Life often turns out radically different from how we supposed it might. Have you noticed? You look back over some significant stretch of life and say, “Could I have imagined things would turn out this way?”
Maybe a desired thing has happened, but later you see if might have been better if it hadn’t. Or something long dreaded never materialized after all. Then there are the shocks life delivers, an unmitigated nightmare in one case, an undreamed-of blessing in the other. Such developments can change our lives forever.
If you look back over your own experience, you will see what I mean. Some dramatic development you never saw coming. The nervous breakdown that disrupted my own young adulthood was awful at the time. It turned out to change me for the better. But only from long retrospect could I see that.
Let’s grant ourselves permission to go easier on ourselves.
What a fine teacher actual life can be, helping us remember we really know very little after all. The future as it’s unfolded can be a wondrously beneficial reflector. Rather the way the sky functions when we gaze into a body of water and are able to see what’s above our heads right now.
If only we will look.
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Given that we’re so often surprised by what comes along, perhaps we can spare ourselves a good deal of wasted energy. All the anticipating of what’s ahead, supposing it’s knowable — let alone controllable! We could rest from all of that. Because all we need do is revisit some surprising past development to see it’s all been a waste of energy (and very likely, angst).
So we do the best we can to shape what’s next in life, remembering we’re not ultimately in control. And stop being surprised. Later, glancing backwards, we’ll get to see how it all turned out.
Let’s grant ourselves permission to go easier on ourselves. Be spontaneous here and there. Life is short — however many years it endures. Good or bad, it’s gone in the blink of an eye.
* * *
Meanwhile, keep one eye on what goes on inside the head and the gut. Stay attuned to the mischief-maker that causes actual suffering, which may turn out to have been unnecessary after all. Human life delivers enough actual pain: we don’t need to inflict extra on ourselves (or on one another).
Note that there’s a difference between seeing the sky’s present-moment image in water and “seeing” the mind’s potential backward view of the not-yet-lived future. One is factual, while the other lives inside the imagination of the thinker, the often-tormented gut and breaking human heart.
* * *
As it happens, today marks 20 years since fear left me. Could I have dreamed such a thing ever could be? Not in a million years. Have I ever stopped being grateful? Not for a single moment.
I had been in the grip of fear all my life. On some level (I now see, in long retrospect: that backward-looking eye!) I had been afraid because of a deeply buried belief that if I were sufficiently frightened of whatever-it-was, that would somehow help to prevent it.
Nor could I ever have looked this belief straight in the face, all the decades before I woke up. There’s a good reason we hold such things below the level of conscious awareness. I was an intelligent person. Had I ever looked directly at what drove my enduring fearfulness — the illusion of control — I’d have seen the truth: I cannot know what’s ahead, let alone determine it.
But to see that would have been unbearable. Not in control of the future? At the mercy of what’s ahead, of forces greater than the wish for safety and well-being? So basically I lied to myself. It’s what we all do: because to look the truth in the face is to relax into the arms of the absence of control.
How strange then that the original title of When Fear Falls Away was to have been At the Mercy of Nothing. Oh, we are “at the mercy of” life itself. But it is not inevitable that we suffer because of the lack of the ability to control how life goes.
All that really happens when we wake up is that we finally see what’s been in front of our faces right along. All we have to do is open our eyes.
So today is a kind of birthday for me. Give yourself a birthday present: go easy on yourself this day. (Consider it a gift to me too.)
Happy Birthday to every one of us.
P.S. – My new book is about to take wing.