How many times every day do we get the message that we’re not in charge of the events that happen to and around us? We can choose the day for our family picnic, but we have no control over the wind or rain; we can decide to accept an invitation to speak at a friend’s wedding, but we cannot control whether we come down with laryngitis the day of the ceremony; we can promise to be at a job interview on time, but we cannot control whether we have a flat tire en route; we can sign up for a tennis tournament, but we cannot control whether we trip over a curb and sprain a wrist the day we were scheduled to play. Everyday life is a series of small surprises punctuated by big surprises and occasional setbacks as well as good fortune that we could not have anticipated or directed.
In a subtle way, our upbringing, education and experience teaches us we should “take charge,” “be good decision-makers,” “become masters of our fate…” We get very little instruction in humility, adaptability, acceptance, or appreciation for what is, rather than regret for what isn’t. We get attached to our particular ideas about how life should be, then rarely stop to wonder what life really IS, even though life is telling us every day.
We are always at a choice point between the doorway to frustration and disillusionment and the doorway to curiosity and gratitude. The decision which door we will enter depends on how seriously we take our own thinking and how clearly we realize that we are on a spiritual journey deeper than any ideas we have about it. Life is a constant adventure of the soul; we determine what our minds make of it as we travel, and that is always variable.
If you’ve ever wondered how two neighbors can react so differently to a disaster, for example, or how both can react so differently from the way you think you would if it happened to you, the answer lies in understanding how we operate as human beings, each seeing the separate reality of our own thinking. No response is right or wrong; every response we have is the product of what we bring to mind about life events as they occur. Events do not determine our thoughts; our thoughts determine what events mean to us and how we respond to them.
Our constant generation of new thought is the spiritual gift we use to navigate life. Each thought is transitory, and our deeper commitment to the feeling we want to live in determines which thoughts we allow to come and go and which thoughts appear more meaningful to us. When peace of mind and ease in life are more important to us than events and things, we allow all thoughts to pass and we don’t take any of them too seriously. Thoughts are like fireworks materializing in our minds and making a colorful impression for a moment, then dissipating into the darkness, as the next one pops into view.
Every moment is a clean canvas for the artistry of our thinking. As soon as we truly see that the flow of thought is nothing more than color commentary on life events as we move through them, we find our true freedom. Formed thoughts have no power; they are passing images we generate ourselves. We have all the power to watch them pass to allow for new thoughts. We can follow a sequence of thinking into a dark place, or we can interrupt a sequence of thinking and look in a different direction. We are the creators and we are the only source of change in how we see our experience of everything that happens. Nothing means anything to us until we think about it.
When we get wrapped up in upset reaction to content that has emerged from our own imagination, we are simply scaring ourselves with our own thoughts. The negative feeling we get is the feedback loop that tells us how we’re using our power to think. There is nothing wrong with feeling bad, or frightened, or anxious, or stressed, or scared, or despairing. The feeling we’re noticing is just helpful information about the imaginary spin we’ve put on life events. As we see more clearly that thinking is the way we use the spiritual energy of life to respond to events, we are more and more confident that as soon as our thinking changes direction, our feelings will follow. There is nothing special about feeling happy, or relaxed, or exhilarated, or grateful, or hopeful, either. Beautiful feelings, good feelings, are also information about the imaginary spin we’ve put on life events.
What is special is that it is our choice, moment-to-moment, how we will use our thinking. The feedback we get from our feelings only tells us what direction we’re going right now; it’s always up to us whether we want to change direction.
It’s as simple as this. If I’m planning to drive south on an unfamiliar highway, and I realize after several miles that I took the wrong entrance to the highway and I’m actually heading north, common sense tells me to take the next exit, and change directions. I may have to drive north for a few more miles until I come to the next exit, but I know there will be one. I may have lost a little time going the way I didn’t want to go, but once I’m headed the way I’d hoped to go, I’ll be OK. I’m driving the car, and it will all work out. I could get more upset with myself and keep going the wrong way, falling into a funk about how I have no sense of direction, and how stupid I am, and how I’ve done this before, and now I’m going to end up somewhere I never wanted to be. I could, because I have free will to follow any thoughts I choose. But why would I, if I know that there’s an answer: just get off the northbound highway as soon as I can and re-enter it going the other way?
Understanding the spiritual nature of life, and the incredible gift we have to keep making up our response to external events as we go, every life situation is an opportunity to find wisdom and creativity and enjoy the ride. We cannot force life to conform to our thinking about it, but we can allow life to happen and make of it whatever we think.
That sounds simplistic at first blush, doesn’t it? But imagine the profound difference it makes in our capacity to enjoy. If it appears that life is happening to us and we’re at the mercy of events, then we live as victims, always worrying what comes next. If we see that life is happening through us, and we’re the interpreter of events, then we live as virtuosoes, generating what we want from everything that occurs.