By J. Brown
As we face the unforeseeable future, practicality and fear compel us to plan. In order to meet the challenges of life, some forethought is required. And making every effort to secure our desires is a primal impulse. However, attempts at fulfillment must reckon with a universal irony that renders most plotting futile.
That God laughs at our best laid plans is of little consolation after the proverbial fan is already soiled. It’s true, we have no way of knowing what is before us. And in order to mitigate this uncertainty, we envision end results and imagine how we will get there. Of course, somewhere in the back of our minds, we know chances are fleeting, so we do lots of contingency planning. If this happens, I’ll be like this and do that. And so on and so on. This way, we convince ourselves that we have some semblance of control.
Yet, almost never do things go according to design. And after investing so much time figuring out how things are supposed to go, when things don’t play out that way, we tend to feel disappointed and responsible. As if only we had planned better then things would have gone differently.
This mode of forever planning for end results that do not come to fruition, and blaming ourselves, has psychological and emotional markers. We are plagued with the feeling of life never being enough and all the anxiety that comes with it.
Fortunately, there are other ways to perceive and to be that do not confine us to this self-imposed conundrum. When we embrace the fact that we do not know and cannot control what is going to happen, all the energy we put into worrying and struggling about our future can be better expended. As counter-intuitive as it might seem, we can do more to secure our future by paying attention to our immediate state. This is really the whole point of yoga practice. That through some careful breathing and moving it’s possible to consciously bring the system more into balance.
The thoughts we have and the behavior we exhibit can largely be attributed to our current state of balance, or lack thereof. That’s why, on any given day, my wife is more or less annoyed with me for not doing the dishes. Given the consistency with which I am inept at addressing this contentious detail in our relationship, whether or not I am in the doghouse because of it depends entirely on how my wife is feeling on that day.
This also applies to how we are thinking and feeling about ourselves and our futures. When we feel well and calm, our plans for the future are not so wrapped up in the end results. We are more accepting of things as they are, so what will happen in the future seems less daunting, even exciting. We are not trying to control the events of our lives, in fear of where they might be leading, but merely acknowledging some possibilities and making efforts to encourage a favorable direction. If things don’t go the way we envision, it’s not our fault but just the way things go.
Being in a balanced state has its own set of psychological and emotional markers. We feel more patient and joyful. We are less consumed with anxiety over the future because we have a sense that, on some level, everything is OK as it is.
More importantly, when we are not consumed with where things end up, there is new space for the unexpected to occur. And when we look back in retrospect, we can often see how the most pivotal and consequential events in our lives were totally unexpected and beyond anything we could have imagined. In becoming more adept at bringing our system into balance, we no longer need planned end results to feel in control and placate our deepest fears. Instead, we gain a strong intuitive sense of knowing.
The truest voice in our head about the best course to take in life has a special fragrance to it. It has the scent of an unexplainable resolve. Like when you are looking for an apartment or a love and you just know, in your heart of hearts, that one is more right than another. Sometimes this knowing defies logic. That other apartment is closer and less money. That other love seems more convenient. But you just know. And sometimes we don’t trust it or we’re never balanced enough to smell it in the first place and we end up saying: “I always knew it wasn’t right.”
So looking forward, I propose that there is no better plan than to place a high premium on managing the state of our system from moment to moment, day to a day, as best we can. The better we execute this plan, the more we bear the markers of a balanced person, the less constrained we are by the future, and the better equipped we are to imbibe the smell of unexpected knowing.
J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere. Visit his website at jbrownyoga.com.