The meme above conveys a popular agony. People feel their lives are unsettled when past events have lead them to undesirable present events which make the prediction of future events difficult or foreboding. In a state of ego, it’s possible to spend our entire lives spinning in place, doing little more than that very speculation.
The problem with using our consciousness in that way is that people mistake their speculative thoughts for them actually having a ‘bad life.’ Life not going as we planned much of the time is no basis to judge a life by, we share the world with nearly 8 billion other people who also influence our days.
We are boats, not the ocean. If our hope is to choose destinations and then assume the winds will carry us there is to take a fairly self-centered approach to the ‘weather.’ The winds carry many sailboats so we can’t all have favourable winds all of the time. The storm that rips our sails also creates work for sail-makers.
The question is, when the winds of fortune are not blowing for us, are we better to invest our time in growing in some way, or in making our vessel even stronger, or on simply resting? Or are we going to spend it below deck, with no real view, just charts, and then talk to ourselves or whoever else will listen just so we can complain or lament the winds that did or are not blowing?
Everyone has to really stop and think about that quote above. We’ve all done that. We’ve all been there, wishing it was different. Okay, the present may be painful, but it’s not a life-fail. Those ruminations and speculations are simply what we’re doing and what we get is a painful feeling while we are doing them.
The answer to the meme isn’t to offer the person and entirely new and impossibly perfect life without struggle, it’s to answer the question honestly. “You are actually sitting, while you type out regrets about the past and future when you could otherwise be doing other living, that felt other ways, but rumination and speculation are what you chose.”
The pain is not in the events themselves, it is our assessment of them. Sometimes our unwanted events are other people’s most desired events. The world is the way it is. It is filled with bounty and beauty but no one needs anyone’s help appreciating that. Our tests and the beauty of our own spiritual strength emerge from the other times, where our story takes an ugly turn.
These are the very real times when we are genuinely unloved by those we love, or we don’t get the jobs we needed but were truly qualified for, or when we don’t get picked by the team and our dream dies, or when the way we are or what we do makes really makes friendships difficult.
Even if all of that goes well, we can still end up pursuing an entirely admirable course in life only to realize it does not lead where we had wanted to go and it’s too late to double back. These are all painfully routine feelings, even for those living ‘the good life.’ But the fact that they are ‘routine’ is a clue to where our peace can be found.
These are all realities that no spiritual practice can entirely dispel. To desire their removal is understandable prior to greater understanding, but once we do understand we appreciate that the problem was not what we desired, those genuinely are great things. Our problem is that we desire, because spiritual practice is about dispelling desire.
If they are unhealthy, what do we trade for dispelling our desires and the ruminations they inspire? We get the very real and present drama of living. In a novel or film we can enjoy a dramatic journey filled with conflict or emotional danger because we have no desire to ‘perfect’ the protagonist’s story. We’re reading it for the drama —for the ending to be unexpected.
It is possible to do the same thing with our own life. We can see our lives less as something to perfect and instead something to marvel at. And the marvelling happens naturally, just as soon as we turn off all of the speculating. That leaves space for the rest of the universe to find some room in our consciousness. And that is when we can actually feel peacefully at One with the world as it is.
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.