Active Challenge or Passive Burden

After spending the day exploring Vancouver in the freezing cold rain, I was so happy to finally be ensconced in a warm and cozy bed. I wiggled my warm toes, exhaled, closed my eyes and smiled in anticipation of good sleep Then I heard it – taP tAP TAP! I rolled over and grumbled. It was already 1:00am. I was exhausted. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need to get up and deal with noise because I was so tired that the sound wouldn’t bother me. I kept trying to convince myself of this through the rest of my fitful night of sleep.

When I woke up the next morning, it was still pouring rain. The tapping sound was driving me crazy. Earplugs would not make a difference. I searched the room for a leak and realized that the irksome tapping sound was coming from outside. I decided to take action. I put on my rubber boots, hat and raincoat and slogged through the rain. I discovered that the roof had no awning and the tapping sound that had kept me up all night was the result of water falling on the edge of an air conditioner that was sticking out of the wall. I trudged back to the room, got some towels and placed them strategically on the air conditioner to dampen the sounds. I thought I had solved the problem and left for the day.

Hours later, I returned exhausted and wet after a another full day in the freezing rain. Once again, I climbed into bed, so happy to be cozy and warm. But then I heard it again taP tAP TAP! I clenched my teeth and growled with frustration.

Even though I was exhausted, I knew I had to get out of bed and do something. I couldn’t handle another fitful night of sleep. I trudged back outside and put out more towels but to my chagrin, it didn’t work. I called the front desk. There was nothing they could do except give me an upstairs room. I squeezed my eye shut and rubbed my temples. What a pain it would be to drag all my stuff up a long staircase in the pouring rain!

And yet, I knew that if I didn’t face the challenge of acting now and moving all my stuff, I would be faced with the burden of hearing that noise all night long.

It didn’t take long to decide what to do. I packed up all my stuff, put my rubber boots on over my flannel pajama pants and hauled my half-packed bags upstairs. Within minutes, I fell into the bed for a blissful full night of sleep.

I share this prosaic story as a way to exemplify a concept I find helpful when I’m faced with doing something I don’t really want to do. I call it Choosing the Active Challenge or Suffering the Passive Burden.

I find this concept especially valuable when I’m feeling lazy or unmotivated.

It goes like this: We all encounter challenges in our life. Sometimes we are challenged by self-determined goals that we strive to achieve. Other challenges are caused by adversity and difficulty beyond our control. While we may not always have control over what comes our way, more often than not, we can choose how we deal with the situation: We can face a challenge head-on or by default choose to live with the consequences of our avoidance. Deciding not to do something is just as much a choice as deciding to take action.

In some situations, we may not even recognize that we are making a choice because our actions often follow a regular pattern. Whether conscious or not, these choices determine the course of our life.

The first night in Vancouver I chose not to act and was left with the passive burden of being exhausted the next day. That second night, I chose the active challenge by stepping into the momentary discomfort of transferring my belongings in the rain and then reaped the benefits of glorious sleep.

This concept of Active Challenge/Passive Burden can be applied to many aspects of our lives including how we live in and with our bodies. For example, we can make the time and effort to mobilize our different parts or we can live with the frustration of stiff joints. Even if we feel unmotivated, we can make the extra effort to go for a walk as a way to increase blood flow, and thus improve our mood or we can stay slouched in front of a screen for the rest of the evening  We can pay attention to how we move in our daily life or we can live with the aches and pains that could have been alleviated by simple postural tweaks.

Each day we are faced with many opportunities to choose the active challenge or passive burden. Being aware of these choices is a first step toward making decisions that support and sustain and vibrant and full life.