Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Easy Path or the More Satisfying Path

This post is a follow-up to my previous post, where I reflect on my Moons - those things that give me joy and that I want to bring into my life.

In The Art of Racing in the Rain, Denny is tempted to take the easier path, to settle for less, by signing a settlement that would give primary custody of Zoe to his deceased wife's parents - but he chooses instead to go for the Moon, to refuse compromise, and to hold out for full custody of Zoe. Denny is determined to give his all for the Moon, to fulfill his two dreams, to continue race car driving and to raise his daughter himself. When Denny wins the custody suit, Enzo observes that "another path might have been easier for him to travel, but that it couldn't possibly have offered a more satisfying conclusion" (page 304).

This raises a question: Shall I choose the easier path or the more satisfying path? Often I choose the easier path. Below are some ways I've done this.

  • Flying in an airplane. I find flying to be distressing and fear-provoking, and rather than deal with those unpleasant feelings, I simply don't fly. This eliminates the satisfaction of getting to Iceland to drive the Ring Road and of traveling anywhere it would be impossible or impractical to drive.
  • Taking the elevator. I find this, too, to be distressing and fear-provoking, so I simply don't do it. This eliminates the satisfaction of very high views and causes hassles in buildings where stairways are kept locked.
  • Playing the organ. I used to play the organ at Mount Olivet Episcopal Church when the church organist was out of town. But I developed a high level of performance anxiety and, rather than deal with the anxiety, I simply stopped playing. This eliminates the satisfaction of playing in church.
  • Having a family. I have chosen to eliminate all possibility of creating a dysfunctional family by simply not having a family at all. This eliminates the satisfaction of being part of a family.

I tend to take on work and activities that will not demand too much of me. I am easily stressed, and I try to stick to areas where I know I can succeed. I don't want to be in charge, I don't want too much work, and I don't want my free time impinged upon.

I should explain, though, that within the areas I do take on, I am very responsible and hard-working - it's just that I deliberately limit those areas. For instance, I will not take on the responsibility and work of directing the program in which I teach - but I will work hard as a teacher within that program. And even though I say that I don't want my free time impinged upon, I do feel comfortable having my students call me at home when they have questions, meeting with my students outside of class, and doing extra-curricular activities with my students. I have no desire, however, to take on all kinds of extra volunteer work, and there are certain kinds of community activities that many people feel are important but that I avoid.

In The Art of Racing in the Rain, Enzo reports these words of Don Kitch, the owner of a race car driving school: "'There is no dishonor in losing the race,' Don said. 'There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose'" (page 277). There are races that I do not enter for a number of reasons, including fear of losing. These are some of my reasons.

  • Fear of being exposed as shamefully incompetent
  • Fear of others' disapproval for promoting myself and showing off
  • Fear of being selfish
  • Fear of the anxiety and discomfort of change
  • Fear of being injured, especially in a painful or incapacitating way
  • Fear of losing all my money
  • Fear of losing my solitude, whereby - as an introvert - I replenish my energy
  • Fear of losing control of my free time and plans by being called upon unexpectedly

These are some of the fears that keep me from entering the race. Rather than deal with them, I often simply don't enter. I take the easier path rather than the more satisfying path.

As I think about this as it relates to my travel Moons (as described in my previous post), especially driving the Iceland Ring Road, I realize that this Moon may be a bit ambitious for the moment. The complete Moon is actually to drive the Iceland Ring Road and to be paid to write about it. This taps into my fear of being exposed as a shamefully incompetent writer, my fear of others' disapproval for promoting my writing and showing off, my fear of being selfish for spending so much money when the world has so many needs, my fear of the anxiety and discomfort associated with doing something of this magnitude, my fear of being injured in flying, and my fear of losing all my money in paying for the adventure. Perhaps a baby step is in order.

In addition, since one of my Moons is to have a piano in my home again and to take piano lessons, I decided to stop by Hall Pianos today to look at pianos. I really liked one of the digital keyboards that is very piano-like in sound and feel. This could allow me to play with headphones and not disturb the neighbors. I could feel my fears arising, though, especially the fear of being selfish and the fear of losing all my money.

I can see that there is a conflict with my Moons. Some Moons give me joy but also arouse fear. The fear spoils the joy. For example, it gave me joy to play the organ in church, but once I started having high performance anxiety - which manifested as spasms in my lower back muscles - the fear seemed greater than the joy and I gave it up. It wasn't worth it. I guess we could say that I let the fear swallow up the joy. My tendency in thinking about driving the Iceland Ring Road is similar: the fear involved seems so much greater than the joy that I don't pursue this Moon. It seems not worth it. I let the fear swallow the joy.

When put this way, it almost seems that maybe this is important soul work I need to do. To let the joy be greater than the fear. To believe that life is gracious and that my Moons point to a satisfying life and connect me with God. To know that I can choose my Moons and that my Moons can change. To live into my Moons, perhaps with baby steps at first. To live my Moons in ways that promote my health and healing and that promote the health and healing of our Earth. To extend a hand to others, encouraging and empowering them to live their own Moons.

Sometimes it is a good decision to choose the easier path. But not in the way I've been doing so. Not with that panicky decision of "No, it's too scary, it's not worth it." A far better decision can be made after thinking and feeling through the issues and then choosing with the heart.

Sometimes one's heart makes such a strong choice that one will do whatever it takes to reach the Moon. In The Art of Racing in the Rain, Denny knows that he will do whatever it takes to win full custody of Zoe - there is no question of compromise. Denny says: "'I'm going to win this thing or I'm going to run out of fuel on the last lap. But I'm not going to quit. I promised Zoe. I'm not going to quit'" (page 267).

My Moons are not of the magnitude of custody of one's child. Certainly, it is not crucial that I drive the Iceland Ring Road, or that I have a piano in my home and play it, or that I give theme parties, or that I study the Druidry materials for the Bardic grade. These actions are not important as actions. They are important insofar as they fill me with joy, promote health and healing for my soul, connect me with God, and in some way encourage others. To what extent does my heart say Yes to each Moon?

The idea is absolutely not to accumulate Moons. If pursuing a so-called Moon will simply increase my anxiety and fill me with fear, then I do need to take the easier path and leave that Moon alone or change it. But there are Moons to live into that will fill me with joy, promote health and healing for my soul, connect me with God, and in some way encourage others. That is when my heart is likely to say Yes to that Moon.

Why would my heart choose to live into a Moon? Here is why.

  • The Moon fills me with joy.
  • The Moon promotes health and healing for my soul.
  • The Moon connects me with God.
  • The Moon in some way encourages others.

This is a Moon I can embrace. This is when it is worth it to forego the easier path for the more satisfying path.

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