Wednesday, November 21, 2012

So Very Thankful...But Not Satisfied.

"There is but one cause of human failure. And that is man's lack of faith in his true self." ~ William James
Four years ago, Thanksgiving morning, I was just starting to run again after 10 agonizing months of constant pain while dealing with a particularly tenacious injury - one the doctors confidently proclaimed marked the end of my running days.

I remember my run on that Thanksgiving morning, 2008, a cold but brilliantly sunny day. I ran 3 miles that day and I was ecstatic. I was thankful to the very core of my being for those few pain free miles. I felt like myself again. I felt that I had come back to life.

Giving thanks, appreciating all that you have, is not always easy. We often focus on the things we lack, the things that aren't going as well as we wish - And I fall prey to this all too often.  But when something is taken from you, you come to really understand how important it is for you.  I hope never to experience anything like that injury again, but I also would never trade that experience for anything in the world - for it forced me to examine certain aspects of my life that were not satisfying me. That injury, in many ways, altered the course of my life in some very important ways.

I realized that I had slipped into a comfortable state of complacency - a rut that I now wanted to get out of. I realized that there were certain things I wanted to do that I had been putting off, or was too scared to try, because sometimes it's just a whole lot easier and safer staying with what you know, even if you aren't happy in that place, than actually taking the risk do something different. And so, over the course of the last 4 years I've refocused a lot of energy and attention on what I love to do - which is running and being outside and challenging myself and encouraging others to do the same. I don't know why I love to run so much. It's really a fundamentally simple and perhaps silly avocation and passion - and yet I really need it.

Four years later, I find myself in a different place...and the same place. Some things I am still settling for when they scream at me for change. For me, being deeply thankful for all that I have does not necessarily mean being entirely satisfied. I have so much to be thankful for: I'm thankful that I can run. I'm thankful for my attitude towards running and climbing and the passions that enliven and enrich my life. I'm thankful for my family and their support and love. I'm thankful for the will to make time for the things that matter. I'm thankful that I live in a beautiful, peaceful place. I'm thankful for all my friends, near and far, who encourage, support, console, push, and inspire me - who stand behind me, and boost me up when I need it.

...And yet I'm not satisfied yet.

So, I am taking this Thanksgiving to be thankful AND to look at where I want more - more satisfaction, more challenge, more life in the moments of my life. In the clip above, Alan Watts is, I believe, spot on. We live our lives doing things we need to do to survive. We tell ourselves that there are so many "must dos" that we don't have the time or energy for the things we passionately WANT to do. So many of us get stuck in this place - the "I have no other choice" place.

I find myself envying those with the means I lack - I blame fickle luck for my lot in life, where reality stands in the way of my dreams. I curse and wave my fist at the unfairness of it all. I watch as others travel the globe to run and climb. I have been told by several climbing friends that it's all about commitment (insinuating my lack of commitment). But in each and every case these people have independent means. They do not have to work for a living - and they sit there smugly telling me that I am not committed enough. I bite my tongue and sit on my hands aching to strike out at the lies.

But where does this get me? It gets me angry and frustrated and bitter. And in my more lucid moments I get that this does me no good. I just have to keep doing what I've been doing these last 4 years - holding on to the things I treasure and letting go of the soul-eating parts of my life.

Commitment means nothing if there is no risk involved. As Soren Kierkegaard convincingly argues, true commitment involves the greatest risk. Stepping into the abyss and having faith that it will all turn out alright - or it won't. But how it turns out really doesn't matter. What matters is the wholehearted commitment, in fear and trembling. If there is a net below you and you know it's there, saving you from plunging into that bottomless nothingness, then that is not commitment. Love, friendship, life choices are all richer with true and honest commitment.  And that's what I (and most of us) must embrace and be thankful for.  I am committed, completely, but sometimes I just don't know how to do what I want to do. But I know more than I did 4 years ago, or 10 years ago, and so I have to trust that if I continue to push when I need to push and follow my dreams and passions where they lead me and actually do what I want to do, that I will be that much closer to where I want to be next year...and the year after that.
"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." ~ Epictetus
Four years ago I NEVER would have written this - at least not for anyone else to EVER see. This little experiment, this blog, is something I could never have fathomed four years ago.

And, if you are reading this...thank you. I am so very very thankful for your company.
"Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second. Give your dreams all you've got and you'll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you." ~ William James


  1. Thankful, but striving....sounds like the right attitude for all of us imperfect beings. Gratitude without striving is just smugness, and striving without gratitude is just struggle.

    Hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

    1. Happy Thanksgiving Terzah!!! And I hope you're surviving your taper! I will be thinking of you at CIM!! Wish I could have gotten in :(

  2. Caolan, this is one of your best posts EVER. I love every line of it. I love my life so much right now, but as I approach my 60th (!) birthday in two years, I want a life even MORE filled with the sweet good things that are fully attainable to me just for the price of making some time for them. I'm going to think more about your comments on commitment. Like you, I have the smugness of the privileged, who criticize the rest of us for lacking their "commitment" (e.g., their lavish means) - but I also know that we can do a lot to bring what we love into being in our lives through our choices. You are a wise woman. I'm proud to have you as my friend.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Claudia, You have no idea how much your comments and your friendship, AND your example mean to me. I remember you telling me years ago, when I was whining about what I wanted to do with my life (some things never change) - and you said something to the effect of - Well whatever you do is what you will do - It doesn't matter the time or effort, that time passes and whether you do something about it all or not, 10 years later you will find yourself somewhere - so you might as well do what you want, because that time happens whether we do these things or not the decision is unavoidable (And I am forever reminded of Kierkegaard's Aesthete). That's probably garbled - but it had an impact on me. Thank you for sticking with me lo these many years! Your friendship is one of my treasures!


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