We all have a strong preference that life should be easy, comfortable, and pain-free, but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with life when it isn’t those things. It’s just life and it’s not how you would prefer it to be, but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with it. – Constance Waverly, WaverlyRadio podcast #132
I imagine we all would prefer to live a life of health, happiness, and success (however success may be defined but certainly not limited to financial prosperity). With those three preferences met, life would be a carefree and joyful experience. Given the complexities of life, however, we are guaranteed a certain degree of physical pain, emotional heartache, want, and for some, absolute devastation.
Even an innocent newborn baby immediately discovers that his existence on this earth is anything but 100% delightful. He can’t define what that means when he’s a minute old, but he certainly feels it.
We tend to wonder why good things “always” seem to happen to bad people – an inaccurate thought, nevertheless it’s one that we entertain from time to time – but those of us who endeavor to do no harm aren’t blessed with easy, comfortable, and pain-free lives.
I don’t have the answer to that question but I do have an answer: our assumptions about others are just make believe because we have no way of knowing what is actually going on in their lives. A person’s outward show of perfection, boundless happiness, and ease is just that: their outward public mask that very well may hide an entirely different one worn in private. Let’s face it, no one can be ecstatically happy and fulfilled 365 days of the year – or even 24 hours a day, or dare I say, a mere 60 seconds at a time – so why is it that we assume others have mastered that very impossibility?
Part of what I’ve learned in my sixty-plus years is that what matters most is how we live in the present, regardless of whether or not that present pleases us. Living in the moment, accepting that moment as our life’s current state of being without pushing back against it can be far more fruitful and enjoyable than the alternative: anger, complaints, and hatred. For example, Ariel and Shya Kane, in their book Practical Enlightenment, point out very clearly that getting angry does nothing toward changing ones current situation. Case in point: you’re running late for work in disastrous traffic. You pound the steering wheel, honk your horn, and yell at the other commuters and what do you know? Your situation hasn’t changed but you’ve become your own worst enemy because your previous misery has been considerably compounded by your fruitless actions.
- Traffic doesn’t happen to us, it just happens.
- A rent increase wasn’t directed at us personally, it was simply a business decision made by the landlord.
- Long lines in the grocery store didn’t occur to inconvenience us; quite simply, like us, other people decided to shop at the same time.
- Coming down with the flu a day after a person arrives in Hawaii for the vacation of a lifetime wasn’t preventable; germs are everywhere and will do their thing at any time and any place. Even though it sucks that the germs manifested themselves just as the vacationer was heading to the beach, please know he’s not being punished for trying to have a good time.
All the wishing in the world won’t change our current reality because anything we could have done in the past is over and done with. Anything we could possibly do in the future hasn’t yet happened, so we should give it up and just be where and when we are right now.
Piero Ferrucci had this to say about the illusion of being in control when his preferences weren’t met during a vital point in his life:
The outside world did not adapt to me: More simply and practically, it is I who must adapt to what is happening moment to moment. The Power of Kindness.
The ledge to which I refer could be an actual ledge or it could be emblematic of an instance where the “woe is me” reflex actively takes over the peace and calm in which you luxuriated just seconds before.
If you’re like me in these instances – and I sincerely hope you are not – you assume the worst and project a dire outcome. This outcome projection may be somewhere near close to death, or even death itself if your imagination has its way with you. And guess what? If you’re like me – and this time I hope you are like me – you discover you were armed for bear but hunting squirrel.
Translation: your freak-out had no foundation on which to stand.
But we can get caught up in the emotion of it all, or the excruciating pain experience, and we start writing our obituary and wondering which photo should be included therein.
Case in point but definitely not as serious as death: my husband and I came back from a delightful two week vacation in Hawaii last week, arriving very late Wednesday evening, crawling into bed very early Thursday morning, one of us waking up mid-morning Thursday, ambling down the stairs for a cup of coffee, and missing the bottom stair.
Kerplunk!! Ass on the foyer hardwoods, my left ankle disgustingly twisted.
Quick action was required: plop my foot/leg on a pile of pillows and surround the mangled extremity with ice packs, of which we have many. Husband sitting to my right holding my hand – the perfect calming influence for me – me wondering if we’d be heading to the ER posthaste and should I change out of my nightclothes prior to doing so? And what about brushing my teeth? Should I forego such niceties?
Just one hour later having eased into being in the present moment rather than in some future moment, a trip to the ER became just a fantasy element of my creative literary mind. My ankle hurt like hell, but let’s face it, I was able to walk on it and if it were broken such efforts would have resulted in me landing on my derriere yet again because of a compromised bone structure required to prevent such a fall.
I did go to the doctor the following day just to make sure it wasn’t broken because I didn’t want to head into the weekend with that unknown looming over my head. And I’m glad I saw Dr. Liu, had I not, I wouldn’t have been able to add the following fashion accessory to my wardrobe:
I’m doing better with the armed for bear scenario ever since I started living the principles outlined in Ariel and Shya Kane’s many books, including Practical Enlightenment. I have a long way to go toward living in the moment 24/7, but I’m getting there faster than I would have in years past. And that’s a very good thing because where I live, bears and squirrels exist in abundance, and I’d rather not tangle with either of them.
Through comments by someone I follow on Twitter, I stumbled on the key to living in – and thriving on – the present. Authors Ariel and Shya Kane [@ArielandShya] went through trial and error during their early adult lives in their attempt to find fulfillment.
If you read even one of their books, you’ll discover that they admit their journey took them to many places and venues, under varying conditions, spending great and small amounts of money, only to find the answer to their quest in their every day experiences.
If we’re aware and focusing on the present we’ll find life lessons everywhere we look.
We can be deaf and blind to those lessons, but it doesn’t take a trip to India, a luxury spa, or even a therapist’s office, to practice the art of thriving exactly where we are.
The painful yet honest truth is that we excel at complaining and stressing about situations in which we find ourselves: traffic, long lines at the TSA security checkpoint, our job or lack thereof, boredom, illness, and so on. But if we’re honest with ourselves – and lately I’ve been painfully honest with myself – we’ll conclude that complaining and stressing out over such situations does nothing toward changing them. But changing the way we view those situations does alter how we react to them and therefore how we feel about that moment of time in which we’re inconvenienced because what we would have preferred to happen, did not.
When did your complaining about a lengthy red light – when you were endeavoring to get to an appointment on time – actually make the green light come quicker?
Here’s a direct quote from the Kane’s book, Practical Enlightenment: Read the rest of this entry »