Nothing goes as planned.
Although I’m a the mother of a nine month old baby, I’ve never been less stressed in my life. Here’s why.
I used to worry a lot. About debt, the afterlife, God, Jesus, my waistline, money, my self-image, my appearance to others, my perpetual solitude, my addictions, my obsessions and my sadness.
I was a worried child.
When I was in the third grade, a tornado hit my school. As the wild winds roared outside, I crouched in the dark hallway in the emergency position: a stressed out version of Child’s Pose, with hands interlaced behind the neck to protect the spinal cord from potential flying debris. Sobbing.
At that moment, I was more scared than I’ve ever been in my life. I thought I was going to die, and I was not cool with it.
I didn’t die though. No one even got hurt, although the tornado managed to rip half the roof off the cafeteria.
I tried to pay attention in church after that. I wanted to know what happens after we die. I heard phrases like “eternal life” and “forever and ever” and “His kingdom will have no end.” Instead of being comforted, I was rapt and anxious about how long forever is. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how all-encompassing eternity is.
And I worried.
For a few weeks, I developed an intense phobia of death. I quit going outside. I told my parents I wanted to live with them until I was 40.
I was a worried young adult, too, plagued with bouts of depression and anxiety throughout most of my twenties. At some point, I quit worrying and started planning.
I became a masterful planner. I used to have such ambition, so many plans and goals. I used to make 25 New Year’s resolutions and keep most of them. I used to schedule my life on myriad calendars, paper and digital.
I used to adore the art of creating to-do lists and crossing things off.
Now, I watch worry float by.
I notice my mind’s desire to plot and plan and I usually ignore it. Now, I live in the present moment more than the forever-gone past or never-certain future.
I watch worry, judgement, jealousy, pity, guilt, loneliness, joy and confusion—they are clouds passing by.
How did I get from my old self—addicted to planning, organizing and prioritizing—to this current state of more or less going with the flow?
First, I had to realize I had a problem. I was planning obsessively. Planning was becoming more important than experiencing. Plans were the fabric of my life.
Reading stuff like this helped spur my motivation to give up goals. And talking with a like-minded friend who was also striving to give up the ever-forward-looking, calendar-keeping, list making mindset.
Gradually, I simplified my life—quit a stressful job; left the States; moved from a big city to a small town. Now, I walk or bike most of the time and typically eat fresh, homemade meals rather than processed or restaurant foods. I infuse my life with gratitude. Mindfulness, for me, results in the cultivation of patience, peace, compassion and kindness.
Now, I value simplicity more. I enjoy the act of letting go of material possessions by donating or disposing of what no longer serves our little household.
The truth is, I still plan sometimes. I do have an overall, general plan for my life. (As in, I am a school teacher and my hope is to be able to travel during each summer vacation to visit friends and family around the world.)
I still write the occasional list, such as ideas for articles or foods to buy at the market, but I’m so much less attached to the day-to-day plan. In fact, I usually find myself completing the tasks on the list without ever referring back to it.
It’s not so much about not planning as not being attached to the plan. It is about, to the best of our ability, letting go of expectations.
Being conscious about our to-do list obsessiveness is important as well. We know the top three things we need to do today. Do we really need to write them down and check them off? Probably not.
How to let go of expectations:
2. Recognize it when there is clinging to the expectation of a certain outcome or a certain behavior from a certain someone.
3. Remember, 98 percent of things don’t go as planned!
4. Remember, it’s all a process. It’s fine to have a plan—if you must—but the key is to drop it and go with the flow of life in each moment.
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Ed: Sara Crolick