“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
– John Lennon
The ego doesn’t like the idea that we have limited control over the way things unfold in our lives. We construct ideas and beliefs, build the safest possible homes, load up with insurance for everything, all designed to protect us from the uncertainties of life. We plan – and want to feel secure. Safe. We search for all the right buffers to shield us from life’s storms. We want guarantees of permanence and stability from our jobs, friends and family. The notion of welcoming the unknown, of expecting the unexpected is the opposite of what our egos want. Yet this is where the true freedom is.
I was one of those people who tried to prepare for every eventuality. You should have seen what I packed up for camping trips! In the past, I’d get very upset when things didn’t go as planned. Ha! How often do things really turn out as planned? I know, or at least remember, much of the time now that nothing in the world of form is either permanent or certain. This may sound pessimistic, but I’m not pessimistic at all. In fact, I become lighter and happier all the time as I integrate this knowing into my daily life. Every time I wake up in the morning, have lunch with a friend, or teach a class, I know that absolutely anything can happen, and I no longer brace against that. I’m not always happy about what occurs. Who’s going to be gleeful when their car stalls on the Golden Gate Bridge or bad weather delays a flight? I have my share of temper tantrums, but they move through more quickly now. I continue to make plans and have intentions, but I hold them lightly, knowing that life may have something different in mind.
A client of mine had a strong attachment, as many of us do, to the picture-perfect wedding. She first came to me a year after the ‘big day’ because she was still very distressed that the dream wedding she’d envisioned since she was 12 years old, was nothing like what she’d imagined. She called it ‘the nightmare wedding.’ Things went wrong all day long and her disappointment and resentment kept her from fully enjoying her honeymoon. I’m sure this has happened to you. We bring more than the usual expectations to ‘special’ events: birthdays, anniversaries, holiday gatherings and vacations. What would it be like to unhook from both positive and negative expectations and simply be open to the perfect/imperfect way that things will unfold? You are more likely to have a rich and meaningful experience this Thanksgiving, for example, if you approach the day with a wide open mind.
As Mariana Caplan, in her book Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path, says “The nature of being human is insecure.” This is a simple truth that can be difficult to accept. Security is available to us, though, but it can’t be found in people, places or things. We are most secure when we remember who we really are, whether you call that God, Being, Spirit or Buddha Nature. This deep, abiding and unchanging essence, this ‘groundless ground’ is always available, quietly awaiting our attention. That’s where all our security is. All the happiness is there, too.