Do you remember the moment when you first became aware of an aspect of yourself that you continued to appreciate throughout the course of your life? Did you notice something in another that you were then able to see in yourself? Did you discover that you were exceptional in one area? Did you discover something for the first time and realize it filled you with immense pleasure every time you went back to it?
I was an avid reader as a child, as I am today, and I read a book series by John D. Fitzgerald called The Great Brain. In this semi-fictional series depicting the lives of three Mormon brothers in the late 1800s, the author highlights the remarkable intellectual capacities of his middle brother, Tom. Tom, a born Capitalist, uses his problem solving capacities to creatively extort funds for his own desires. I recall these books being great fun to read, but what left the greatest impression on me was Tom’s conviction that if he gave his brain a problem to solve before bed, he’d wake up in the morning with the answer. And inevitably, he did. His schemes were elaborate and often underhanded, but I admired his grit, resourcefulness, and most of all his curiosity. His unwavering faith in the capacities of his mind was a truly heroic act of showing up for oneself, which I recognized despite my youth.
As a child this idea that I was also gifted with a mind that could come up with solutions to my problems while I slept fascinated me. Though I wasn’t faced with many problems to solve or opportunities to put this concept into action, the theme stuck with me through my developmental years and well into adulthood, resulting in unwavering faith in my own ability to overcome whatever hurdles life threw at me. And I believe that this fascination with my own intellect and my desire to put my mind to the test according to Tom’s modelling allowed me to develop resilience .It is also what is guiding me to identify more solidly with Stoic lifestyle principles, and to identify as a philosopher in my own right.
I do not recall being offered an opportunity to test my mettle and backing down from it. I feel that the best opportunities to align with our values and to connect with our integrity come from the greatest challenges in our lives. That we are most capable of growth through adversity, and that difficulties are simply invitations to show up to the best of our ability.
While this approach can sometimes appear masochistic, I also am learning to discern between true opportunities to align with my wholeness versus unconscious reactions expressed through the voice of my outer critic. The former is emerging from my new connection to peace and stillness, while the latter stemmed from trauma-based mindless conditioning. But even this awareness grew out of the knowledge that there was a problem I needed to solve (distancing from my habitual mindlessly reactive states) and that in trusting that the answers lay within me I could simply invite them to emerge.
Over time I have confirmed that the solutions always emerge. Be they through the discovery of the path of least resistance and knowing when to back away, or through choosing to crawl facedown through the mud, my own great brain, in harmony with my gut or my knowing, always take me to the exact place that I need to be. Through experience, over time, I catalogue and reflect on my experience, and I gain wisdom. Each new problem becomes easier for my great brain to find solutions to.