The Element of Risk
Highly adaptive and creative people also possess a third quality, a certain tolerance and even love of risk. A life without any element of risk would also be a life without happiness, for as human beings we seek to face adversity and overcome it. Mountaineers face the hazards of frostbite, of avalanche, of disorientation, and the like, and these dangers, far from invalidating the endeavor, actually make climbing the mountain worthwhile. A great musician must take to the stage and perform, knowing the possibility that he or she could make a mistake in front of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people. Venturing into the spiritual life also necessarily entails some risk: in the silence of meditation, we have to come face to face with ourselves, with our true motivations and intentions. We run the risk of losing the good life that we have for the sake of something that we dearly hope will be better.
This does not mean that simply any risk will do: a risk that leads to avoidance of duty or harm to others will not lead to advancement on the spiritual path. A good risk will lead to a more rewarding life if the “gamble” pays off and will have a minimal downside if the expected gains do not materialize. Of course, taking the example of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, we must not consider the fruits of action, whether positive or negative, when acting in the course of duty. As a parent, I do not control every aspect of my children’s lives, especially as they grow older, but I must nonetheless seek to provide for them in the way of material comfort and ethical guidance. My responsibility changes not one bit whether they become Nobel Prize winning scientists or, God forbid, end up in jail. I still have the inalterable duty to love them and care for them.
Good risks stem from trying something new, like learning a musical instrument or a new language, where the downside might be nothing more than a little bit of embarrassment while the upside is a substantial new area of knowledge. Good risks produce butterflies in the stomach accompanied by a feeling of pleasant expectation. We all take such a risk in joining a community, a satsanga. We forego some of the privacy of being a solitary practitioner in order to join with others in order to find some wisdom that we would not be able to find alone. Such good risk-taking can be a way out of a slump or depression.
I previously identified up-cycles and down-cycles as characteristic of any creative endeavor. In order to move to a higher energetic vibration, we must embrace a certain level of risk. Take a look at the diagram below:
Risk can be the elevator that takes a discouraged individual into a better state of mind and better circumstances in life. Nothing ever changes without this element of risk. The diagram may oversimplify things a bit by suggesting that risk and change happen all at once, since change can sometimes take a long time before coming to fruition. This does not change the fact that risk must be present in order for advancement in life to happen.
The law of karma is often described as an archer shooting arrows. We all “shoot” the “arrows” of action each day, some landing nearby (in the immediate future) and some landing far away (in the distant future). We have to choose what sort of arrows we will shoot, whether they will be good actions or bad. Either way, we will always experience the natural outcomes of our actions. The risky part stems from taking an action that lies outside our previous areas of experience, from venturing into the unknown in order to obtain a desired result. Such risk-taking will be rewarded, since no action can fail to produce a result. We may sabotage ourselves through abundance of timidity but not through committing ourselves to a good cause.
When the element of time is added to the mix, the need for risk-taking becomes clearer. A good risk today will be worth more than a good risk tomorrow, since the effects of good actions will compound over time. Think about a person who waits until adulthood to start brushing his or her teeth. Such a person might not have any teeth left to brush! But a person who began brushing as a child will have no trouble continuing the habit. Money invested in the stock market today will be worth more than money invested tomorrow, provided the investments are sound. In the same way, investing in spiritual practice today produces compounded results tomorrow. As we act, so we become.