The Pleasure of the Pursuit

The woman said this: If there are to be challenges in my life, I don't want them to happen here.

Under the umbrella of a talk on nutrition, I had used the word "challenge." I had also recommended my practice of eating chicken nuggets for dessert; had praised human nature's need for pleasure; and written down a specific brand and percentage of dark chocolate for the woman to buy. But challenge, this I meant in light of the work one sets out to do.

She wanted to do her business at the gym and leave, and I argued for more intensity: Make it worth it. You've driven this far, now make your work worth your time.

My suggestion, arguing for a worthy workout if not a challenging one, was a gentle reminder, but not meant to override her approach, a good one. Her phrasing suggested she's not opposed to a challenge, and will apply herself in the right context. I picture her at 65 taking up violin, perhaps.

I offered this: in mastering a challenge here, at the gym, I see the difficulty level of all pursuits drop. Success transfers over to other areas in degrees, if not simply in self-confidence; one boosts the other.

She was not ready to entertain this idea, and so I returned our discussion to chocolate. And pleasure--in this context, that we must have our chocolate or some other indulgence in order to feel human. We were made to enjoy small pleasures like these; when we don't, we may push the boundaries of balance, and overindulge.

There can be pleasure in challenge, such as the self-imposed kind found in athletic endeavors. The two need not be separate. If there is a balance: challenge found everywhere is daunting. There must be a spot to rest. That's what the woman seemed to be getting at.

And yet even a healthy dose of challenge can send us running, goals be damned.

In Tattooing In Qazwin, a poem by Rumi, a man asked to be given a "powerful, heroic blue lion" on his shoulder.

But as soon as the needle starts pricking,
he howls,
"What are you doing?"
"The lion."
"Which limb did you start with?"
"I began with the tail."
"Well, leave out the tail. That lion's rump
is in a bad place for me. It cuts off my wind."

A lion without a tail, then. And it happens again, a cry of pain, the decision to emasculate the beast. First no tail, then without ears, and no belly.

Rumi concludes this way (in Coleman Barks's translation--only read Barks when it comes to Rumi):

Brother, stand the pain.
Escape the poison of your impulses.
The sky will bow to your beauty, if you do.
What is it to know something of God?
Burn inside that presence. Burn up.


  1. Oh the burn. Thanks for the challenge.

    1. You and Mike need no nudge to take a challenge. I admire your social justice efforts but mostly, the human beings that you are.

  2. One of my challenges is to make my right leg work as well as the left, aided by electric stimulation and physical therapy, without exhausting my easily fatigued body! And the issue of balance is beautifully addressed in the Slow movement, to strive to live at the right speed (meaning that some actions are best performed quickly and others more slowly).

    Thank you for introducing me to these two poems by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, of course! It is a further challenge for me not to burn too quickly or strenuously because then I collapse, and to find the right speed at which I can burn!

    1. Well said, Jennah. I pushed this too far today. Having discovered I actually really like the "easy" exercise of walking, I got it in my head that I'd walk to a store 4.2 miles away. I didn't make it, mostly because the timing was bad, and I had to meet my kids' bus. But also my legs were done after 1.5 hours. Now I have a blister. Never satisfied with "easy," that's me.


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