The biggest thing we desire is control. It’s a desire that is one of the biggest illusions because nothing ever stays the same. The power you have now is impermanent. It’s the true reason why we don’t like change. We can’t control change. Change happens as a byproduct of nature. When it happens, we panic. The easy solution is just to float in the stream of change, surrendering to wherever the river takes you. Our lives probably look more like white river rapids.
Be Like a River
A river works as such a great metaphor because it works just like life in how it’s constant. We have no real control over our lives in how we age, the amount of information we have at a particular time, what our relationships will look like, how our bodies will be feeling, or if we’ll even be alive. Yet, we try to control all of these things. Life was here before we were here and will continue to flow when we are gone. Life happens, good or bad. The only thing we can control is our attitude to what is. Life is going to happen whether you like it or not. You have the opportunity to smile, or you can let something you can’t control, control you. What do you think “Row Row Row Your Boat” is about?
One of the big principles in life is something we find so hard to do. The Beatles sang about this very thing in 1970. “Let it Be” is a widely popular song, but even in the 21st century, we still don’t know what this song truly means. When our ego nature is to react and resist, it’ll do us so much better if we learn to accept things as they are. I’m not just talking about your circumstances. I’m also talking about all the things we want to change including who we are, our outer appearance, our circumstance, and the need to change other people. Resisting the way things are will not change what is, and trying to change what is only brings suffering. I’m sure we have plenty of examples to show how true this is.
Changing the Environment
I thought changing my environment was going to bring me happiness. If it’s not this job, then maybe it’ll be the next one. Job after job and I still wasn’t happy. I’ve come to realize that changing our external circumstances will do nothing for us internally.
I recently went through a conflict management course at work. Although I really like the facilitator, I couldn’t help but disagree with what was being said. Conflict management is pretty simple. If someone rubs you the wrong way, talk to them so that they change their behavior that’s in conflict with you. Is the expectation to do that for every person who rubs us the wrong way? What if the same conflict happens with different people? Conflict resolution puts all the emphasis on the other person. We become the victim. What if instead, we surrendered to the situation and did not let another person bother us? It wouldn’t be a one-time fix because we know nothing and no one can hurt us. Here’s another quote that gets said a whole bunch of times, but never really applied. “Life is 1% what happens to you and 99% of how respond to it.”
You’re Not Stuck
Letting everything be doesn’t you are stuck with someone bothering you. It means that if there is a change to be had, it will happen naturally. There’s nothing we should do to change our situation. If I’m being frank, we’re terrible at resolution. I was terrible at thinking that changing my environment was going to be the thing to bring me love and happiness. My advice is to not try to change the things we don’t like just because we feel like we’re suffering. Float on. The things that are happening externally don’t really matter. All we have to do is remember this. Putting our effort into making change only brings more frustration. I know this from personal experience. If you thrash around in the river, you’re bound to drown.
I’ll say it again. Suffering is nothing but a negative emotional reaction to unmet expectations. It’s when we whine about what was supposed to happen as though we are able to predict the best outcomes from our actions. I was suffering because becoming a director of digital marketing wasn’t anything I expected. I thought I’d finally get the respect and the autonomy I deserved, but it didn’t end up that way.
Instead of responding to where the river was taking me, I reacted and decided to hop into another one. When things are supposed to be a certain way, we sure try our darnedest to make it as close to our ideas as possible. We burden ourselves in the process. I hope we come to the collective conclusion that nothing is wrong with our lives. I can see how hard that can be with the world telling us how we lack something all the time. We don’t need to change our external circumstances, just the meaning we give them. Without us, it’s all meaningless.