Where did you think you were going anyway? Even if you did manage to live your A-List life with no divorce, no cancer, lots of money; you’re still gonna have some bad days. You’re still gonna have problems. But even problems and bad days are just sets of experiences.
Wherever we had them, whoever we had them with, doing whatever we were doing, all we can ever have is experiences. There are no good or bad lives, although I know fashion and celebrity magazines and websites sell the idea that there’s a route through them to the good ones. But what’s a good one?
I’ve got a friend with a five and ten year plan and he never varies from it. It’s gone perfectly. He’ll be able to retire by 40 with everything paid off and lots invested. He’s also a bit uptight, so his wife is bored and the marriage is shaky. I’ve got another friend who travels and he works as a welder when he needs money and he mostly just hangs out with locals visiting until he eventually leaves to meet other people in other places. He’s got a woman in every port and they’re always happy to see him. Each of those guys thinks the other’s life is irresponsible and nuts.
We can argue freedom versus responsibility but that that’s an ego-argument because in the end both of these people are simply having experiences, the same as you and me. That’s what’s being alive is; having experiences. That’s why you’re only technically alive when you’re in a coma. Your ability to process experiences is greatly reduced. That’s like starvation to your soul. You’re consciousness is a flashlight. What it shines on is what you feel. To stay still is painful stagnation. Otherwise there are no mistakes, there’s only what you shine on.
Most people imagine their spiritual growth as steps up some mystical staircase of wisdom, but in reality it’s not really a gaining of knowledge; our eyes just adjust to the dark and we gain an increased awareness of the world that was always around us, even if it hasn’t been in the spotlight of our attention. The darkness can be made of many things, including everything from traffic rules to ideas about love , and even really strange things like; does it really make sense that a bunch of wildly varied physical types, doing wildly varied amounts of physical activity could all share a common dinner time? That’s an idea, not a thing. Most of our lives are invisible agreements like that.
When we get lost we lose both our certainty and our identity. Forced to live in the moment we wake back up. You might know this feeling if you’re an enthusiastic traveller; when you first get somewhere it’s like your senses are all on steroids. Plus, when you travel no one knows you so your identity is irrelevant. So you’re really awake and aware and you’re not giving much thought to who you are in the world. That sounds like enlightenment. No wonder vacations are so relaxing!
Most of your suffering is due to being knocked off course. But whose course? What gave you the right to write lives out for everyone you meet? Do they get to do that to you too? Of course you’d hate that. But you have to meditate on this set of facts. If it really is a bad idea you have to let it go. And I mean let it go like; totally surrender the idea as completely unworkable. You can’t have it hanging there like a remote possibility.
You cannot direct the ocean’s waves. The world is too huge and too complex. Our lack of acceptance of that reality binds us to our hopes and dreams and those are what rise to the heights from which our disappointments topple. We’re better to act wisely in a moment of being lost than to be unconscious but on track with some theoretical plan that isn’t taking the present moment into account.
We can catch glimpses of life matching our hopes and then extrapolate that it’s possible to do that with an entire life but those are more the exceptions than the rules. This isn’t to say that life can’t still be awesome and that you can never plan anything, but if your life is rewarding it will become that way because you are consciously building the experience you’re having, not because you’re fumbling the present because you’re busy planning for a later time and a different set of circumstances that will likely never come anyway, (and even if it does the best you can do is enjoy it, which could have been done in the current moment were it not for the planning for later moments).
There is no way, no route, no road, no path. There is only a way of going, and it isn’t happy and it isn’t sad; it isn’t calm and it isn’t excited, it’s just going. It is the act of having experiences. It’s less time than we all think we’ll get, so invest it wisely. By the end of your life, where you’ve been and who you’ve been won’t be nearly as important as how you’ve been.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations 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.