Rabbi Mendel Futerfass spent several years of his life in a Soviet labor camp. He later related that one of the ways that he kept his sanity was to constantly engage his mind in the Chassidic practice, set forth by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, that "From everything that a person sees or hears, he should derive a lesson in his service of G‑d." Some very profound insights came from some very unusual teachers.
For instance, one of the prisoners claimed to be a tightrope walker.
Reb Mendel didn't believe him because he couldn't imagine why a person would waste his time walking on a rope and risk falling on his head, when he could just walk on the ground like everyone else. But when the evil Stalin died and the government eased up the pressure on the camps, some of the inmates decided to make a celebration and the tightrope walker saw his chance to prove himself.
He found a long thick rope somewhere in the camp, attached it to the side of a building about ten feet above the ground, stretched it to another building about fifteen yards away and attached it there at the same height. For a long time he was up on a ladder pulling, testing and fastening until everything was finally ready.
A crowd gathered around. The man removed his shoes and gingerly but unceremoniously climbed up the ladder onto the rope.
Reb Mendel was one of the first to get interested, and he explained what happened:
"First he climbed up onto the rope, took a few steps, lost his balance and fell. But he knew how to fall, like a cat. He waited a few seconds and climbed up again and fell again the same way. But eventually he started walking, and then dancing from one foot to the other to the rhythm of the clapping onlookers.
"Then he got to the end, turned around, danced back to where he started, and climbed down amidst the applause and cheering of the crowd.
"After shaking everyone's hand he walked over to me and said with a satisfied smile on his face. 'Well Rabbi, what do you think now?'
"I told him I was impressed, but I couldn't help wondering how he did it. How could he walk on such a thin rope without falling off? After much prompting he finally revealed his secret. 'I fix my eye on where I'm going,' he said, 'and never even think about falling'.
"He waited a few seconds for me to digest the answer, and then said: 'Do you know what was the hardest part? Turning around! When you turn around you lose sight of the goal for a second. It takes a long time to learn to turn around!'"