I have always been somewhat of a planner. In high school and college I took a sort of perverse joy out filling out my weekly calendar, scribbling until the pages would burst with events, appointments and to do lists. I liked knowing what I was going to be doing at pretty much all moments of my days and, if there seemed like I had a suspicious amount of free time, I would more than likely find a way to fill it. However, over the course of the past two years or so, I have realized how much happier I am when I am not excruciatingly busy and have modified my life choices accordingly. As a result, I have noticed myself become much more flexible outwardly. Yet I have had to admit to myself that inwardly I am still quite rigid. My mind loves to think about what it’s going to be doing later that day, the next day, or the following weekend, even if it’s within a “flexible” schedule.
But if the past 24 hours are any indicator, nothing ever goes according to plan. As I shifted my seat on my meditation cushion, I had to laugh; the huge wet spot made it look as if I had wet myself during my sit. My plan to quit my car if favor of my bike had been going well, except for the fact that April wasn’t exactly deciding to play nice. My morning Golden Valley to Uptown ride was cold but very doable, however my ride later in the day from Uptown to Common Ground Meditation Center in the Seward neighborhood was accompanied my freezing rain. Despite my obvious discomfort, I had gotten a sort of thrill out of being submersed in the elements and was feeling rather hardcore about the whole thing. But, as I sat soaking in the meditation center, the chill was starting to make me tired. I began to think with dread about the writing assignment that I still needed to complete by the next morning. My last writing class at The Loft featured a public reading so I couldn’t exactly slack off.
Yet, as it always seems to be the case with Mark, the leading teacher at Common Ground, he somehow was able to offer words that resonated directly with my immediate life experience. Mark spoke of practicing with our fears, including big fears, like that we would lose our jobs, our homes, or that our loved ones would leave us because he pointed, nothing can truly be planned, nothing can truly be counted on. We can eat perfectly healthy, but still develop diabetes, wear a helmet, but still fall off our bike and get a concussion, run a marathon but lose our leg at the race. Our parents, partner or children could die at any moment, we could die at any moment. Even for those who are lucky to skate through life without any major trauma, it never goes according to plan.
By the time I finally made it home from the meditation center after 10pm that night, I was chilled to the bone, exhausted, and terribly hungry. Mark had suggested that sometimes, if we let ourselves feel exactly how tired we are, the intensity of the feeling will eventually ebb and we might even get a second wind. I was skeptical, but rather desperate at that point so I decided to give his advice a try. I was aware of a sort of “I’m screwed for tomorrow,” a feeling that brought me back uncomfortably back to my college days but, after eating a snack and procrastinating by checking e-mail, I did actually get that surge of energy and I managed to finish the piece a little after midnight.
I was rather pleased with myself but still assumed that the morning would be rough since I wasn’t going to be getting much sleep and my stomach didn’t usually like having food in it so late at night. But the next morning, I woke before my alarm at quarter of seven, feeling perfectly rested and with my stomach in a better condition than it had been in weeks. That morning, I managed to meditate, eat breakfast, finish my writing piece, do yoga, and cook some food all before my 10:00am class. This was even better than I could have planned! For a brief interval, the failure of the printer to work seemed to be foiling my magical morning but, at the very last possible second, it decided to deliver.
My friend Lauren had managed to convince me out of my delusional plan to bike again that day and, as I sat in my class watching the pouring rain morph into a wild snowstorm, I couldn’t help but be wholly grateful. Our society loves to control our environment and, to give us credit, we have managed to control quite a lot of it. But it always fascinates me how little (and by little I mean zero) control we have over the weather. It was April 19,, it hurt to walk outside, the driving was terrible, and mother nature couldn’t give a damn that people were pissed. Lauren and I had planned to go to a play and a dance that night but getting me out of downtown Minneapolis was quite a feat enough, so we spent the evening at my parent’s house. There, I spent a good portion of the nigh trying, with little success, to solidify plans for my weekend trip to Lanesboro. By the end of night I was sure of one thing: to count hard on any sort future event is absolutely absurd.
This begs the question, why does my mind so badly want to plan? From what I can gather, it has to do with safety. It comforts me to know how my day is going to unfold. But, on a deeper level, why does that comfort me? I think it has to do with underlying voices in my head that want to make sure that I am doing “enough,” or that I am living in the “right” way. In order to address these voices, I need to a). learn to trust myself and b). develop an actual sense of what living in the “right” way means. This brings me to the notion of spirituality. I am fairly comfortable with the idea that I am in the process of developing my spirituality, but I also know that this term can be alienating for some, particularly because it can have religious connotations. So I also like to describe it as developing my “blueprint” for living.
Though this blueprint is still a work in progress, I know that it has to do with living as a human “being,” not a human “doing.” Instead of trying to do enough, I want to see if living fully in each moment, regardless of how that moment unfolds can be enough. At the same time, in connection to Mark’s talk, my blueprint has something to do with a trust in change, in the unknown. If so much of our lives are unpredictable, than why spend the energy planning it? I’m not saying that I think that it would work to operate by not planning anything, but rather operate in a way where planning required minimal mental time/energy and was guided by the notion that things hardly ever go as anticipated. Lately, I have had more and more moments where I have found myself surprisingly at peace with the way things are unfolding. For me, planning might feel like safety. But not planning feels like freedom.