may not be the reason we do them. Yes, very cryptic, but I think you’ll understand what I mean if I give a few examples.
An insightful young woman recently shared with me about attending a meeting in Brisbane. She went because she thought it could give her a brilliant work opportunity, and lead to kudos and recognition. Yes, she told me, she did receive a little encouragement, but the whole experience reminded her that she wanted to continue with her creative pursuit because she loved it and because it made sense of her life, and not because she was seeking fame and fortune.
In my own life, I have a lot of experience of seeking one thing and finding another. Some years ago I agreed to co-teach on a course. I was excited because I thought it would lead to finding my place more securely in that particular world. It actually left me utterly insecure about that work and more all over the place as a teacher than I had ever felt. Yet from that place of anguish, lots of new things emerged. I rediscovered poetry, fell in love with the piglets I could see from my bedroom window, and I was guided towards a work direction that was in many ways much more risky but absolutely based on who I am and what I love.
I had been seeking, yet again, to save myself from the challenging and difficult parts of myself. Yet rather than saving us from encountering our messy bits, our choices usually orient us right towards them. It’s often only with hindsight that we realise that we took a particular job or fell in love with someone because we needed to encounter a very special kind of challenge or conflict, as well as a particular delight or joy.
As we grow more experienced in these paradoxes of life, we can begin to call on equanimity to see what emerges when the results are not so rosy, or at least don’t measure up to our ideals. We can shift away from perfectionism and towards a gritty reality that actually offers the potential for deeper joy.
Moving away from expectations and towards what may surprise us is a gesture we can carry into large and small life decisions. It requires a mix of humility and gratitude, to nourish what we have to offer the world and transform our faults and foibles EVEN when things have turned out very differently from the way we’d hoped.
This is ongoing, multi-layered, and fascinating work. And often frankly terrifying. It takes everyday, moment by moment courage. Most of us don’t face huge physical risks in our lives and work; the risks involved in sorting out our inner turmoil and facing what meets us in our life encounters are scary enough.
We have to cultivate lots of patience, courage and trust. And we need to surround ourselves with things and with people we love. Including our selves.
As part of this journey we also need to spend time in some way that orients us towards a bigger picture of the world. A little contemplation lets what I call the intangible forces collaborate with us. We need practices that both open us to that broader perspective and allow us to view ourselves more objectively. It might be meditation or some activity that we consciously make sacred from gardening to tango. The Japanese do it well with tea.
And as we develop a little more equanimity and what my 92 year old friend Berta calls ‘inner strength’, we grow more expert at meeting the unexpected in ways that surprise us. It’s the only expertise that truly matters.