I’ve always been fond of the Hopi maze symbol pictured above. It has many meanings, but one of the simpler ones is that life contains a special dream for you, and no matter how circuitous a path you take, you will get there. If you look closely at the symbol, you’ll notice that although it looks like a typical labyrinth, all the paths in fact lead to the middle. This of course implies that if you want to get to the end of the maze, you may as well just get going, because no matter how many detours you take, you’re still going to get there.Which isn’t bad advice for how to live.
If you’re paying attention in life, you’ll probably notice that even the best laid plans may not work out as you expected, whether as a result of some flaw you yourself built into the plan, or because of unpredictable outside influences. This is probably one of the greatest single causes of a litany of the “problems” we experience in life. Stress, anger, disappointment, depression – many of the states we experience that we perceive as negative often are a result of a single simple thing: un-met expectations. So one obvious solution would be to lower your expectations, as suggested in MadTV’s Lowered Expectations dating service skits. Another would be to just hunker down and wait until the bad stuff passes, because it usually does.
Both of those approaches will work in some way, but if you really want to discover peace of mind and and genuine satisfaction from life, there’s another tool you can apply, which is some basic spiritual knowledge. I always feel compelled to point out that by “spiritual” I don’t mean “religious”; a spiritual approach in my opinion is simply a practical application of of the concept of “doing the next right thing”, utilizing the wealth of knowledge at our fingertips for figuring out what that is for ourselves. When it comes to “trusting life”, I often recommend checking out Rob Breszny’s Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia, because it has a humorous secular spin on how well life is in fact working out, even when we’re failing to recognize it. Another great body of ideas is presented in Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws material. Chopra does a great job of imparting a lot of practical tools in an engaging narrative fashion.
There are MANY ways develop a practical spiritual aspect to your engagement with experience though. My development partner Nick has pursued rigorous discipline, and the wisdom intrinsic in the various martial arts he has studied intently for decades. After years of study, he became a teacher, and in my opinion, the student/teacher evolution is one of the greatest personal development tools in existence. I experienced my own personal spiritual evolution as a result of an odd mix of growing up in a liberal intellectual college town where Eastern philosophies were pervasive, and my later experiences with addiction and recovery. But however you achieve the ability to “trust life”, there are some very simple approaches that can help you out. I’ve outlined a few below, but this is hardly comprehensive, and not exactly secret wisdom or anything. Life really is a maze, so you really should explore the labyrinth in your OWN way, the mysteries and surprises should be part of the FUN, not part of the misery!
Expect Surprises – “The Plan D” Method
The most common cause of almost all the anger and unhappiness I see people experiencing is a result of things simply not going the way they expected. The resulting anger, stress, and unhappiness then manifests not only as toxic interactions in relationships, but even diminished physical well-being, whether as physical fatigue, tension, poor immune response, or even cardiovascular issues. It is now fairly well documented that mental and emotional stress is directly connected to physical health issues. My personal approach is based on what I jokingly refer to as my “Plan D” method. Some people don’t even have a “Plan B” when they set out to do something, which is a guaranteed setup for ongoing frustration. But I add extra layers. They go something like this:
Plan A – This is exactly what I want to happen
Plan B – This an alternate plan to still achieve exactly the results I’m seeking
Plan C – This is the realization that a huge compromise may have to be made
Plan D – This is total surrender of my will to forces completely beyond my control
This requires a little extra thinking, but the energy spent on the extra thinking is more than rewarded by the energy NOT expended on frustration when things go wrong. If you want to use the war metaphor, remember there will always be another battle. And if you prefer a less hostile analogy, remember that sometimes you just need to get the house built. You can always renovate later. Plan D is probably the toughest for most of us to implement, but may be the most important one. You are not always going to get your cake. Get used to it and have a cookie instead.
This one is a continual challenge for me. My willingness to look at multiple aspects of a situation sometimes leads me to not trusting my own “gut” on something. Nick has a great approach for busting through this kind of problem. He often refers to the idea of “Don’t just do something, DO SOMETHING”, adding some extra oomph to the idea that sometimes simply taking action is the best solution to moving through doubt. I talk about self-talk a lot, because one of the greatest obstacles for trusting things to work out is simply learning that there’s a big chatterbox in our own heads that may be working against us. Over and over I find that when something went really wrong with a pursuit, I was failing to “listen to my heart”. And by that I mean a balance of rational thought and what my “gut” or instincts told me. If you have deep-rooted self-doubt issues, maybe therapy would help. But more often, we’re simply dealing with our own poor habits, and therapy can even be counter-productive. Consider a life coach. But if even that seems like too much fuss, just practice learning to TRUST YOURSELF! The solutions are almost always right there inside you. Thinking is over-rated sometimes.
People aren’t typically psychic, so it’s unlikely that they know what’s going on in your head. In spite of this obvious fact, many people seem to operate on a big assumption that since THEY’RE thinking something, everyone ELSE must be thinking it. Remember that the things that you think and feel aren’t always apparent to others, even when you lay them out as a linear plan. Sharing your feelings and broader views – simply being open to others – can have a profoundly positive effect on others’ ability to support and trust you, and all this trust in life I’m talking about is really about trusting PEOPLE, not just some mysterious set of forces that we call “life”, right?
Me, I’m gonna go back to bumping into walls now. And having a good laugh when I do.