People routinely say that they want to start over. They want a new life. They don’t want all the garbage that’s piled up from their past. They say that, but if you suddenly made them a baby they wouldn’t think you’d given them what they were asking for, because what they really want is an adult life. The trick is, they want it with all of the wisdom gained by having lived a lot of years and by having a lot of different kinds of experiences. They just don’t want the actual painful experiences.
Of course, the experiences are what creates the garbage, the baggage, the hassles—and the wisdom. We feel those things have misdirected us away from where we should have gone, when in reality we couldn’t even see a path until we climbed this long and this high. So we weren’t lost before. We weren’t wrong. We were finding our way to Now. To today. To who we are. To being the person who has the wisdom to see where the other roads may have lead. The point isn’t to find some way to magically erase all of the experiences that taught those important lessons, the point is to ignore the past and simply apply the lessons to today, to Now.
Imagine that I parachuted you into someone else’s life who was about the same age as you. And imagine that they had made some of the choices you wish you would have made (started playing an instrument, stayed in school, took that degree instead of this degree, dated that person instead of this person, worked for that firm instead of this firm etc. etc. etc.). Meaning the other you would have the boss or job or title or salary that you wanted, and because they lived where you wanted, and because they drive what you wanted, and because they are married to someone that you admire and that doesn’t do that annoying thing your partner does.
Of course you perceive that life as better—the first while of being the other person would seem awesome. You would be appreciating those things you wanted so much. That person’s life would feel fantastic while you appreciated like that. But of course, if we interviewed that person prior to you taking over their life, they would have—just like you—been able to list a host of deficiencies. They could tell you all the things that were wrong.
Yes their wife is beautiful and even sweet, but somehow the guy is still in love with his high school sweetheart. He knows that he put something on the books at work that he shouldn’t have and he knows an audit is coming. And that loan for the lake lot is burying him because his commissions aren’t as high as he expected. He feels his kids disrespect him, and he feels that’s because he truly wasn’t a good enough father. He spent too much time being successful at work.
But wait a minute, what happened to that guy’s awesome, enviable life? Well, life isn’t where you are or who you’re with or what you’re doing, life is what you’re thinking. So when you first got his life and you were focused on everything you liked, then of course it felt good. But once you start noticing he’s got similar hassles to the ones you had, you’ll start thinking you picked the wrong life again, when really it’s that you’ve misunderstood that there is no such choice. There is no easy, good, simple life. You must surrender that idea. Peace is waiting for you if you do. Hassles create wisdom–if we’re paying attention.
You’re not supposed to have a trouble-free life. You’re not supposed to avoid heartache or loss or betrayal or wickedness. That’s in every life. That’s why everyone is built essentially the same. We all process the same emotions. We don’t say, “Oh there’s Pat, Pat never feels sadness or Pat never feels anger, or Pat never feels frustration.” Everyone’s operating with the same basic neurochemistry—everyone experiences the sensations of life in very similar ways. The difference is, how we analyze those sensations within our consciousness, and then how we have been taught to enact them as behaviour.
If we reject what’s happening, we get the suffering feelings of resistance. If we accept that what is happening is only a page in a larger book, then we get feelings of flow. We don’t stop to re-read pages hoping to change their outcome. We just keep reading. So the point isn’t to pick or get the right life, the point is to make conscious choices about how you process the events in the life you’re living.
As Nehru said, “Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.” Every life gets its share of shit to deal with. All of us at one time or another will react negatively to the delivery of a bad hand of cards. But as much as possible, we should shift our attentions away from the cards we wanted and we should instead invest ourselves in the best possible plays with the cards that life has actually dealt us. Because that’s how you play a good game. That’s how you win at life. You don’t have better cards, you play the cards you have, in wiser ways.
This is what it is to live in reality. We must not argue with what life has delivered. So stop carrying around your past like luggage. Each moment is new. You don’t need a new life. You need to view the life you already have in a new way. Because surely I could literally find billions of people who would trade lives with you in a second. It might do you some good to really give some thought as to why.
Enjoy your day.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.