ice eyes

“When Things Are Going Smoothly, You Are Likely to Slip”
– Ho Sen

Last night I heard the sound of sleet and freezing rain on the metal roof of our house. When I woke up, I walked outside and the ground was covered with ice, virtually every stone on the driveway was encased in a smooth, slippery sheet of ice. Since my daughters had to go to school, I began walking down our 800 foot driveway to see if it would be safe for the car. I had to walk slower than normal and be very careful where I placed each foot. Even so, I slipped and fell twice in about 15 minutes.


We prefer it when life is going smoothly. We cruise along each day with very little friction and life unfolds the way we hope it will unfold. There are no unexpected problems or challenges that arise – no unpleasant surprises. Isn’t this the way we like life to present itself – everything just goes smoothly?

But it’s when things are going smoothly that we eventually slip. How do we slip? We may get a bit too overconfident. We may not pay close attention to where we’re going. We may become distracted and lose our balance. Or maybe we just get too proud as we congratulate ourselves on having built such a successful and stable life. We slip into an ego-centered perspective of ourselves.

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Perhaps the most tragic aspect of a smooth life is what happens to our mind, body and spirit. Our mind loses its edge. Our body loses its strength. And our spirit becomes empty, as we find no need for faith or trust.

The antidote to smooth ice is sand. Sand has some grit and that grit covers the ice and gives you traction. It gives you friction that helps prevent you from slipping. There is even a special type of “traction sand” that has larger, more gritty granules.

But when our smooth lives are disturbed by grit and friction, we don’t like it. We have to adapt to unexpected problems. Challenges arise that we didn’t count on. We have to adjust, reschedule, even make significant changes in how we’re living. We really don’t want to do that. Yet, it often sharpens our mind, strengthens our body, and deepens or spiritual practice.


So if the path that you are on is smooth, that’s fine. Just be careful and watch your step. And if the path you’re on is rough, don’t feel too sorry for yourself. All the friction in your life is making it possible for something new to arise.


“The Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine, was awarded the Nobel Prize for his theory of which he calls “dissipative structures,” part of which contends that friction is a fundamental property of nature and nothing grows without it – not mountains, not pearls, not people. It is precisely this quality of fragility, he says, the capacity for being shaken up, that is paradoxically the key to growth. Any structure – whether at the molecular, chemical, physical, social, or psychological level – that is insulated from disturbance is also protected from change. It becomes stagnant. Any vision – or any thing – that is true to life, to the imperatives of creation and evolution, will not be unshakable.”

– quoted from Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy

In the course of my life I’ve slipped a lot when things were smooth. And I’ve tripped a lot when things got rough. In both cases I end up on the ground. The secret, I learned, is to get up quickly.

1 Comment

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  1. Phyll 8 years ago

    Great article! I needed this, right now, as I just lost a close friend to suicide (male age 44). Gunshot through the heart. Horrible. How does one “get up” from that? I’m trying. It’s hard. This article helps. Thank you, Gregg.


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