Winner: 2015’s Blog of the Year #4
A lot of people come to me in their 30’s with the simple question, what the hell is going on with my life? Needless to say it isn’t turning out the way they planned. But rather paradoxically the challenges they are facing stem directly from those plans. You must be very careful when making plans.
Your life is lived in Nows. You add those together and call that your history, but it’s really just some stuff that happened. And when your life intersected with that stuff your previous life experiences caused you to react to them in the way you did. Then using your memory you take all of that unrelated stuff and you stitch all of those individual experiences together.
You’ll call that tapestry your life, but when it comes to impacting today or your future it’s about as meaningful as the contrails off a plane’s wing. That line in the sky is just what your plane did. At the moment of living your wing met the cold, wet air of the world and an event took place. That event trails off behind you as nothing more than white vapour. But it’s just vapour. Even if you’ve flown in the same direction ever since you took off, at any point a Captain can become conscious and he or she can turn their plane in any direction.
All of these directions are equal. Same with the altitudes. The Dalai Lama’s life is not better than yours because he flies in a different level of understanding. His life is just like yours otherwise—it is made up of his day to day sensations. So there is no specific way to fly across the sky. There’s just where you go. But that’s not what you’re taught.
You are taught to fly to one of the airports of beauty or one of the airports of education or the airport of a happy family or an airport of fame or financial success. Everyone around you is doing it so you do too. You don’t even see it as an option. Right off the bat the Captain is confused because all of these other planes are just coming off the end of the runway and they’re all headed the same basic directions. And so without ever knowing it your Captain inadvertently surrenders his or her Captaincy and instead becomes a dutiful autopilot follower. Then you’re just doing what you were programmed to. So that’s problem one. You’re not actually setting your own direction.
The next problem is that after you set it you never question it. You just fly along to where you think you’re supposed to be going and so you interpret any storm (a job loss, a divorce, financial ruin) as a problem or something in the way of you reaching your goal. But remember: you were just accidentally convinced by the other planes. There is no goal. You can fly anywhere you like. But instead you’ll get locked onto these targets and you’ll get so angry and, so sad and so insecure about being knocked off what you perceive as your course, that you’ll end up hating the trip. That’s the part where the 30 year-olds call me.
But calling me turns out to not be the failure you might imagine. You imagine that there is something wrong with your plane and that you need to be rescued. But I don’t fly out and repair your plane in the sky. I just talk to you. I ask you where you got your map? Why are you following these directions? And you say, I’m not supposed to follow these? And I tell you, no, that’s what people use when they sell themselves to society–those are just put in there for show. That’s what mass media is. It’s like the fake photos you get when you buy picture frames. You’re just supposed to throw all that out.
After you’ve called you’ll still debate against me for a few weeks. Because everyone else has also mistaken society’s maps for actual maps you won’t believe me. At least not until you realize that you cannot answer my questions about the meaning behind your previous directions. This surprises and even disturbs you, but you eventually surrender that it really is true—that those charts weren’t the way to go just a way to go and you were always free to go any direction you chose.
So the next question they ask me is, where can I go? That’s the great part. You’ll still carry a lot of momentum from your previous directions and that will influence you for a while, but slowly over time you start to realize that your airplane is 100% flexible. You can point that baby in any direction you like. But then you’ll ask me, which is my direction? And I’ll tell you that you don’t have one; that your problem was that you thought your life was the plane going from here to there on a voyage, when really it’s not about the places we’re going, it’s about the pilot and the pure joy of flying.
So you were never really going anywhere—you just fly this thing until it runs out of fuel—then you’re free to walk the tarmac and find yourself another plane. Don’t panic about the transition. Death for 80% of you means gliding to a gentle stop and just never departing again. If you’re old enough to have learned a bit, even in a dramatic accident you will calmly think to yourself, no way, this is how I go? Weird. Well: here we go. You actually won’t be focused on the plane you’re exiting. You’ll be more excited about boarding the next one.
Do you see if you remove an objective that you were previously attached to then things can’t go wrong? Then the air pockets are just low pressure and crosswinds are just winds at an angle to you and lightning is just the weather. But it’s not your weather. And none of it can hurt you by pushing you off course anyway—not if you’re always completely willing to have your course changed. After all, there’s no shortage of great flying to do in any direction.
Understand: you can take your present moment and use it to chart your current course. But keep it current. It’s not some permanent setting. That defeats the purpose of having a whole sky. So set your course and then just focus on the flying. And when you need to change direction because of conditions or when you just want to change it out of some desire you can’t even explain, then go for it. There’s no penalty. No price. No sadness, anger or frustration unless you go think that into your life.
The weather and the winds will have you feeling various things. But if you actively choose to feel them in the moment then they just come and go like any other contrail of experience. It’s when you let them interfere with some course you’re locked onto—that’s when you’re lost. Then you have to sort them out. Then you have to solve them or find a way to get back on course. The other way you simply accept the perfection of wherever your plane it is at any given moment.
Where your plane is makes perfect sense. If you added up the uncontrollable forces like the weather and add them to the choices made by you the pilot, we could literally plot a course right to you. That airflow over that rudder in this weather would lead you here. Wherever you are at any given moment always makes perfect sense and yet you always have the ability to change direction.
Your life isn’t falling apart because you’re breaking up or because you got pregnant or didn’t get into university. Those are just the weather and/or your course changing your direction. Don’t sit in the cockpit yelling at the instruments. Get focused on flying. Be quiet and use your thoughts to guide your plane, choice by choice. Better times are always easiest to find when the sky is the darkest. That’s when the light’s the brightest. Just head toward that. Seriously.
You stop failing when you realize there is no failure in life. There is only living and your judgments before and after the fact. But those are history and imagination. Your real life is right here, right now, where the air meets the wing. And that does not happen in any time other than the present. So Be present. Forget striving. Forget destinations. Stop looking at your charts. You’re right where you need to be. There’s nowhere you need to go other than to realize it’s always been you in the cockpit.
Happy flying. 😉
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.