Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why Did The Dog Jump Over The Log?

"Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it the target, the more you are going to miss it."  ~ Viktor E. Frankl*

Look at that little dachshund! He was trotting along the beach, sniffing at this and poking at that, when the thought crossed his mind that he wasn't accomplishing all that much. "Now", he thought, "what can I do to be a success as a dog?" Then he noticed something a little further down the beach. Another dog was running full tilt toward a big log and, lo and behold, he leapt over it with ease. 

"Wow!" said dachshund said to himself. "That dog is succcessful. He can leap tall logs in a single bound. If I do that, I'll be a success too." And that is how the quick, brown dog leapt over the humungous log...

No, of course that isn't what happened!  Rewind, rewind, rewind....back to the Victor Frankl quote. Frankl learned from the hard circumstances of his own life that success is like happiness - if you grasp for it, it eludes you. We tend to  believe that, if only we can impress others or do as well or better than them, then we will be successful. Or we imagine that we haven't truly made it in life unless we are popular, wealthy, famous or have realized all of the goals that we've mapped out for ourselves. We expect that we'll finally "be someone" if we can achieve (fill in the blank), but Frankl implies that real success is something altogether different:

"For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself." 

My first encounter with Viktor Frankl was in a high school English class, when we worked our way through his fascinating book, Man's Search For Meaning. He described his experiences as a prisoner in a Nazi labour camp during World War Two. As a psychiatrist, Frankl noted the differences between men who lost hope and faded away and those who retained a strong spirit of survival. Those who made it through the horrific experience tended to be those who looked ahead - to a time of future fulfillment and happiness. They kept thoughts of loved ones in the forefront of their minds and looked outside of their own misery toward other people, other causes. In short, they had a sense of purpose and a connection to something greater than themselves. Quite often, this arose out of their belief in and commitment to God.

Let's get back to our wee dachshund on the beach. I can't say whether or not he is aware of God, nor can I speculate on what kinds of relationships he has with other dogs. It's probably safe to assume that he didn't decide to take that leap because he thought it was good for his canine image or to beef up his resume. I'm fairly certain that the only reason a dog would jump a log that big is that some inner motivation compelled him. Maybe he did it for the sheer physical joy of it or because he saw a fascinating object up ahead that inspired him so much he just had to get to it. Perhaps his owner whistled and, because he loves that owner with all his doggy heart, he wanted to get to her as quickly as possible. He didn't count the cost or plan for success - he just did what his heart told him to.

How does this translate into our lives as human beings? What do most of us mean when we say, "I succeeded"? The standard dictionary definition of success is: a favourable or desired outcome. Depending on one's outlook, that could mean almost anything. Some of us set goals and reach them, while others do not. The funny thing about we human beings is that, once we reach our objectives, the sense of satisfaction fades quickly and we need to set a new goal.

"Success is full of promise till one gets it, and then it seems like a nest from which the bird has flown." ~ Henry Ward Beecher

As I mentioned earlier, Frankl says that this is because true success is based on something deeper than achieving goals. It is an issue of conscience. 

"I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run - in the long-run, I say! - success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it." 

Our conscience is the seat of our moral compass, where a deeply-held understanding of right and wrong, good and evil, sacred and profane resides. The more mundane, physical type of compass aligns with the magnetic forces of the earth in such a way that no matter where you are standing, anywhere around the globe, the little needle will always, without exception, point toward the North Pole. In other words, the North Pole is the point of reference that helps us to find our way to where we need to be. Similarly, a "moral compass" is what helps us to know how to live rightly. Most of us have one, either out in the open or hidden away inside, in the unconscious mind. There is always some belief, some ideal, some understanding of reality that serves as the "true north" for each person.

For me, true north is Christ. I see myself and my life in relation to who he is and what he teaches and I believe that his Spirit lives in me. His Spirit aligns my conscience to the mind and heart of my Creator and I have discovered that the only thing that satisfies me deeply is to live for God. Jesus knew this and tried to communicate it to the people around him. To one huge crowd of people who came to hear him teach, he said:

"Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he [God] will give you everything you need. So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today." (Matthew 6:33)

According to Jesus, success comes to us as we align ourselves to the purposes of Someone greater than ourselves. Our Creator loves us dearly and knows exactly what we need. He knows because he is the one who made us. 

"For we are God's masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." (Ephesians 2:10)  

You are a masterpiece and so am I. God knew us and planned successful lives for us long ago, before we were born. He wove his plan into our DNA, our personalities and the longings of our souls. In Christ, we become our true selves. 

When I think about that, the picture of the little dog who jumped over the log comes to mind. That hunk of wood is at least as tall as him, but he doesn't worry about that. In his heart, he knows that he's a jumper and nothing else matters. In a similar way, God has planted something good in your heart and in mine. Do we have the courage to go for it, whatever the challenges along the way? I'll take a leap of faith if you will. 

*All Viktor Frankl quotations come from the book, Man's Search For Meaning

Photo credits