I’m a lover of reality. When I argue with What Is, I lose, but only 100% of the time.
My daughter graduated college this May. She’s busy having fun travelling and submitting job applications. She says I ask her too often about her plans. What I consider to be helpful, she considers to be hovering.
She’s right, I do worry too much about my kids. My daughter’s career, like her entire life, is “her business.” My angst about being the perfect parent and making sure my kids are set for life is “my business.” Maybe I should be worrying about my plans, not hers.
The Cost of Comfort
On a recent walk with my friend Tom, I realized how much energy I spend trying to prevent my daughter (and my son, and my wife, and…) from experiencing pain. Through “helping” her, I’m trying to avoid my own pain as well. I’m human, and humans seek to avoid pain and be comfortable. The more chaotic and wounding our early years, the more we want to control our lives and stay safe. We channel this energy into becoming successful both professionally and financially; “surely,” we think, “this is a path that will lead to comfort.” Yet, paradoxically, to grow and evolve, our soul needs discomfort. A life without storms is a life without roots.
I like to set goals, envision the future, control what I can control, and let go of the rest. However, controlling what I can’t control and trying to ensure I won’t be vulnerable has its cost. To avoid vulnerability is to avoid aliveness and intimacy. Although counterintuitive, when I allow myself to be vulnerable to pain, I feel fed at a deep level by staying in harmony with my soul.
I believe that if we want to live rich, meaningful, and fulfilling lives, we need to stop avoiding, suppressing, medicating, and resisting our vulnerability to pain. We can’t escape illness, aging, death, accidents, recessions, and heartbreak. Well-being requires a capacity to learn from and transform our challenges and wounds to discover the gifts they bring. The universe asks us to stop fighting with What Is and to lean into our pain, extract the wisdom from our so-called setbacks, and consciously choose to move on. In the absence of this inner work, our pain is destined to turn into suffering, anger, resentment, and depression.
We’re not Getting Out of Here Alive
Often we intellectually know these things, yet we expend a lot of energy trying to out-maneuver God by manipulating our appearance, prolonging life, and thinking we can control the way we will die. We do the same things for our family—with little upside and a high potential for triggering resentment. We spend too much time and energy fighting with reality.
Is it time to embrace the reality of your life? Is it time to let yourself off the hook for your “failures?” Is it time to start letting things break down for your kids so you both can keep growing? Is it time to start celebrating your aging mind and body?
For example, consider focusing on the benefits of aging. Namely, the older we get, the happier we get. Laura Carstensen, who runs the Stanford Institute on Longevity, reports that her research shows this to be true because, as we age, our time horizon grows shorter and we prioritize better. We stop sweating the small stuff and start avoiding activities that don’t align with our core values. We grow less tolerant of injustice and more open to reconciliation.
The Way to Freedom
Leaning into pain and moving on are easier said than done. To let go of control requires faith. Not the kind of rote faith in the form of a superficial comment like, “It’s all good, things will be fine, say a prayer and everything will be okay.” I mean faith in the reality that things do grow and evolve in ways we can’t comprehend. Faith that nothing ever happened that didn’t need to happen. Faith that some great mystery has kept the lights on for 14 billion years. Faith that, during dark times, whatever force has spit us out of the belly of the whale in the past will be there to spit us out one more time. In rough times, faith is the act of reminding ourselves that this is when compassionate people show up and support us.
You will not attain freedom and peace when you become successful, attain bullet-proof financial condition, and realize your kids are employed and happy. Freedom and peace don’t mean you won’t experience hard times. If you can’t experience freedom and peace in the present moment, you may never be able to. Freedom is a choice you can make, and if conditions around you are rocky or uncertain, then choosing to be free requires faith. Faith can bring us the peace our souls truly crave. Choosing to open yourself in faith allows you to be right here, right now, alive and open-hearted—no matter what.