“What am I doing here?” I sobbed. I lay face down in the mud with a 40kg canoe pinning me down awkwardly between slippery logs. I was 16, somewhere in northwest Ontario on a portage. The other girls on the canoe trip had gone on ahead and I had been left to carry one of the canoes. Again.
It was raining. Nothing unusual about that. It had been raining for weeks, and we had grown used to the uncomfortable dampness of our clothes, and the shivering when we stopped paddling for too long. So I lay in the mud, feeling the trickle of rain from my rain jacket soak a little more into the thermal top around my neck. I could smell the moss and mud like an earthy coffee. I wriggled a little, trying to budge the canoe. No luck; it was jammed.
I was seriously pissed off. I was angry at the others for leaving me behind, I was angry that I had to carry the canoe again, and I was angry that I was stuck under the stupid canoe. Life sucked. I just wanted to be warm, dry, and somewhere else. Anywhere but here.
I realised it was going to be at least an hour before anyone came back for the rest of the gear. That meant another hour breathing muddy forest floor. That made me cry and swear even more.
Then I got angry. With all the strength I could muster I hauled myself to my knees with the canoe grinding between trees as I swore and panted and jammed that sucker upwards. It worked! I was free.
I swore a little more, heaving from the effort, and kicked the canoe viciously. “Bastard!” I yelled. I knew no one could hear me. It would keep the bears away though.
I stood listening to the quiet patter of the rain in the forest. It was beautiful and serene. I, however, was not. I knew it was time to get back under the canoe and get going. There was no point waiting, as I knew the others would not find it any easier than I had. I was on my own.
I got back under the canoe, slipped the yoke on to my shoulders and with some more red-blooded sailor swearing, wrenched the canoe from its hold between the trees. I see-sawed it back and forth to get it facing the right direction, up the muddy slippery slope. We were away, me and the bastard canoe.
This was one of my first ‘crucible’ experiences. A crucible has a double meaning: a vessel that is heated to great temperatures to melt metals. It also means a trial or ordeal, by which a person is transformed.
As humans, we may find ourselves unwittingly in a crucible. These take three forms:
- Personal: loss, death, divorce, illness
- Threshold: venturing in to the unknown, learning new skills, starting a new career, travel to unknown lands
- Battle: this can be a complex challenging mess with other people where we are the steward for the group, and where we need to lead a charge.
No one wishes for a personal or battle crucible. These are the ones that catch us off guard, and demand more of us than we know, or think ourselves capable of.
If we do find ourselves in deep in the crucible with the fire raging, there are three key capacities that will help us realise that we are indeed, cut out for whatever is sent our way.
The key Crucible Capacities are:
Feeling feelings fully
We’ve got to wrestle with the blackest of emotions, from fear, to shame, to despair. If we can sit in the storm of these, and just let them wash through us without holding on tight, then we will be able to let the feelings go. We won’t be paralysed from the fear of feeling bad. We’ll feel bad for a bit, then we feel better.
This is when we decide to make something meaningful from the crappy situation. Maybe we can look at it as part of the Hero’s journey, and there might be a lesson or insight in it.
The other important pivot is one of expanding the context. When we ask, “how could this serve others?”, our attachment to our own drama falls away and we are focused on contribution.
This is the resolve of true grit. Grit is perseverance, the bloody-minded focus to keep going, step after step. The world shrinks to the next simple choice, and bit by bit, we get to somewhere else.
And sometimes we only learn that we are cut out for the toughest gigs when we are face down in the mud.