In the past month, I stumbled into the subtle pride of expectations. When something has seemed true and reliable for a long time, we paint it into the background of our story and let it dry. For me, it was being strong, independent, and in charge of my own life. If I thought about myself at all, I envisioned myself living productively through all my decades, always doing the work I love, always enjoying energy, and always self-sufficient. It did not cross my mind that all the seemingly settled “forms” of life, like everything in the universe, teetered on the edge of change in every moment. No exceptions.
So confronted suddenly with what started as an emergency but turns out to be a manageable chronic health challenge, I was initially shocked by the possibility that my life might not go as I assumed it would; that I might face limitations; that I might have to let go of my ideas about who and what I was. The shock turned to laughter pretty quickly. Habitual thoughts are tricky, hiding right there in plain sight. I had just tripped on one. I thought of how many times over the years I had engaged my clients in discussions of how easily we are fooled by habitual thinking, and how some thoughts are “baked in” to what we call “reality” so that we fail to remember that they have no more staying power than any other thought. Well, I have a fresh story to tell about that now!
When you see something really obvious that you had missed for years, it is a reminder that there is, truly, no end to learning. It is a reminder that we all make plans based on what appears to be true, and those plans can become irrelevant in a flash. We make choices based on what we assume, and those choices can look foolish when things change. Life, as we think our way through it, is an evanescent shimmer of a rainbow stretched across our tiny corner of the universe. Too beautiful to miss. Too fragile to hang onto. The happy way to approach it is with gratitude and humility and no expectations.
I am grateful that I could laugh at myself so quickly, that I did not suffer from disappointment and disillusionment or despair because things weren’t necessarily going to go the way I wanted them to, or thought they should. I had moments of frustration, moments of fear, moments of discouragement over the couple of weeks it took to sort things out, but they were just moments. I noticed they made me feel worse before I even noticed what I was thinking. I spent my first uncomfortable night in the hospital listening to someone down the hall calling for someone who was not there, a frail, sad wail into the darkness of confusion. I wanted so much to go to that person and just hold her hand, to try to offer comfort, but no one would let me unhook myself from the things that were keeping track of me. “You need to take care of yourself, honey,” one of the night visitors who came to check me said. “Never mind about her.”
As she left the room, I heard myself speak to her back, “But reaching out to others in pain IS how we take care of ourselves, isn’t it?” I had a moment of resentment that I was tethered and needed permission to move. And I laughed again. Another expectation. “I’m in charge of me.” Well, no, I’m not. I’m in charge only of how and what I think about me and my situation. Very different. The “me” in the hospital bed was a body bound by the wear and tear of time, the rules of the institution and directions of the doctor. The true “me,” the spiritual power to be that was living in that body, was as free as ever to make of that whatever I chose to think of it. I turned to being thankful that the body was being cared for and was safe, and to being comforted by the fact that the formless energy of life, the “me” that informs that body for now, is timeless and eternally free to create any experience of any moment.
As I recover, I take a pause from much of the activity that defined that busy body “me” to nurture the true me, to savor quietude, to observe nature, to see what direction about life wisdom suggests. I have a chance to reflect and wait. I have a chance to find new freedom.
As I sat home watching the sunset the other night, I thought of a story about my grandson. One day when he was 5 or 6, we had gone to a craft fair of some sort and he had gotten a big red helium-filled balloon. As we walked home, he lost hold of the balloon as we walked over a bridge and it quickly floated up into the sky. He looked up at it and said, “I let go of you. Be free, balloon. Be happy.”