Today is the official start of the Winter Olympics. The Modern Olympics were the dream of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who believed that the world could unite in peace through the common language of sports. He called Olympicism a “state of mind” on which “no single race or era can have a monopoly.”
We have all loved the stories that have emerged from the Olympics over the years — stories of camaraderie, of athletes from tiny nations finding a way to compete on the global stage, of individuals overcoming unimaginable hardships to be present and even win medals. We love these feel-good stories. And let’s face it, we all need a little good news these days.
Being a Sports Fan
I am a HUGE sports fan. So usually I would be overjoyed at the prospect of two solid weeks of watching sports. Lately, however, my enthusiasm for sports has been waning, as I have realized that, in order to love sports I have to turn a blind eye on aspects of the sports culture that I do not love — the physical danger, the increasing commercialism, the politics both on and off the field, even the divisive aspects of fandom. For the first time in my life, I find myself unenthusiastic about not only the Olympics, but sports in general.
The phrase that keeps rattling through my mind is this: There is no finish line.
Sports & Kids
We all know that there are two very different parenting/coaching attitudes these days towards coaching young children. There are the screamers — the coaches and parents who exhort their young charges to be the best and to win at any cost. And then there are those who believe that everyone is a winner — no first place, no last place, just show up and be rewarded for playing. But neither of these attitudes has really changed anything. The desire to win at any cost will always exist. And those kids who get rewarded for just showing up know that winning is still valued above anything else — at least in the Western world.
What Does This Have to Do with Me?
Next week, a book I have been wanting to write for decades is coming out.
Everyone keeps asking me if I am proud of the book and excited about the launch and my book tour. I keep trying to feel proud and excited. But I just don’t. So I’ve been asking myself why.
There were two reasons I wanted to write this book. The first reason was love. I love to write and I love to read. Books have been lifesavers for me, and I felt strongly that I wanted to share some of the lifesaving ideas that have helped me over the past two decades of deep soul searching and spiritual study and practice.
The second reason was that I have always wanted to write a book that felt true to me, yet for some reason, for decades I felt incapable of doing that. Writing this book meant getting that monkey off my back. Which means the second reason was really just ego in disguise.
Over the past few weeks leading up to my book launch, I have come to realize that there is a huge gap between those two impetuses for writing my book.
Why We Do What We Do
You see, the first reason for writing my book was the true one: Love. I have loved books, loved what I have learned from reading books, and loved the writers of those books I loved for writing them.
But the second reason is the one that has tripped me up. Ego is always just fear in fancy clothes. Fear that I would never show up to my own life. Fear that I would never be able to look myself in the mirror and feel good about myself. And anything we do from a place of fear-based ego will ultimately always feel empty. Ego = empty.
The Emptiness of Ego
Love is always the only real reason to do anything. But in the Western world, we are brought up to believe that to love something is not enough. If we love something, we should want it. When we love an actor or an athlete, we want to meet them, to get to know them, to have them know us. When we love something we see that someone else has, we rush out to get it, much to the delight of its manufacturers. And when we love it when someone does something we admire, we want to do that, too. As a result, we live in a world where we spend most of our lives trying to make our lives intersect with or be like the lives of others. And when they are not, we compare our lives to their lives and we despair that we will ever have worthy lives. This cycle of compare and despair takes out of Love and into fear.
Crossing the Finish Line
Although I wanted to write a book that would make a difference, I compared myself as a published author to other “real writers” and I despaired that I would ever feel worthwhile as a human being. I will feel good about myself, I said to myself, if I can just write a book that can make a difference. That book was my finish line.
Two weeks from now, the Olympics will end. There will be wonderful stories, great heartbreak, new famous people and memorable moments. Despite my reluctance, I will be suckered in to watch the moment the ski jumping starts (I just LOVE ski jumping) — and from there I will be hooked into the skiing, the snowboarding, the ice skating and the luge. For two weeks, I will watch athletes who have trained for the last four years (and their entire lives) for this moment cross finish lines. And the whole world and I will cheer them on.
Then what? They will all get on planes and fly home. And then what? They will begin training again — for another athletic endeavor perhaps. Or perhaps for the rest of their lives as human beings and not world-class athletes.
My Finish Line
Next week, and in the coming months, I will share the stories of my journey of trying to show up to my own life with audiences around the country on my book tour. It is still my greatest hope that something I wrote will make a difference in someone else’s life in the way that books have made such a huge difference in mine. But to make that my goal, my finish line, is the problem. Because it takes an altruistic idea and turns it into an ego outcome. And that, as my father would have said, is the kiss of death.
We all begin our journeys from Love. We are drawn to do what we love because, well, we love it. And loving something not only makes us feel good, it seems to make everyone around us feel good. That’s why we all love watching those television talent show early rounds when contestants get on stage for the first and do something they love so much that they are so good at that it gives us all goosebumps. That beautiful moment of love recognizing love is what it’s all about.
From there, however, it becomes about packaging and promoting and being paid to be seen doing what we have always loved doing. Of course, we all need to make a living, and making a living doing something we love is the ultimate goal. But how can we be paid to do something we love without losing the Love in the process?
This is what I have been thinking about. . .and this is why I keep hearing: There is no finish line.
It all comes down to our expectations. Do we do what we do because we expect a particular outcome? If so, we will only be disappointed. If we write the script of our lives hoping that everyone will play their parts and speak their lines as we have imagined them, we cannot help but feel let down over and over again.
I grew up in a family where my mother taught me that if I followed all the rules then all would go well. If I wore the right clothes, I would not only look good but feel good. If I passed the right tests, I would get into the right schools and then go on to have the right career. My graduation present from college was a nose job I never asked for because she believed that if I had the right nose I would get the right parts in the acting career I wasn’t even sure was the right choice for me. And much as I knew it wasn’t true, there was something about that doing everything right scenario that felt comforting. So my whole life I have kept it up — trying to do the next right thing so that the next right result would ensue.
Until now. Suddenly, having crossed a finish line that has been in front of me for twenty years, I find myself utterly lost. (Which, if you ask me, is pretty darn appropriate for someone who just finished writing a book called The Way of Being Lost!)
It’s not that I don’t know what to do next. I do.
It’s that I have no idea who I am without another finish line before me.
But here the thing: I don’t want another finish line.
I just want to feel Love.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what we all want.
In all of my doing doing doing, in all of my chasing finish lines, however, I’d forgotten the most essential thing. Love.
The Two Together Make Me
In his novel, Great Expectations, Charles Dickens wrote: “I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me.”
The success is always love. The failure always fear-based ego. Whether I like it or not, on this road trip of my life, the two together make me.
Thing is, I've spent so much time chasing an illusory finish line, that I'm 55 years old and not very good at love. Judging from the headlines, however, I'm not the only one.
We've all spent far too much time chasing an imaginary goal, and far too little time just living in Love.
The Way of Being Lost
Today I leave for New York. Next week I launch my book tour. In the coming months, I will be heading all over the country to share some of the hopeful messages I have learned in book signing, in service outreach, and just in conversations all along the way.
Some days, my message may connect. Some days I will love my life on the road. Some days, three people will show up and what they hear may or may not resonate. Then I will go back to my lonely hotel room and wonder what the heck I am doing with my life.
The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me.
But ONLY ONLY if I embrace this way of being lost I have chosen as a means of showing up to life and to everyone I encounter in Love.
Of course, as long as we are here, we will all be wrestling with our twos together -- the successes and the failures, fear and faith, the emptiness of ego and the largesse of Love. This is the Way of Being Lost on which we ultimately learn everything we need to know.
And so, as I am learning every day, when I choose gratitude instead of a goal, when I live in acceptance instead of being driven by expectations, then -- and only then -- can I learn to live in Love.
Which is why, as I head out on the road for the next five months, I will seek to remember and live and love and be grateful for and accept everything I have been learning on the Way of Being Lost:
- There IS no finish line.
- What begins in Love always ends in love, no matter the detours along the way.
- There is no one right way.
- Life does not give out medals. Life gives out Love
- Ego will always feel empty, because ego is just fear in fancy clothes.
- Love always casts out fear — IF we remember to lean on Love.
- Great expectations are just the ego setting us up to compare and despair.
- Love is always loving us back home.
- The only real failure is to choose fear instead of Love
- There is never any goal that matters other than showing up in, to, as and through Love.