When You’re Busy Making Other Plans

Why is it that just when I decided I was going to be vigilant about sticking to my schedule, I had to delay eating breakfast to go buy milk for my mother-in-law’s breakfast?

I had decided to stick to my schedule a) because it’s good to be self-disciplined and b) because it allows me the composure of knowing everything has its time and place and will get done when it’s supposed to get done, and I can be fully present for whatever I’m doing at the time. Now I had to stop in between exercise and breakfast to go to the store.

Our relationship with life can be compared to a dialogue of questions and answers.

Life sends us challenging questions all the time: problems to solve, mistakes to fix, dreams or goals yearning to be realized, fears to be faced, dis-ease in need of healing, obstacles to overcome, difficulties to master, tensions to tame and communication snags to unblock.

Questions challenge us to find answers. Reality ‘demands’ a response. Something is required of me. I am provoked to “answer the question” by acting on my beliefs and values.

How am I supposed to relate to this event? What will be the consequences of my actions? What is the meaning of the convergence of this particular moment in time, my uniqueness and the situation being played out? What is the one right thing for me to do, all things considered?

It gets more interesting than that.

More often than not life comes along and confronts us with a stop sign that diverts our path, forcing us to go in a different direction from the way we were going before.

The diversion can be anything from illness to bureaucracy and it can be large or small. What identifies it as a diversion is that it’s always something that stops us in our tracks and is against our will, while we were merrily going along like little red riding hood on our way to grandma’s house.

Oddly enough, this message came to me a few days earlier when a friend commented how much more we could “be in the flow” if we didn’t have constant time constraints.

What she meant by being in the flow was to be in a happy spontaneous state while my ‘take’ on it was to flow with whatever happens, to go happily with the diversion, to be flexible.

What led me to this was a different friend’s comment about how whenever we’re stopped in our tracks by obstacles or suffering we’re actually being given an opening for flow to happen.

And I am sure we were both thinking this way because a third friend had been speaking about the learning that takes place in painful situations, saying it’s a lesson we could perhaps only have learned in this way.

She had also spoken about not pretending the pain is not there but honoring the suffering, and that it’s particularly through feeling our suffering and empathizing with the suffering of others that we can learn from life.

That’s when I realized that although we sometimes get good surprises in life we also get bad surprises, and the latter can be defined as blessings in disguise. They are the unexpected things that stop our flow like a log in the river that diverts our stream to flow in a different direction.

The diversions become a flow as long as we honor them, are present for them and move through them. In short, we can turn suffering into something meaningful as long as we flow with it.

But if we fight the flow with obsessive complaining and kicking and screaming, we’ll just drown.

The important thing is to know how to navigate between planning and flow and to be receptive to the unexpected both when it’s what we want and when it’s something we don’t want.

What happened to me this morning was ‘don’t want’ because I was hungry and wanted to eat breakfast already. I chose to go with the flow because being hungry for a little bit longer so someone else could eat wasn’t going to kill me.

Viewed in this way, the ‘challenge’ or ‘test question’ translates into an ‘invitation’ or ‘calling’ addressed to me alone. Just as test questions challenge us to say more and express our ideas more fully, so too life’s challenges invite us to fully emerge into human being and becoming.

It is particularly through responding appropriately to the meaning of the moment that we access, mobilize and make real our strengths, maturity and inherent wisdom. As our authentic self emerges our life becomes rich with meaning.

As soon as I respond to a challenge the new reality created by my response in turn elicits a new question that again demands my attention and response.

Thus we can say that life is one big learning experience

In the words of John Lennon “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

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