I am very scared right now. Existentially terrified.
I am scared about the climate and about our country and the economy and technology and bioterror and nuclear weapons and age and money and that one step on the way up to my bedroom that looks like it’s about to collapse.
I feel overwhelmed, helpless and upset.
I also feel like I missed a turn somewhere and I’m stuck in an agist economy without a solid career. It looks like a big recession is looming and I don’t have money in the bank so survive it.
And I’m going to die, eventually, and the time between that event and now is probably less than the time between now and when I was born.
In other words, it’s going to happen within a timeframe that I can understand. And it’s not going to come in a way that is welcome and expected, at least not based on nearly every death in the history of life.
But here’s the thing, what I’m really scared about it that it won’t work out the way I want it to.
That’s a word that stuck in my head recently. To thwart means to:
1 a: to oppose successfully : defeat the hopes or aspirations of
b: to run counter to so as to effectively oppose or baffle
2: to pass through or across
But why should I expect not to be thwarted? Why should I expect it to work out the way I want it to? Why should I expect to be permanently successful and safe and happy and immortal? Happily ever after never happens to anyone.
Not. Anyone. Ever.
The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths says that:
There is suffering
Suffering is caused by desire
Removing desire will remove suffering
Desire can be removedThe Buddha
The Buddha suggested non-attachment as one way of removing desire. In other words, one major manifestation of desire is that we are attached to certain results. We wish that things are different than they are. This is a major cause of suffering and pain. So much so that the founders of AA recognized that alcoholics reached for a drink in part to alleviate the suffering caused by this desire. Their prescription is to recognize that we really don’t have any business railing against the way the world actually is and we should recognize that life is unmanageable and we should pray for:
The serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
The courage to change the things we can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.Reinhold Neibuhr
Put another way, when we are thwarted we feel bad. When our hopes and aspirations have been defeated we feel overwhelmed, upset, helpless and, yes, terrified. Something is in our way. Something is athwart our path.
Success gurus and business coaches may say to smash through all the barriers or ignore them because they’re all in your head. This isn’t really true. What is true, however, is that reality will almost always run athwart your hopes and aspirations because reality differs from what we make up. I don’t mean that dreams won’t come true but I do mean that dreams won’t magically come true and the things we REALLY want, to be happy all the time and to live healthy forever, are not going to happen because they never happen to anyone.
Which brings me to my fear. I don’t think my frustration and terror is going to go away but if I acknowledge it (like I’m doing right, now…thanks for listening!) and recognize that it’s both inevitable and ridiculous, I can move on and do the very best I can with what’s in front of me today. I can set aside my fear and enjoy the day I have.
Life happens. It’s not under my control. If I aspire to get it under my control I will be thwarted. If I am thwarted I can either be upset by that or recognize that aspiration was foolish and try to enjoy reality instead.
I am not saying we should not strive and struggle and hope and aspire. I think that’s what life is about. But there’s no sense in being afraid or upset when we’re thwarted.
That doesn’t mean I have to stop being afraid, that just means that there’s no sense in it.
Perhaps we should aspire to be thwarted.
Or maybe the best way to live is athwart, which is a goofy sounding word that means (among other things) “in opposition or counter to the expected course.”
Which brings up another prayer:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.Saint Francis of Assisi
So live athwart life. Be the positive troll that stands athwart the bridge (rather than lurking under it) and wishes good on all the annoying Billy Goats who travel by. Where there is hopelessness be a voice of hope. Where there is fear, be courageous.
Okay, that’s enough. You get it, I get it. Let’s go do it.