Taking the Plunge —

Joss of  Crowing Crone offered as the second challenge for my  “coming-unstuck” improv session these words from Martin Luther King, the formidable civil rights leader and activist: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step.”

The first thing that popped into my mind in response to Joss’s quote was the old saying, The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. A truism, yes — but no less true for all of that. One step, the first step, is the beginning of anything.

Dr. King’s metaphor, though, has an additional nuance. To me, it contains a veiled warning that you may lack important information about the journey, such as what stops you will make along the way, and what you will need to enable you to keep going. And, he says, that’s unimportant. The choosing is all.

Or to use another word for it, commitment is all. Commitment to what? To a goal of the heart, whether clearly indicated or simply a vague yearning. (Dr. King had a clear goal, but I don’t think that’s always necessary. Vague yearnings, if strong enough, also have propulsive energy.)

But stepping out into the unknown is risky business. We may know our own strengths, but we are usually even more familiar with our own weaknesses, and so we well may wonder, How can I do this? I need to know X, Y, and Z AT LEAST, in order to stand a chance, don’t I?

There are perhaps as many ways of saying this same thing as there are people with ears to listen to it. One way I like is a German proverb: Begin to weave; and God will give the thread. Thomas Merton puts it this way about commitment without a blueprint, a floor plan, or a map: The way opens before you as you go. He may have gleaned this from a Zen saying, Move and the way will open.

But my own favorite way of saying the same thing is an elaboration of my post title, Taking the Plunge. There is a midrash, a teaching story that the rabbis tell about the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. In the story, when the fleeing Hebrews on their exodus from Egypt came up against the waters of the Red sea, Moses held up his staff in confident expectation that the waters would part. But they did not. The soldiers pursuing the Hebrews were hard on their heels, in front of them thundered the rolling waters, what was to become of them? There they stood, in bewilderment and dismay, until suddenly one brave man rushed into the waters — which immediately parted, and all the people following him were able to cross over on dry land. One step, the first step, is indeed the beginning of everything.

(Thank you, Joss, for this challenge. And viewers, be sure to look at Joss’s post, Waiting, written almost a week after she’d sent Dr. King’s quote for me to comment on. What better proof that our ideas, which we may think come out of nowhere, in fact come from extremely specific somewheres!)

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24 Responses to Taking the Plunge —

  1. MFa says:

    Love this post, Judith!


  2. reb says:

    No, we don’t need to see the whole staircase. Taking the first plunge, in spite of fear of the unknown, can be both energizing and uplifting. «Taking the plunge» brings to mind this poem, that I also brought up in a blog post last year: http://goo.gl/AQp29

    Thought provoking blog…


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Karin Brody’s poem is also thought-provoking, as you say, Rebekah.
      (You of course can read it in the original Swedish, but even in translation it’s very nice indeed.)


  3. oh you did a fabulous job with this. We are getting ready for a big adventure here and not all the steps have yet been revealed. but we are starting the climb.


  4. Taking the plunge and taking it in an open forum like this blog is pretty powerful! Love your post and am following your activities! Yippee!


  5. Love this! Taking the plunge is also a lot about faith. Faith in ourselves, in a higher being or both. You may not see the whole staircase but you take that first step anyway because you believe that a way will open up.


  6. thirdhandart says:

    Love the Martin Luther King saying: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step.” Very inspirational post T2T! Got to go take that first step now. Thank you.


  7. Carolina says:

    Wonderful. Thank you!


  8. pauline says:

    One might want to find out what’s at the top of those steps before starting out… on the other hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I used to bound up steps like those in your photo – now they look daunting. Of course, all this blather is sidestepping the meaning of MLK’s dictum. Every journey, up, down, or laterally, begins with a first step. I think it’s the second and third and fourth steps, those more deliberate steps, that set us on our paths, though. The first is easy to reverse. Once you’re halfway up that staircase, it takes a more dedicated decision to keep going.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Hmmm. My thought: it’s the second and third and fourth steps that take the dedicated decision.
      I think there usually comes a point after that when one is truly committed and it can be more dangerous and/or difficult to turn back than it is to continue.
      On the negative side, Macbeth says “I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” That’s one thing that can happen for the bad —
      My therapist would often talk, however, of reaching that point in commitment when one is TRULY committed, too far in to do anything but continue — for the good. Although he was also very clear that choosing to take the path did NOT guarantee your choice of where the path would lead.


  9. grand-player says:

    I think it is such grace that we do not know what lies ahead because we may not have the courage to move out. That one day at a time, or in this case one step at a time increases the commitment with small successes. Great, thoughtful post


  10. Stef says:

    I’m considering making a move that has me nervous, so your wise words (from Germans, rabbis, and Merton) are very timely. Thank you for that. And I love your staircase picture! Very cool.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Have you checked out Crowing Crone Joss’s blog lately? Or her comments on some of the posts here?
      She was considering such a move (evidently what subconsciously influenced her choice of improv challenge quote) and has just announced — she’s taking the plunge!
      Synchronicity — or, there’s a lot of it around!
      Bonne chance, Stef.


  11. I find this post very comforting. And exciting. I feel like it’s time for me to move (i.e. change things up) again – but I have been stuck on the “move where?” part. Perhaps the where (in this case, how) is not as important as just moving?


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