How does one achieve the impossible?
Let’s begin by examining the concept of the impossible before trying to answer such a tantalising question. Some things are clearly impossible in a physical sense. A nonagenarian who hopes to qualify for the Olympics for high jump is clearly hoping for the impossible unless of course one has a seniors’ Olympic event in mind.
But when Napoleon said that the word ‘impossible’ is found in the dictionary of fools, then clearly, he did not have such impossibilities in mind. What he perhaps had in mind was that certain goals or accomplishments, which we normally consider out of reach, may be capable of being achieved if only one was daring enough to entertain them and determined enough to go after them. One might have considered it impossible of France to achieve the kind of military victories that Napoleon achieved for his country.
This idea of the impossible becomes even more relevant when we come to the individual, who might consider certain accomplishments impossible without realizing that with persistent effort and determination they could be achieved. Perhaps, in such a context, the word ‘impossible’ is best understood as really denoting the improbable, which our imagination considers impossible. With these introductory remarks let us now consider what some sages have to say about achieving the impossible.
Swami Vivekananda met Sage Pavahari Baba of Ghazipur in the course of his wanderings across India. Vivekananda was so impressed by the Baba that he wanted to be initiated by him but whenever he resolved to do so, he was dissuaded by the appearance of an apparition of Sri Ramakrishna. Pavahari Baba later immolated himself upon being unable to bear the sufferings of his country in Kali Yugo.
Vivekananda, perhaps overwhelmed by the enormity of India’s problems asked Pavahari, “How does one achieve the impossible”?
Pavahari Baba replied: “By treating the means as the end and the end as the means.” One hesitates to offer an interpretation of such an oracular pronouncement and the reader may have his own understanding of it. But what was perhaps meant was that when we think of achieving something, we tend to focus on the end product more, rather than how that end product might be actually achieved in terms of the concrete steps required, to accomplish it.
So what the sage was perhaps suggesting was that we should focus our attention entirely on the means with the same passion with which we covet the goal itself. That would be one way of treating the means as the end. And then once such a concrete step is realized, similarly, the success we have achieved should be considered only a step in relation to what remains to be achieved to accomplish the goal. This would be one way of treating the end as the means.
St Francis of Assisi’s remarks do seem to shed light on the exciting question under discussion. He says that one should begin by doing the necessary; then one should do the possible, and then he adds that if one does so one would find oneself accomplishing the impossible.