It’s pouring this Sunday morning in the Smoky Mountain area of Tennessee. Yesterday night I was fortunate to find this beautiful little hotel built like a plantation-style house as a tribute to movie Gone with The wind. The lobby is decked with pictures of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh and when you walk in you just feel like making that Rhett Butler face and say “Frankly my dear – I don’t give a damn!”. This is Dolly Parton land. Dollywood is a few miles away and Dolly’s face is on brochures, billboards, and on the back of my room key.
In Tennessee, and later on in Alabama, I notice many older folks in restaurants and hotels together with their children and grandchildren. I also notice that unlike the New York female over 60, who is always blond, Southern women wear their grey hair proudly. I think it was Mahatma Ghandi who said that one of the most important measures of society is the way it treats the elderly, and I am impressed to find, at least as a first time visitor, that in the south it is an honor to be old.
I look through the balcony window at the falling rain and try to figure out what to do. I never rode in heavy rain before, especially not with the back-weight of bags, and I never tested the bag rain covers. The weather forecast shows constant rain all day, but I can’t afford to stay in Tennessee an entire additional day. So I go out and start suiting up for the rain: I put the rain covers on the bags, strap them extra tight, wear the rain jacket, pants, and boots, and off I go. The bike is parked in the back where many guests of the hotel are now leaving and loading their cars with their suitcases, and many of them start a conversation with me while I put on my little fashion show. They all ask about the motorcycle and where I am from, and then tell me stories about trips to New York. And they all wish me safety on my way. It seems that they are not just being polite, but really mean it.
I head out and initially start off cautiously and slowly in the mud and wet gravel around the hotel. The rain affects everything – the grip of the tires, the visibility. The boots slip when I stop, and the rain suite make it difficult to move. I get on the highway and gradually start to feel more confident. The rain continues to pour and causes a little congestion of traffic, and oddly enough I find that I am enjoying it. The rain washes off the worries, concerns, and thoughts, and I am filled with a great sense of pride for conquering the weather.
When I stop at a gas station, more folks come to me, inquire about the bike and my destination and ask me to be careful. Again, their words are more than words of courtesy, they all look me in the eye as if to make sure that their message sunk in. I still need to figure out why, but they simply seem to care about my well-being.
The rain stops for a little while and my mind frees up a little to think about this experience. When I met with Barbara Fredrickson earlier this week we came to the conclusion that challenge and risk are a cornerstone of happiness and inner peace. Today, riding a boring highway with no curves and no scenery, in a pouring rain, I feel naturally and completely at peace. Getting out of the comfort zone and confronting a challenge is a shortcut, a way to go through all Five Steps to Inner Peace at the same time:
- Meeting challenges builds inner strength and allows one to face greater challenges in the future.
- When on is engaged in a challenging task ,one is fully present and dedicates all of their focus, forgetting about past and future.
- Confronting challenges makes for a smaller ego and brings the humility in realizing that there are some things that we still need to learn.
- Taking action in the face of challenge forms a sense of self-responsibility instead of looking to others as a source of blame or help.
- The confidence and pride of accomplishing difficult tasks free up one’s mind and spirit to be kind, thoughtful, and generous to others, letting love rule.
In our society, comfort has become a value. We spent all of the 20th Century trying to being financial welfare to the majority of people in our countries, but we have mistaken financial welfare for comfort and rest. Challenges bring self-esteem, satisfaction, and most importantly a sense of control over your own life (which is probably the most prominent factor of psychological well-being). To live means to sweat, push, fail, and push even harder. This effort is not a burden that we should try to relief ourselves of. It is the essence of life itself, and in its absence life simply stops.
Today, think of one thing that you want to do but afraid to try, something embarrassing or risky, and do it. Savor the challenge. It is the fuel of the ride of your life.
I pass Georgia into Alabama where a large sign tells me that I’ve now entered Central Time Zone. I rode through three states today and two time zones, in bath of rain, and enjoyed every minute.