Sunday, March 31, 2013

Good Enough: Effort Without Desire or Fear
Good enough.  These two words have been on my mind lately.  What does it mean to be "good enough"?  When are my achievements good enough?  When is my professional status good enough?  My students' test scores?  My writing?  My personal life?  Financial status?  Housekeeping?  Body?  Home?  Car?  Clothes?  Appearance?  Spirituality?  The list is never ending.  The list of things to be attained, the list that drives us to strive.

What if the here and the now, this moment, was good enough?  What if it was enough simply to be?  To be on this earth, to live the life you are given.

Some religions and philosophies believe that desire is the source of strife and even evil.  They teach letting go of desire.  Letting go of desire would certainly be one way to accept the here and now as enough.

But acceptance and resignation are kissing cousins.  If you give up desire, don't you run the risk of giving up on effort, on striving?  If "it's all good," as the popular phrase goes, then what's the point of getting up in the morning?  Is desire the only thing that can motivate us to put one foot in front of the other?  Desire, or fear?  Desire for achievement, recognition, validation.  Fear of rejection, failure, loss, loneliness.  They're powerful, powerful driving forces, and they can combat apathy; they can overcome indifference.  But they can eat you up inside.

What if the effort itself was what mattered?  I recently read an articles about the differences in cultural views of education between Eastern and Western cultures (This link isn't the exact article, but a similar gist).  It got me thinking about the value we place on the end result of things - who won the game, what score you got, whether your answer is right or wrong - rather than the process or the effort.  When we focus on whether you're number one, the best, the winner, first place, there is a vast savannah of failure attached.  There will always be somebody better or smarter.  There will always be times when you lose or fail, even if the only time it happens is when you fail to beat death.  When we focus on the end result, we focus on desire and fear.  What if we focused on the effort, the process, the journey instead?

If the effort is what matters, then making the effort has intrinsic value.  Striving is worthy simply because you are striving.  The end result neither validates nor strikes down the value of the effort.  It can't, not if the effort was the goal.  By valuing the effort, you can let go of desire without letting go of life, without sinking into apathy and indifference.

In religion, too, we often fixate on the endgame - the afterlife.  We use fear and desire about the afterlife as our spiritual motivator.  When we do that, we devalue this human experience itself, while giving death more power than perhaps we should.  We end up worrying about that final moment, rather than being in this moment.  Even when we say things like "Live life to the fullest" or "Live each day as if it were your last," we're giving the power to death instead of life.  We're placing a judgment of "good enough" on the very act of day to day existence.

But if we value the journey for itself, we don't have to let go of a belief in an afterlife.  We simply have to let go of the fear, the desire, the question of it.  If I live my life in a way that honors the journey of living, the process of living, the efforts, both great and small, that make up this human existence, do I not honor God and the God-given gift of human existence on planet earth?  And isn't that enough?  Every day to see what effort must be made and to make that effort.  Every day to look at the choices before me and to make the effort to choose rightly, whether my choice is ultimately the best choice or not, the effort to choose wisely and justly has value.

Perhaps valuing effort, while letting go of desire or fear, is good enough.

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