I was talking to my friend John yesterday - he was describing to me a concert he went to with the ex-love-of his-life. He had a lot of expectations about the band and experience. To say he was let down, was an understatement. John’s ability to reconcile the music he heard with the now aged rocker on the stage - incongruent and not possible.
The ex-love-of-his-life was irritated that he was not enjoying the concert since she had spent a fuck ton on tickets. She was not happy that her gift was not playing out as she planned. They began to argue. In a defensive moment, John said
I AM NOT IN CONTROL OF WHETHER I ENJOY THIS OR NOT!
I was driving when he said this and it made me burst out laughing. I am not sure why it did but the more I thought about it, the funnier it became. Mostly because it was such an honest truth! Even though I don’t think he meant to, he nailed it.
None of us are in control of whether we enjoy something or not. I cannot tell you how many times I have willingly engaged in some activity really wanting to enjoy it but just didn’t. This ranges from sporting events to sexual encounters. I have shown up with the best of intentions, fully committed to really loving the experience and finding myself exactly where John was - unable to manufacture a real honest appreciation of the experience despite my deep intention and commitment to wanting to.
This led me to a thought process where by I began to wonder why do I enjoy some things and not others especially when I really expect or want to.
I think what John was honing in on is that there are always at least two people attending whatever event, social encounter, or gathering - the one that has made decisions about things and the one that is present in the moment who is experiencing it in real time.
There seems to be two of us in all that we do, everywhere we go and the one does not really seem to have control of completely influencing the experience or enjoyment of the other.
The participant and the watcher. The participant is largely controlled by any number of things: who is there, who needs to be handled or impressed, whether or not our livelihoods depend upon on outward enjoyment. The watcher is free to hate it all, love it all or something in between. What I found so refreshingly amusing about his comment was that while his outward participant was really trying to accommodate the situation, his inward watcher was frustrated and kind of pissed that he had to sit through the thing.
It also got me thinking about what drives enjoyment. Why do I really enjoy some things and not others? Why is it that I do not have much control over the ultimate experience? It doesn't seem to have to do with attitude, commitment, cost, persons in attendance. All of those things can align perfectly and there I am still sitting in Row E seat 108 finding myself wishing I was someplace else.
This happened to me the other night. I bought tickets months ago to see two pioneer women rockers. I was excited about the concert. I took a friend that I dearly love and have a ton of fun with. In truth, my lack of enjoyment at the event started the morning I woke up on the day of the concert. For no reason whatsoever, I did not want to go. I just didn't. I didn't want to drive to Thousand Oaks. I didn't want to sit in a chair in a crowded hall. I didn't want to be inside. I didn't want to have to fight traffic afterwards. I almost cancelled and bailed all day long. In the end, I went with just doing what was on my calendar. I really wish I would have listened to my watcher person...she knew this was going to be a flop. And it was. It was a fine concert. The woman were good. The venue ok, not great but ok. But I sat through six songs and I could barely keep myself in my seat. I didn't want to be there and I was not in control of whether I was enjoying it or not. I really, really wanted to but it was a stretch to make it past the sixth song.
My friend and I left as soon as the sixth song ended. We laughed about how we could not wait to get out of there. Typically I would have spent some measure of time being pissed about the fact that I spent money and time on something that I wholly did not enjoy. But I didn't do that. I was so relieved to be leaving that I didn't care. The leaving eradicated any remorse I might have had.
I realized when John waxed philosophical that I am not in control of my level of enjoyment. I can do things to enhance the experience. I can do things to dampen the experience. But the overall ability to thoroughly and completely enjoy something comes from somewhere out of my reach. It was an epiphany for me. It also made me realize that if I am not in control of it then maybe no one else is either. We are all running around trying to have a good time but the locus of control really resides somewhere within us that is beyond our manipulation, insistence and dominion.
I pledged to remember this the next time I take my children anywhere. They seem to have an amazing ability to not enjoy things that I think they should. After this most recent experience, it kind of awakened me to the fact that if John and I are not in control of our own enjoyment, maybe my children aren't either. In fact, maybe no one is. Weird, but I found this strangely comforting. I felt as though I received permission to be present and let go of my own demands about how and what I experience...it isn't really up to me. I am not in charge and kind of just along for the ride. I vowed to remember this the next time I take my kids on vacation, or to the mall, or really anywhere. I can, unlike John's ex-love-of-his-life, not be irritated that the person I have spent money on is not enjoying whatever event I have dragged them to. I can just relax and realize that whether we enjoy it or not is just going to happen or not. This new thought kind of relieved the pressure. I know...I am weird. I am all in favor of finding new ways to let myself and everyone else off the hook. Seeing that I am sometimes not even in charge of my own good time, helpful to my overall development. I can be present but that is about all I can do.