By Gary Crawford
Originally published on Advocate.com November 25 2009 11:00 AM ET
"As soon as I [fill in the blank with an action you are planning to take], then my life will be [complete the sentence with your version of what life could be]."
You’ve probably heard this line before, or said it to yourself. Most of us aren’t living the lives we had planned for ourselves. Mainly because "real life" often gets in the way of "my life." Is your head so far into what "should be" that the rest of your life has slipped into automatic? Zen philosophy offers some helpful advice: "Control is an illusion. To demand otherwise is to live in anger and frustration at our own helplessness."
Not having control means more freedom, not less. So if you aren’t fully in control of your own destiny, should you sit back and watch life pass by? Not at all. Planning adds order and discipline to our lives and propels us forward. To use a Zen word, the point is not to be so attached to what our lives should look like that we struggle against the unexpected opportunities -- as well as the setbacks -- that life presents.
So how does one go about attaining a Zen attitude about your life?
Let go of expectations Make a list of the "have to" things that you beat yourself over the head with. Go back through the list and write don’t in front of each one. Create space for new experiences. (While you’re at it, you might also let go of your expectations for others.)
Ease up on the brute force Jumping into decisions and demanding results won’t force things to happen the way we want them to. That big chunk of ice you’re pushing against may be attached to an iceberg. If you push too hard, you’ll throw your back out. Remind yourself that the universe doesn’t respond to temper tantrums. So take a deep breath, and then take another one.
Get busy and sit still Meditation or relaxation techniques can help clear your busy mind. But you can also let your mind go wild while you are doing the dishes. Let the alternative possibilities find their way out. Take notes.
Decide to live with integrity and compassion And a sense of humor. Just as you can choose to feel anxious and powerless, you can also choose to embrace all that life has to offer. A positive attitude is a boomerang!
Imagine your life as a boat Sure, pay attention to your direction. Row away from the rocks. But let the wind and the waves do some of the work. Enjoy the movement and the perpetual change.
Life isn’t a dream that you will some day wake up from. Be a partner and not a demanding adversary of the world around you. Right now!