“You try to improve and do better; it’s a journey, not just a destination.” – Hakeem Olajuwon
It was an incredibly beautiful day. Sunny, 65, light breeze blowing … it was one of those days where if God reached down out of Heaven and invited you to come for a visit you would ask him for a raincheck. I was standing in the middle of the concrete jungle that is Dallas, Texas, but my walking meditation found me in a little oasis, a place where there was a fountain, some trees and flowers, and light music playing in the background. Frozen in that moment, I truly felt connected to life. I was Rey Skywalker floating in the forest seeking out the voices of the Jedi who had gone before her. It was INCREDIBLE!!!!
Isn’t that was meditation is all about?!?!
The familiar sentiment about life being a journey has been quoted and requoted many times, but the first time I heard it, Hakeem Olajuwon of the NBA’s Houston Rockets said it about how he kept reinventing his game to be the most dominant post player the league has ever seen. Every time the defense adjusted, he added another mind-blowing move to the repertoire that is now known as “The Dream Shake.” It has been nearly two decades since he retired and no other player has come close to being able to make as many adjustments as “The Dream” could improvise on the fly.
Of course, over the past 20 years I have been on my own journey. For a long time it was a career journey, but as the field of journalism got less and less predictable and went from extremely profitable to something one did as a hobby, my focus changed. My daughter was born, and my focus shifted from career to being a father, complete with all of the challenges that represents. I didn’t want to just be a father, I wanted to be an active, hands-on, involved parent. I have two amazing dads who set a high bar for me, yet I was and am determined to be everything for my daughter (now 9). So far, so good!
But my journey still hasn’t really been about parenting. Like journalism, that’s a journey that has a destination, and while I will always be her dad, there will be a time when she steps out on her own and I go from being her lead actor to joining her life’s ensemble.
For a long time I thought my journey would be related to religion; after all, I was raised in a Christian family that was heavily involved in church. We seemed to be up there all the time, whether it was for choir rehearsals, committee meetings or youth functions. It was great, but the more I studied the actual history of the church and saw what some churches – well, most churches – do with it, the less interesting I found that path. What really rung truest to me was the philosophy of the Jedi, a path that I later discovered was essentially Buddhist in nature. Truly, there is no destination in Buddhism. There is no God that they worship and must work to please, there is only the daily effort to find peace, to be present, to quiet the mind, to basically live the teachings of Synoptic Gospels’ Jesus, who was really doing nothing but preaching Buddhism. (Don’t believe me? Check out Marcus Borg’s terrific work on the subject: Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings.)
Make no mistake, there is no arrival on this journey. Life constantly threatens to knock you off the path, just as incredible post players like Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal used to try and knock Hakeem “The Dream” off the post. The more pressure they applied, the worse he made them look. He would pivot his center of gravity, use their power against them, and simply spin away for an easy basket. I think about this when life presents what feels like a seven-foot, 300-pound Shaquille O’Neal in the middle of my path.
The easiest thing to do would be to just stop and give up. By far the hardest thing to do would be to try and move Shaq out of the way. I’m a big guy, but not that big. We also have to be realistic about our limitations. I am not easily deterred, however, and am unwilling to stop my journey no matter what the obstacle. I can ball fake, spin, pivot, and leave the 300-pound block in my dust, just like I saw Olajuwon do thousands of time during his Hall of Fame career.
It’s tempting to give up. It’s easy! I know many people who, when faced with a huge obstacle simply choose one of the first two options. They give up, or spend a great deal of time pushing against something that just isn’t going to move. Those people are also often extremely resistant to advice, no matter how desperate their struggle has become. They allow their journey to become a destination, and they often find misery is the result.
I don’t know where my journey will lead. I can only see a short way down the road. I can see my daughter’s high school graduation, something I’m not looking forward to at all. I can see her getting married, something I’m absolutely not looking forward to. Those are sign posts off in the distance. Rather than squint at the unknown future, I strive to focus on today. Here. Now. Mindfulness. Presence. Kindness.
That’s journey enough for now, and that road (including its endless obstacles) never ends.
What’s your journey? Maybe it’s time to take the next step! Perhaps it’s time to take another look at the that barrier in front of you and pivot lightly around it.