I recently read a wonderful book: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. In this post, I will reflect on lessons learned from this book. My reflections fall into several categories, as you can see in the sub-headings for this post, but within each category, my reflections tend to be a bit random. Although this post is long and somewhat random, I intend to pull out certain key points for deeper and more focused reflection in later posts.
SPOILER ALERT: This post will give away the plot and the ending of The Art of Racing in the Rain, so please don't read it if you plan to read the book. And I highly recommend the book!
The two main characters in The Art of Racing in the Rain are Enzo and Denny. Enzo is Denny's dog and the first-person narrator of The Art of Racing in the Rain. Enzo has human thoughts and understands human language, but he is trapped in a dog's body. Enzo believes that this is his last lifetime as a dog and that he will reincarnate as a human in his next lifetime.
Denny (Dennis Swift) is an amateur (semi-professional, actually) race car driver. In addition to his passion for racing cars, Denny also loves his wife, Eve, and their daughter, Zoe. Denny's two passions in life are race cars and his family.
Denny encounters a number of obstacles related to his two passions.
- Denny has difficulty financing his racing.
- Eve's parents dislike Denny because they don't think that his background is high-class enough for their daughter.
- Eve is diagnosed with and eventually dies from brain cancer.
- Upon Eve's death, her parents sue for custody of Zoe with hard-ball legal tactics, including having a fifteen-year-old grand-niece accuse Denny of rape and insisting on child support from Denny after claiming that Denny is unable to offer Zoe all the financial advantages that they themselves can offer her.
The Art of Racing in the Rain shows how Denny applies the lessons of car racing to his life. Rain is considered an obstacle for many car racers. They fear the rain. On page 41, Denny explains: "'Drivers are afraid of the rain,' Denny told us. 'Rain amplifies your mistakes, and water on the track can make your car handle unpredictably. When something unpredictable happens you have to react to it; if you’re reacting at speed, you’re reacting too late. And so you should be afraid.'"
Denny himself doesn't fear the rain. When it rains during a car race, Denny shines because he possesses the car so completely that he is one with the car, the track, and the rain. Here is how Enzo describes it on page 314: "But racing in the rain is also about the mind! It is about owning one’s own body. About believing that one’s car is merely an extension of one’s body. About believing that the track is an extension of the car, and the rain is an extension of the track, and the sky is an extension of the rain. It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything. And everything is you."
In other words, when Denny is racing - in the rain or otherwise - he flows. He is not thinking about racing - he is being racing. Time stops, and Denny just is - in the now of the race. He is living the race, being the race, being one with the car, the track, the rain, the sky. And it is this art - the art of racing in the rain - that Denny learns to apply to his life, as observed and recorded by his dog, Enzo.
I would say that The Art of Racing in the Rain highlights three components to the art of racing in the rain, or to the art of living your passion no matter the obstacles.
- BELIEVE. Believe in your passion and in the graciousness of life.
- LIVE. Live your passion, no matter what obstacles you encounter.
- SHARE. Encourage others in their passions.
BELIEVE: Believe in your passion and in the graciousness of life
To believe in your passion, you must first know what it is. What is your ecstasy, your joy, your bliss? For Denny, it is car racing and his family. For Enzo, it is car racing and learning as much as he can about being human so that he will be prepared for his next lifetime as a man. Here are some ways that Denny and Enzo recognize their passions.
- They notice when they are deeply excited about something.
- They find themselves willing to put large amounts of time and effort into their passions.
- When obstacles arise, they find a way around or through the obstacles.
- When they engage in their passions, they flow.
- Their passions take them out of themselves - they lose themselves in service to their passions. This, by the way, is what ecstasy is - to lose the self in the encompassing joy of something greater.
Experience is so important to passion. Enzo describes this beautifully on page 157, when Denny takes him out for laps in a race car. Enzo says: "Until that moment I thought that I loved racing. I intellectualized that I would enjoy being in a race car. Until that moment I didn’t know. How could anyone know until he sits in a car at race speed and takes turns at the limits of adhesion, brakes a hair from lockup, the engine begging for the redline?"
Denny tells Enzo to bark once to go more slowly and to bark twice to go faster. Enzo, who understands human speech, barks twice - surprising Denny. On page 157, Enzo shows how much this car racing experience continues to mean to him: "Two barks means faster. Sometimes, to this day, in my sleep I bark twice because I am dreaming of Denny driving me around Thunderhill, the two of us laying down a hot lap, and I bark twice to say faster. One more lap, Denny! Faster!"
This is the difference between knowing something in one's head and knowing something in one's bones.
Teachers should understand this: Students need to experience their learning - to learn things in their bones. Teachers who can give students experiences of bone-deep learning are the ones who make a difference in students' lives.
Finally, it is important to realize that one person's passion is not necessarily another's. The speed of car racing, which is so energizing to Denny and Enzo, can actually be toxic to some people. Not everyone thrives on speed, and that's okay. Eve could not handle speed or the atmosphere around the race track, but she supported Denny in his passion, even though it was not hers.
The Art of Racing in the Rain emphasizes the need to trust in the graciousness of life - to know that life wants to give us our bliss. This seems to happen when we know where our deepest joy lies, make a firm commitment to our passion that will brook no compromise, put the full force of our life energy behind our passion, and begin living into this passion. When we do this, we find that life opens to us - life cooperates - life wants us to live our passions.
Obstacles do test our commitment, but ultimately life wants to give us what we commit to wholeheartedly and joyfully. Our part is to identify our passions, to go for the moon and refuse to compromise, to trust our choice of being born into this particular lifetime, to open our eyes to the expansiveness and abundance of the universe, and to let ourselves be pulled out of discouragement when it occurs.
Life comes through for Denny. In the end, Denny receives custody of his daughter and - thanks to the kindness of a benefactor who takes an interest in his struggles, his love of racing, and his expertise - he becomes a Ferrari racing champion in Italy. Denny's benefactor received similar help at a low point in his own life and was simply paying it forward.
Life comes through for Enzo. He dies at an old age in Denny's arms and reincarnates as the son of loving parents in Italy who encourage his love of racing karts. At age five, the boy Enzo meets the Ferrari champion Denny, who promises to pay forward the kindness of his own benefactor by assuring Enzo's father that he will see to Enzo's education in car racing when Enzo is a bit older.
I want to believe that life comes through for us in this way. To believe this, one needs the perspective of many lifetimes. It simply doesn't happen for everyone in one lifetime. Some people are caught in circumstances where it simply cannot happen. When it cannot happen, it is usually because some humans have prevented its happening for other humans. I think, for example, of human slavery and of the Nazi concentration camps. This cannot be the end of the story.
I would like to end this section with Enzo's vision of reincarnation on page 98.
In Mongolia, when a dog dies, he is buried high in the hills so people cannot walk on his grave. The dog's master whispers into the dog's ear his wishes that the dog will return as a man in his next life. Then his tail is cut off and put beneath his head, and a piece of meat or fat is placed in his mouth to sustain his soul on its journey; before he is reincarnated, the dog's soul is freed to travel the land, to run across the high desert plains for as long as it would like.
I learned that from a program on the National Geographic Channel, so I believe it is true. Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready.
I am ready.
LIVE: Live your passion, no matter what obstacles you encounter
To live your passion, you do have to enter the race. That which stops people from entering is fear. Don Kitch, the owner of a race car instruction school, puts it like this on page 277: "'There is no dishonor in losing the race,' Don said. 'There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.'"
I am a person who likes to play it safe, so I am apt to avoid entering a race where I may lose. However, if it is true that we choose to be born on earth for our particular lifetimes, then I did choose to enter the race of this particular life; otherwise, I wouldn't be here. Also, the fact that I am still here means that I still have work to do. Perhaps it is simply a question of consciously engaging with choices that my soul has already made.
Enzo makes another observation when Denny wins the trial for custody of Zoe, after deciding to reject the settlement terms offered by Eve's parents and to go for broke for full custody of his daughter. On page 304, as Denny weeps with relief in the arms of his good friend Mike, Enzo says: "I watched Denny as he held on to Mike and swayed back and forth, feeling the relief, the release, knowing that another path might have been easier for him to travel, but that it couldn't possibly have offered a more satisfying conclusion." This suggests an important question: Which path shall I follow - the easier path or the more satisfying path?
One of the most important messages of The Art of Racing in the Rain is to take responsibility for one's choices. Here is one way to state this:
That which you manifest is before you (page 41).
Enzo comments on this on page 43: "Such a simple concept, yet so true: that which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves."
Having heard, reflected upon, and understood this, Enzo puts it into action: He realizes that Eve has not responded to him as warmly as he would like because he himself has withheld affection from Eve, and he immediately corrects this by showing dog-like affection for Eve, who responds lovingly to Enzo. Enzo explains this on page 44:
I had always wanted to love Eve as Denny loved her, but I never had because I was afraid. She was my rain. She was my unpredictable element. She was my fear. But a racer should not be afraid of rain; a racer should embrace the rain. I, alone, could manifest a change in that which was around me. By changing my mood, my energy, I allowed Eve to regard me differently. And while I cannot say that I am a master of my own destiny, I can say that I have experienced a glimpse of mastery, and I know what I have to work toward.
This brings up another important point: the importance of baby steps. When faced with the need to change, one can always begin with something small and manageable. Even a small change is significant: it sets change in motion.
Denny is dead set on taking responsibility for himself. He is adamant that any mistakes on the racing track are his own. When Eve points out that Denny finished last in his latest race due to another driver's actions, Denny corrects her on page 91. "'If it was anybody's fault,' Denny said, 'it was mine for being where I could get collected.'" Enzo then reflects on this, also on page 91:
This is something I'd heard him say before: getting angry at another driver for a driving incident is pointless. You need to watch the drivers around you, understand their skill, confidence and aggression levels, and drive with them accordingly. Know who is driving next to you. Any problems that may occur have ultimately been caused by you, because you are responsible for where you are and what you are doing there.
This is so important: "Any problems that may occur have ultimately been caused by you, because you are responsible for where you are and what you are doing there" (page 91). Never blame someone else for your problems.
What is interesting is that it doesn't feel good to blame someone else; it does feel good to take responsibility oneself. I think that this is because taking responsibility is a way of claiming one's power, and that feels good. Blaming someone else gives one's power away. Denny insists on his own responsibility, even in the case of fifteen-year-old Annika, who pursues him relentlessly in a sexual way - Denny takes responsibility for having allowed himself to get caught in that situation and for not acting forcefully enough to prevent it.
Your car goes where your eyes go (page 82).
This is another way of stating that you are responsible for yourself. Enzo explains on page 83: "In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle."
Enzo sees this at work with Eve's diagnosis of cancer. On page 162, Enzo says: "And I knew that once they identified her disease for her, once everyone around her accepted her diagnosis and reinforced it and repeated it back to her time and again, there was no way she could stop it. The visible becomes inevitable. Your car goes where your eyes go."
When Enzo receives his own diagnosis of hip displasia, he says on page 218: "With my diagnosis, I knew, would come my end. Slowly, perhaps. Painfully, wtthout a doubt; marked by the signposts laid out by the veterinarian. The visible becomes inevitable. The car goes where the eyes go." Later on page 218, Enzo says: "I considered the foretelling of my own end, which was to be full of suffering and pain, as death is believed to be by most of the world, and I tried to look away."
Enzo realizes that we grow old and die painfully because this is what our collective consciousness sees - and our car goes where our eyes go. But Enzo can imagine it happening differently in the future, as he describes on page 311:
Growing old is a pathetic thing It is full of limitations and reduction. It happens to us all, I know; but I think that it might not have to. I think it happens to those of us who request it. And in our current mind-set, our collective ennui, it is what we have chosen to do. But one day a mutant child will be born who refuses to age, who refuses to acknowledge the limitations of these bodies of ours, who lives in health until he is done with life, not until his body no longer supports him. He will live for hundreds of years, like Noah. Like Moses. This child's genes will be passed to his offspring, and more like him will follow. And their genetic makeup will supplant the genes of those of us who need to grow old and decay before we die. I believe that one day it will come to pass; however, such a world is beyond my purview.
Enzo speaks of being alone as a neutral state. He thinks of Denny, after Denny's arrest which was orchestrated by Eve's parents, waiting alone at the police station, and hopes that Denny is able to be alone (a neutral state) without being lonely (a subjective condition). Enzo explains this on page 93. First Enzo says: "That being alone is a neutral state; it is like a blind fish at the bottom of the ocean: without eyes, and therefore without judgment." Enzo also says: "That which is around me does not affect my mood; my mood affects that which is around me." Finally, Enzo says: "Could Denny have possibly appreciated the subjective nature of loneliness, which is something that exists only in the mind, not in the world, and, like a virus, is unable to survive without a willing host?"
When I am lonely, it is because I am a willing host to loneliness. When I am angry, it is because I m a willing host to anger. When I am afraid, it is because I am a willing host to fear. I think that we can have developed such a strong habit of loneliness or anger or fear that we may not be able to disengage from those feelings in certain situations, but recognizing that I am hosting those feelings is a way of accepting my own responsibility and paving the way for change.
Enzo uses the concept of the zebra to say some very important things. When Eve first experiences symptoms of what is later diagnosed as brain cancer, she feels very ill and takes herself and Zoe to her parents' home (Denny is away on a race car trip), leaving Enzo locked in the house for three days. Enzo knows how to conserve his strength and resources and to survive, but he begins to hallucinate on the second day. He goes into Zoe's room and imagines that he sees Zoe's stuffed zebra with an evil light in his eye destroying all the other stuffed animals. Indeed, when the family finally does come home, they discover that all Zoe's toys have been destroyed. Enzo is simply not conscious of having destroyed Zoe's toys - he continues to attribute this to the zebra.
Later, Enzo comes to understand the zebra as something internal. He sees this when Denny is almost ready to give in to Eve's parents' demands and to sign a settlement giving them primary custody of Zoe. The pen with which Denny is about to sign has a zebra on it! On page 264, Enzo explains his sudden realization: "I suddenly realized. The zebra. It is not something outside of us. The zebra is something inside of us. Our fears. Our own self-destructive nature. The zebra is the worst part of us when we are face-to-face with our worst times. The demon is us!"
This is worth repeating: "The zebra is the worst part of us when we are face-to-face with our worst times" (page 264). It is vital to be alert to the zebra.
Obstacles will arise. When a race car driver is faced with an obstacle, his or her behavior illustrates his or her level of greatness. On page 64, Enzo explains: "When faced with one of these problems, the poor driver crashes. The average driver gives up. The great drivers drive through the problem. They figure out a way to keep racing." I love this - the great driver finds a way. This was Denny's determination, in the end, concerning the lawsuit for custody of Zoe. As Denny says on page 269: "'I'm going to win this thing or I'm going to run out of fuel on the last lap.'" When something is vital - I will win or I will run out of fuel on the last lap - but I will not quit.
A great race car driver realizes that the race is long. Enzo explains on page 206: "Yes: the race is long - to finish first, first you must finish." Therefore, do not take unnecessary risks. Speaking of the great race car driver Emerson Fittipaldi, Enzo says on page 220: "Not only did Emmo never panic, Emmo never put himself in a position where he might have to; like Emmo, Denny never took unnecessary risks."
Finally, observe the evidence of the hands. On page 201, Enzo says: "Hands are the windows to a man's soul." On the same page, Enzo also says: "A driver's hands should be relaxed, sensitive, aware." I can observe my hands. I can also consciously move toward relaxed, sensitive, aware hands.
In car racing, you enter the race, set before yourself the goal of winning, and then use absolutely everything you've got to stay in the race and reach your goal. When obstacles arise, you find a way to keep racing. As Enzo explains on page 64, the poor driver may crash; the average driver may give up; but the great driver will find a way to keep racing. Here are some ways to use everything to do just that - keep racing.
Enzo is a wonderful illustration of using all that he has. Enzo loves Denny. Enzo has had a taste of racing in Denny's car and shares Denny's passion for racing. Enzo loves Eve and Zoe and knows how important Denny's family is to Denny. When Enzo sees Denny about to sign a compromise agreement that would give Eve's parents primary custody of Zoe, Enzo goes for broke to prevent Denny's signing the agreement. Enzo grabs the document in his mouth, dives out the window in spite of his injured hip, and finally pees on the document. At last, Denny gets the point - he laughs and declares on page 267: "'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.'"
In the very first page of The Art of Racing in the Rain, at the top of page 1, Enzo says: "Gestures are all I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature." And Enzo uses his gestures to the hilt, especially when it is vital that he be understood. Gestures are all Enzo has - so he seizes the document in his mouth, dives out the window, and pees on the document. When faced with obstacles, Enzo does not crash (although he recognizes that many a dog has indeed gone mad when unable to communicate); he does not give up; but he seizes, dives, and pees - he finds a way to communicate. He finds a way.
Denny, too, finds a way to keep racing. When finances are tough, Denny takes out a home equity loan and later takes out a second mortgage to pay to keep racing. Later, he sells his house to pay his attorney fees in the lawsuit for custody of Zoe. He finds a way.
Denny's daughter, Zoe, is a source of strength for Denny. Denny's time with Zoe is limited while the custody lawsuit is in its slow progress, but Denny draws strength from the time he does have with Zoe.
Denny lets the good and joyful things that happen for him bolster his faith in the graciousness of life. Denny lets himself see an expansive, generous, abundant universe. His eyes go to the good, and of course, the car goes where the eyes go.
Denny takes joy in what he can do, and he takes joy in what he sees champions do. So much can be a source of strength for us. When we see others excel, this is a neutral event - it is we who bring to it our jealousy or our joy.
SHARE: Encourage others in their passions
Both Enzo and Denny share generously and encourage others to develop their own passions. Here are some ways that they do this:
- When someone is sad or upset, be there for him or her. Just be there, be with.
- Listen. Really listen.
- When someone needs help, extend a hand.
- When all you have are gestures, use them to the hilt - seize and dive and pee.
- Act from compassion, even when revenge is tempting.
- Let others accompany you in your passion - give Enzo a ride in your race car.
- Mentor others - and when someone mentors you, pay it forward.
QUESTIONS FOR MYSELF
The Art of Racing in the Rain leaves me with these questions to explore:
- Where is my ecstasy?
- Where do I want to push the limits, to reach toward the extremes?
- How can I bring passion and experience into my teaching? How can I encourage bone-deep learning for my students?
- How can I best align with my soul's choice of this lifetime?
- How can I engage fully and radically with this life - perhaps in an extreme way, a self-emptying way, a soul-healing way?
- What, for me, is the easier path and what is the more satisfying path?
- How does "That which you manifest is before you" play out in my life?
- How does "Your car goes where your eyes go" play out in my life?
- What baby steps might I take toward which goals?
- What neutral states do I infuse with my feelings?
- How can I use the concept of the zebra?
- Where in my life can I use the knowledge that, when obstacles arise, a great driver finds a way to keep racing?
- Where do I draw strength?
- How can I strengthen my faith in the graciousness of life?
- How can I encourage others?