The Parable of a Rock (n) Roller

So you’re on top of a big hill, and you come by an almost perfectly round rock.

You look at the rock, and know that it’ll be exhilarating to push it down the hill.  It’ll be thrilling to see it rolling down on its own, running beside it, feeling the wind on your face and in your hair.

So you try pushing it toward the downslope.

It’s heavy and it doesn’t budge.

Committed to your goal, though, you try different approaches to see if you can get it to move.  You try pushing at a different spot.  You try pushing in a different direction, even away from the downslope, just to see if you can get it dislodged from where it’s at.  You try different postures, hoping to maximize all the strength you got.

And after several attempts, the rock seems to move, just a fraction of an inch.

Encouraged, you try harder.  But even though you think you’re trying it the same way, the rock doesn’t move.

Confused, you start varying your approach again.  Maybe you didn’t correctly understand what made the rock move that time.

But time passes without any hint of progress.  You’re no longer sure if the rock did move.  Maybe you imagined it.

Once doubts enter your mind, you feel exhausted.  You call it a day, but vow to return the next day with fresh strength.

When you return, you challenge the rock with vigor.  After several more attempts, the rock moves again, just a little.  This time you’re sure it moved, but are still not clear on what worked this time.  You keep trying, but the rock refuses to move again.

So you return yet another day.  After more attempts, the rock budges, this time a slightly greater distance.  And you got it to move sooner than in the previous session.  Maybe you’re starting to figure it out.

So you keep trying.  No more progress was had that day, but you feel encouraged.

But the following day the rock doesn’t move at all.  Your confidence ebbs again.

You stand and evaluate your efforts. It was exciting, those few moments when the rock did move.  But your sessions were also filled with struggles and frustration.  You remain curious about what made the successful attempts work.  There is a mystery that is yet uncovered.

So you keep coming back, day after day.  Some days the rock moves, other days it doesn’t.

Some days it rains.  At first you thought rain would make the rock slippery and the ground muddy, so you don’t try.  Then other rainy days you do, wondering if the slippery ground is helpful in making the rock move.  You can’t tell the difference.

Some days you don’t feel up to it.  But on the days you don’t go, you think about the rock.  It’s a strange feeling.  You can’t say you’re enjoying the challenge, but yet life seems empty on the days when you don’t go.

You realize, though, that recently you have been able to move the rock more often.

Soon you forget where the rock was originally.  Or how little it moved on the first day.  You feel a sense of rhythm.  The rock moves each day.  Some days it doesn’t travel much.  Other days you move it farther.

Unbeknownst to you, your body is developing the muscles needed to push the rock.  Your approach is becoming more streamlined, you don’t experiment as much any more.

Then one day, the rock rolls a little on its own.  The slope is not noticeable yet, so it doesn’t go far, but this was a new accomplishment.  You feel excited.

The day after that, it rolls on its own more.  You love it.  Now this feels like fun.

But the day after that, it starts moving faster and farther than you expected.  Surprised, you actually stop the rock, afraid of losing control.  Even though getting it rolling down the hill was your goal.  Now that the goal seems actually attainable, you somehow feel concerned.  You hold it back and end your day.

When you come back the next time, you stare at the rock for a while.  Do you really want it to move that fast?  Why did you want to roll it to begin with?  But you can’t figure out the answer by thinking about it.

So more out of habit than anything else, you push it.  The rock starts rolling on its own — at this point getting it to move is no longer a struggle.  You summon your courage and let it roll a little longer and faster, before you hesitate and slow it down again.  You’re so accustomed to the slow-or-nothing pace that you feel uncomfortable about the possibility of the rock moving faster.

As the days go by, however, you dare a little more.  Now you’re definitely on a downslope, moving the rock isn’t a struggle.  The only question is, how fast do you let it go?  Now the effort is not on pushing but on control.  You become more comfortable letting it roll a while.  You stop when you need to, to prevent it from rolling down uncontrollably.  It’s not that you had a specific destination in mind when you started, but now you just want to enjoy the experience of being able to move the ball at will.

Then finally one day, you decide to let go.  You let the rock roll down the hill, and you run beside it.  All the exhilaration you imagined in the beginning becomes your reality.  You scream and holler in wild abandon.  You know nobody else understand why you’re so excited to run beside a rolling rock.  Nobody truly understood or even knew you had such a strange ambition.  But you don’t care.  You’re doing it now.  And you can do it easily, any time you want.  You mastered the skill of rolling this rock.

Your mind starts wondering where else you can apply this power that you developed.

This is how I understand life to work. The beginning is the hardest. You may not even see that you’re learning, growing or making progress.  The end goal seems impossibly far away.  And yet, through showing up on a regular basis, you do learn and grow, and build momentum.  Once you reach a tipping point, then the momentum will carry you and your endeavor starts feeling effortless.

Masters always make it look easy, but they arrive to that point by persevering for a long time.  You seek improvements, but not necessarily shortcuts.  It’s not useful to wish if it was easier or quicker, for the long development and great challenge is the point.

I am trying to shed the idea that life has to be hard, but just as games that are too easy are boring and not worthwhile, so it is with life.  Things that are too easy will not captivate our attention for long.  Finding the right challenge, the right mountain to climb — now that’s something that makes life worth living.

I am grateful that I’m learning how to move my rock.

I hope you find yours. And you move it.