compelled to tell me that “Jesus loves you”.
At first, I didn’t know what to say.
The young man appeared harmless and genuine. He had a kind and excited tone in his voice.
So I responded by saying, “Thank you, I appreciate that”, while trying to keep an open mind as the conversation continued.
I was intrigued by the story of what he had to say next.
We got talking about life and religion, and he helped me learn a valuable lesson.
The Power That Compels
This man was excited and compelled to share his experience.
So excited, that his energy was beaming as he told me his story.
He told me that when he was younger that he was a “typical boy” growing up.
He rebelled against his parents and was considered the black sheep of the family. He was involved with what he called “the wrong crowd” and would regularly take recreational drugs. He said that he was “living the lifestyle of a man who would die young.” His life trajectory was not leading in a direction that he was proud of.
That was until he started experiencing a strange phenomenon called sleep paralysis.
He recalled a vivid dream where he was being tortured in the underworld by demons as he slept.
It felt so real to him.
He then awoke in a state of paralysis and was unable to move while the thoughts of the demented beings tormented him.
That experience was the final straw, and he decided to make a radical change.
He told me that he looked in the mirror and reflected on his experience and life when he decided to seek Jesus.
From that day forward, he turned a new leaf.
He had had an awakening because he had a moment so decisive that it changed his life and identity forever.
His life had previously consisted of following the path of least resistance without any discipline or rules. As a result, he had no care about his body or the repercussions of his actions until he made a drastic choice to change.
Fast forward to 3 years later, and he was happily married with a young family that had long continued walking as we chatted.
He had chosen his path, and he willingly went through the pain and suffering of confronting his demons.
As a result, he seemed so alive and bursting with energy. He was excited like a child at the prospect of spreading his ideas and experience, hoping that he could help others reach the same level of joy.
Drastic Life Changes
After our conversation, I was impressed by the conviction and bravado of the man.
He had shared some personal stories with me and said: “it is like if you found the cure or cancer, wouldn’t you want to share it?”
He had a fantastic breakthrough that encouraged him to change his lifestyle and devote himself to his higher cause.
Our conversation didn’t change my belief, but he did help me to realise the nature of what it means to have a breakthrough.
The question that stuck in my mind was, “why are people’s stories of extraordinary change so similar?”
I started thinking about the nature of a “breakthrough” in a broader sense.
Many of the stories about drastic decisions that change our life seem to share similar pre-requisites and sound identical.
I slowly or suddenly hit rock bottom. I live in a way that I can barely tolerate.
It got so hard to change that I almost gave up trying to make it better.
Then when I was about to break, I desperately sought help from within and without.
Life pushes us beyond our comfort zone, and when we think that the pain is intolerable, we have the opportunity to encounter a revelatory experience.
The commonalities of the experience make me believe that it is not until you are pushed to your limit that you can have a breakthrough.
It appears that we need these breaking points to get to the next level of life.
Revelations Follow Hardship.
Of course, a massive change could go wrong, and a person could turn radical or unstable, but for the most part, if the challenge is worthwhile, we rise from the ashes of difficulty and emerge stronger than before by facing our demons.
This type of experience interests me because we tend to do everything we can to avoid getting to that place of hardship.
Breaking through the walls and barriers of the comfort zone that we have constructed involves pain and struggle.
We don’t like uncomfortable situations, so we often run away from them rather than facing them head-on.
We seek comfort and happiness, but the real growth is waiting for us on the other side of our pain and struggle.
Embracing the Bad With the Good
We put up inner boundaries and walls to avoid the monsters on the other side.
Life feels safer under our armour, but we struggle to move nimbly under the weight of the heavy brass.
We shelter ourselves from hard truths and uncomfortable activities and find it hard to conceptualise our future challenges.
But I have come to realise that by trapping ourselves in our defences, we block out the light on the other side.
It sounds easy to challenge ourselves and move past the pain when sitting comfortably on the couch, but when we are face-to-face with our demons, the easy option is to run and hide rather than confront and conquer.
My Breakthrough Experiment
The lesson of breaking through my inner walls solidified when I was assessing my emotional state one day.
It struck me the other day when I woke up feeling particularly miserable.
I consider myself a happy person, so I thought I could easily overcome this with gratitude and positive thoughts.
That day, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get over the feelings.
Luckily, I could catch my mind in a sad state because it is usually hard to know how you feel until after the fact.
At this point, I was reflecting on my conversation about breakthroughs and the random man in the mangroves.
I decided to take some time to embrace the pain instead of ignoring the pressure, knowing there may be some wisdom on the other side.
I acknowledged how I felt, and instead of turning away, I attempted to go deeper into my emotions to confront my self.
I wanted to face my demons in a safe environment on my terms.
My thought process was, “If I can get through to the other side of my sadness, instead of fighting it, I may have a chance to learn something valuable.”
Instead of putting up a psychological wall to protect me, I opened a window to see what was on the other side and allowed the sunshine and breeze to come in.
Embracing the anxious feelings, I sat and wrote down on a piece of paper all the reasons I felt how I did and temporarily increased the intensity of the experience by putting aside some time to engross myself in the struggle.
I turned up the temperature of my emotion in an attempt to dive deeper into my mind.
Going deeper into the pain helped me in inexplicable ways, and later that evening, I ceremoniously tore up the paper and threw it in a bin far away.
It felt natural to embrace the sadness, and I was okay with the fact that I felt that way.
It was far from a religious experience, but it was a small taste of the power of pushing through the pain instead of avoiding it.
A few days later, when the feelings had blown over, I came to appreciate the fact that life lessons are a constant challenge. If the lessons we had to learn were always easy, we would never have the same problem twice in a row.
Life loves to test our resolve and ability to handle stress in the face of adversity, often pushing us to our extreme limit and then some.
Our struggles are tailor-made to challenge us appropriately and pull us towards growth. If we can consistently face our challenges head-on, we can reach heights we never dreamed were possible.
Breaking Through To The Next Level
Progress is about building the courage to confront your fears and challenges even when they seem impossible.
When thinking about growth, I picture myself climbing a fictional ladder of life.
There is a giant ladder that leads to a opening in the ceiling.
You get to know the other people in the room well, but the people and environment change with each level you climb.
Climbing this mysterious ladder leads you to the next phase of your growth.
Gravity does everything it can to pull you back towards the lower levels.
The ladder becomes more slippery with each level, and the portal to get through gets smaller and smaller.
Sometimes the opening is hard to find, or it may even be covered by other materials like glass that you will need to shatter to break through.
Each floor has more distractions and temptations, and it is much easier to stay where you are or move backwards than to progress upwards.
At a particular stage, the hatch to crawl through to the next floor feels impossible to breach, but with determination and hard work, it is attainable to squeeze through to the upper levels, where it is less crowded and more intense growth is acheived.
Each level feels more challenging, and each step will test your will and determination.
It will take everything you have to progress, and it will be painful, but each gradual increase leads to a more fulfilling existence.
When we don’t have the energy to uncomfortably contort through to the next level, we often slip back down the ladder to join our accomplices down below.
When the portal is impossibly tiny, but you manage to squeeze through anyway, is when you may have the privilege of having a breakthrough experience.
It is through perseverance in the face of this pressure and pain that we transcend our current limitations.
By observing the stranger from earlier, I realised that people who have authentic revelatory experiences have a similar origin story.
If you are experiencing some of the most challenging times of your life, I hope this is some comfort to know that imminent growth and prosperity are on the other side.
Growing can be painful, and life will constantly test and retest your level of determination.
A perfect life would be boring and would not make for a fascinating story.
We all experience life differently, but we will only ever get a few chances to have truly breakthrough experiences.
So if you want to level up, embrace the uncomfortable and watch closely for the lessons that life is trying to teach you to advance to a higher level.
If you keep facing the same kind of issues, it is likely you have not yet learned the skills to pushed through the next portal and it’s time to try a different strategy.
If you let fear control you, you might miss your chance for rapid growth.