Today was a stressful morning (or so I thought), as I entered my campus gate after dropping my son off at the bus-stand for school. I was wondering if things were going to get easier once my son would get older. Perhaps it will get better if I hired a full time housekeeper who could help me out. Perhaps I should work out a better process with my existing help. Perhaps I could ask my parents to help me for some time or to be around for days when unexpected situations arise. Perhaps I should plan better. As I was pondering these thoughts I ran into a friend of mine who was walking towards the gate and she greeted me cheerfully and asked me, “Are you coming back from Yoga Class, where do you go”. I was a little surprised and I told her that I had just gone to drop my son off to his school bus and I asked her why she thought I had gone for yoga. She laughed and exclaimed that my face looked glowing and serene and so she assumed I must be returning from Yoga class. This was a wake up call for me. The truth is that I was feeling calm and serene inside. However, on the outside so many things were going ‘wrong’ (or to paraphrase, going the way I did not want them to), that I had been telling myself that I was supposed to feel stressed and anxious. I actually felt guilty when my friend told me my face was glowing.
When I reached home I saw that my cook-cum-help had not come. I called her and she told me would not be in today. Again there was that nagging voice inside of me, ‘you are supposed to feel upset about this – this is a bad thing’. But this voice was feeble and it could not convince me to give up my peace (duly reinforced by my friends observation). I wore my shoes and went to the stadium for a walk. As I walked, thoughts about the last week’s events started flooding my mind. So much had gone wrong. However, before I knew it a second light bulb lit up in my head. How could I be so sure that things had gone ‘wrong’. They had just not gone the way I wanted them to go. The peace came back.
I thought about all the things in my life that were happening in ways that I did not want them to happen. A part of me started laughing inside. Did I really want to be a Hitler in my own world and insist that everything had to be the way I wanted it to be. Did I have the nature and enthusiasm of a person who would want to plan and organize everything in my life. Did I even have an intrinsic desire or pull towards such planning and organizing? Even if I did plan it all out, did I have the grit and determination of a dictator to execute this plan to perfection and ensure that everything happened according to my plan. Even if somehow I did manage to wear this unlikely cape of dictator and pull off the execution, was I naive enough to imagine that I had all factors under my control. Was I not aware that life is a complex unfolding of so many variables that no matter how hard I tried things would still be out of control.
As I tried to think of a logistical master-plan that would take care of my housekeeping, childcare, grocery and other logistical duties, I realized that my brain was getting fatigued. More than fatigued, it was growing disinterested and dis-enchanted. Amidst the very familiar phrases of, ‘hire a full time maid’, ‘get organized’, ‘downsize’, ‘have a process in place’ that usually floods my mental chatter I heard a new voice whispering, ‘let it go’. I liked this voice so I gave it more attention and the voice continued, ‘Why are trying to re-engineer all these processes in your life’. ‘Why are you assuming that things should not be the way they are’. ‘Why are you continuously trying to fix something that probably might not even be broken’.
I sat down and looked at how I have been unnecessarily stressing myself by insisting that ‘things are not the way they should be’. What gives my thoughts such a degree of assertion and conviction. How do I know that things are not the way they should be. A more sensible default stance would be that things are the way they should be. Perhaps I do not like they way they are at present. That is my preference. Perhaps I want to do some new things to bring some changes about. That is my choice of action. But my preferences and my choices to act don’t stress me out by themselves unless I feel I have been cornered into making them because something is broken or gone wrong. In the absence of the ‘something is wrong’ idea, my choices and preferences are usually ones that feel light, inspirational, and playful. It feels more like how I feel when I design a new course (not because the old one had a problem or was broken but because I got some new ideas I want to try out). Or it feels irresistibly compelling like I feel when I write a poem (not because the world desperately needs one more poem but because writing that verse is something that every cell in my body is urging me to do).
Usually I get stressed because I am insisting (internally or externally) that something is ‘wrong’ in the present (or past). I get stressed when I am concluding (in my head) that something is happening right now (or has happened in the past) that should not have happened. What would happen if I stopped resisting life and stopped imagining that things are (or have been) wrong. Who am I to make that assertion anyway? The observable evidence only shows that things just are the way they are.
Perhaps if I want to, I can decide to join all the many forces of life and launch new ships into the ocean. I can put new thoughts onto paper, I can change the curtains in my home, and I can hire a new housekeeper. I can do all of this because I want to and without ‘condemning’ or ‘judging’ that the state of things as they are (or have been) should not have been that way.
I can stand up and say I ‘don’t like’ the way things are but nothing gives me the authority to take a stance that is opposed to the current of life itself and proclaim that it should not be that way. It is as it is and what do I gain except stress in insisting that something is not as it should be. If I don’t like the colour of something I can do what I want to paint it a different colour. If it is works out, well and good. If enough others repaint my blue with their red or if the rain washes my paint away too bad. I can try again or I can settle for red. Either way is fine but continually asserting in my head that red is so ‘wrong’ is an easy recipe for stress. It is also factually incorrect. It is better to tell myself, ‘I see that it is red although I might have preferred it to be blue. And that is how it is.