I attempted a 15-mile run today in warm humid weather: 7.5 miles downhill followed by the painful and inevitable reverse. The first 10 miles were lovely, but when I hit the sun on the last uphill climb, I ran out of gas and had to stop running after 12.5 miles and walk the rest of the way. From a training standpoint, I know what my mistake was; I started too late to avoid the heat, and paid the price of premature exhaustion. A couple of years ago, I would have been crushed by this “failure,” heaped coals of fire on my own head for failing to plan better, for sleeping late instead of leaving early, for covering 25% of my scheduled run at a walk, thus negating the entire experience.
These days I find myself far more sanguine. I still carried this middle-aged body 15 miles under its own steam, still dedicated 3+ hours to the exercise regimen that feeds my soul, still saw the beautiful neighborhoods along my route in the perfectly hazy dawn. I still strengthened my heart, fed more calcium to my bones, inhaled thousands of deep, regular breaths, increased the oxygen flow to my brain. I still showed up for the run, paid attention to my body and my surroundings, told myself the truth about what I could and couldn’t do, and was open to the result, even though it wasn’t my original plan. So what if it didn’t go without a hitch? Who cares? Not I—I don’t mind what byways my process takes any more as long as it’s generally in the right direction. The long view is what occupies my attention and galvanizes my hope and ambition these days, and it’s working fine.
As I get older, I am less and less wedded to the notion that failure to resolve a problem immediately is a bad thing. So often my first responses to a perceived problem are lacking in nuance and understanding. So often the problem itself is not the glitch that I take it to be, but a natural consequence of what came before, an organic development that merits further investigation. If I react to the discomfort of an unwelcome change by trying instinctively to eradicate that change, how am I ever going to achieve any kind of growth? As I become more and more aware of my own shadows, and how they interact with the light in myself, I am coming to think that my reflexive tendency to fix things is really a denial of my own capacity to learn through tension, through attentive and detailed observation of the way fear shapes and guides my inner landscape. Fixing things is important when there is too much at stake to lose; but how often does that truly happen? What challenges can’t wait an hour, or a day, or even a week to figure out what’s at risk, what’s truly being lost or gained by embracing or resisting? The long view requires me to agree to take the necessary time to learn the dimensions of my troubles before attempting to resolve them.
The long view also requires me to agree to pace myself to gradual, incremental solutions to problems. It means letting go of the hurried, pressured drive to win, to the need to triumph and assert dominion rather than exploring what I truly want and need and how best to get it. Life no longer requires grand gestures from me. I no longer need to prove love or worthiness or value by the size of the risks I’m willing to take. My task has always been simple—to live a life that reflects who I am, as clearly and accurately as possible. It’s taken me a quarter-century of adult life to realize that this degree of truthfulness is the only path to the flavor of joy which pleases me most. Freedom is the ultimate aim of the long view, achieved by gradually stepping out from under the crushing weight of internalized expectations that make us feel trapped and starved, even as we reap the rewards of a society which crowns conformity with a golden crown.
So what if I’m 47 and don’t want a husband? So what if I run with glacial slowness while other people sprint, gazelle-like, past me when I take it on the road? So what if I can’t stand shopping at the mall and buy my business clothes at the thrift store and spend the leftover money on airline tickets and hotels? What difference does it make to anyone except the voices in my head? And you know what? Those voices—the lifelong whisperers of how to please, how to avoid disappointing, how to conform—are getting quieter the less I listen to them. If I take the long view, I can avoid listening to them for weeks at a time.
The long view means giving things time to work themselves out. It means learning to love myself and others while that happens, rather than expecting instant fixes to result in a magically-changed world. It means taking challenges as suggestions for self-inquiry and conversation, opportunities to learn and accept what is otherwise hidden. The long view lets love blossom as the result of paying attention and appreciating, rather than judging. Instead of holding up a series of internal hoops for a lover to jump through, the long view invites conversation, exploration, intimacy and radical openness; conflict provokes listening rather than attack, acceptance rather than judgement. The long view says that love has all of time to unfold and that the joy is in the journey. It says that there are countless kinds of love and all of them have something to offer.
Don’t get me wrong…life is as full of crises as it ever was. Trips to the ER, job deadlines, bills to pay and places to be, these will always be the adrenalin-trips we know and love. But the big questions, the ongoing search for what we’re to do and why and with whom, these are fodder for the long view. It took years of learning the hard way for me to take my foot off my own emotional gas pedal and start looking at the landscape. When I fail, like on today’s run, to make my plan come to fruition, I realize that this is how it’s supposed to work. Life is the great experiment, the constant testing of expectation against reality. The long view is the shift to observation and reflection rather than constant seeking for action. It is patience, commitment, willingness to be wrong. And, more than anything else in this crazy world, it is peace.