Have you ever been on a vacation, or engaged in a sporting activity for your kids or loved ones and realized that the thing you are doing, which is supposed to be so fun and exciting, is actually so full of obstacles, steps of preparation, unseen expense, or undue hardship? Jim Gaffigan has a comedy sketch where he jokes about the angry, stressed-out dad who is supposed be vacationing to the happiest place on earth.
It seems everything in life is like this. An amazing recipe requires tons of ingredients and preparation. Restoration projects require expensive tools and expertise. Enjoying a powder day means fighting the worst traffic. Our children’s sporting events require untold amounts of effort, time and expense.
All for what?
Let’s not skim over our answers here. It’s far too easy to let ourselves off the hook by saying, “We love doing this.” Yes, we engage in all of these things because we enjoy them or we think we will enjoy them, but a careful assessment reveals we don’t enjoy it all. Those stressed out in traffic on the way to the slopes do not love it. We don’t love the three hour lines at our favorite amusement parks. We’ve all got to take the good with the bad. But it’s more than this.
I think we have two motivations behind all this: a lower motivation and a higher one.
The lower motivation is ego, pride, or self promotion in some form or another. We tend to over appraise our abilities or those of our kids and pride transforms our friendly competitions into status benchmarks and one-upsmanship. To quote C.S. Lewis, “The reason we get so annoyed with the big noise at the party is because we wanted to be the big noise at the party.” We’ve all engaged in this at some level and it takes spiritual awareness to recognize when we are trying to raise our flag of self importance. This is the part that hurts everyone involved.
The higher motivation is that of ultimate beauty. Each sport, endeavor, pursuit or passion is a world of its own. As we go deeper with each thing we gain nuances that get us into greater proximity to the elusive “moment.” We are trying to find this moment or our little piece of it. It’s sticking the perfect landing after years of practice. It’s setting a new record or reaching a new benchmark, or carving the perfect line. These moments don’t last long, but somehow they make all the struggle worth it.
This is only possible if this moment touches something very deep and very personal within us. This is the moment where what we hoped would be true actually becomes true for us. Our potential is incrementally realized, thus this moment has a cosmic scale to it. If we fail to recognize this as spiritual satisfaction, then our moment will be about our endeavor and ourself and we end up back in our lower motivation. But if we have eyes to see, then the moment can be seen as presence. It’s a transcendent connection between our own mortality and our immortality, this is why we so easily convert these into win/lose, do or die paradigms. Presence is where we experience true life.
There is something within each of us that recognizes and is curious about our capacities and we endeavor to explore them. This pursuit is either the chasing of the presence that is beyond all things but which beautifully manifests within them, or it is a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1).
It all comes down to whether our pursuits are a means to an end or an end in themselves. Only a spiritual awareness can tell the difference.