I offer you this reflection from the Be Careful What You Wish for Department of the inner life. I am on the look-out for joy, or, maybe more accurately, the path to joy, because if I knew how to get it, I wouldn't be looking, would I. I'm on the watch for signposts, mile markers. At best I tend to scrutinizing the scratches on every tree, the position of each stone, willing it to be a blaze. I won't really know until I finally arrive. Until then I don't quite know whether I'm on the right track, or stumbling blindly through the brush. But those blazes? I really do think I know them when I see them.
Case in point: I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, you know, like you do, and I clicked over to some article written by a woman I'd never heard of (Susan Piver, so now we all know). I don't remember what attracted me in the first place, but there, at the bottom of the article, in her bio, was the title of a book she'd written: How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life. It was as if the God of the universe was saying, TURN HERE.
I couldn't have said it better. Maybe I couldn't quite have said it at all. I'm afraid of my own life, and I want to know how not to be. I immediately ordered Susan Piver's book from the library. At this point, as is always the case when God posts a neon sign for me in the middle of the wilderness, I'm not sure what to wish for. The hopeful part of me is wishing for this to be another fulfillment of the adage, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." The skeptical (and, let's face it, fearful) part of me is looking for some way to discredit this Susan Piver before inter-library loan even serves up the book.
Right away, the skeptic has ammunition. Susan Piver is a Buddhist. I'm not a Buddhist. I'm a Christian. She has another books are about relationship break-ups. That has nothing to do with me. Maybe, I think with a mixture of disappointment and relief, How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life will not have anything to say to me.
Because I hate to have to acknowledge how very, very afraid I am.
I see joy -- success, fulfillment, whole-heartedness, whatever you want to call it -- just out of my reach. I know there is something that stands between me and realizing, well, myself. How many times have I used that hackneyed strategy, Try harder. It's no good. I know it's no good, but I keep going back to that empty well anyhow, thinking that this time if I try harder to try harder, it'll work out differently. I believe joy is real and that it is available -- you can call it an act of faith -- so there's got to be a way there, a way through. I just don't know what it is.
My suspicion, my terrible, terrible suspicion, is that it has something to do with not trying so hard. Maybe not trying at all. Sure, says my inner judge, then what? The answer is, I don't know.
I got the book from the library. I was all ready to glance through it and cast it aside. It's about meditation, about giving up my project of trying harder in order to be transformed. Yes, she's taking it from the Buddhist angle, but I know very well that the Christian mystical tradition says the same thing.
I know I have to read it -- and not just read it, but to listen to what God is saying to me about fear and about joy; chapter 7 is actually called "Beyond Fear: Joy!" Here's the kicker, in the introduction, Susan Piver says, "As you undertake this process, I'll offer you a single warning: a meditation practice can have serious repercussions...All I can ask you to do is pose... [this] question to yourself...: 'Are you ready for your life to change completely?'"
Already, in the days, since I said a tremulous Yes -- I am ready for my life to change completely -- I have begun to feel the full force of my fear. I may actually be afraid of everything, including, perhaps especially, myself. Don't ask me what that even means, because I don't know, but with open hands, I am ready to find out. If joy is indeed beyond fear, that means to get there, I'm going to have to walk not around but through.