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Enjoying The Path We're On

Every weekend, I create dinner menus for the week ahead and then I make a grocery list. I’m careful to study each recipe to be sure I don’t leave anything off, and I cross-check the final list with the one we keep all week as we run out of things. I even write the grocery list in the order that the items appear in the store, but that’s another story entirely. What’s important here is that I am careful and attentive about this process. It isn’t until we've returned from the market, and I've put away each item, that I realize I’ve forgotten something. And it isn’t just once in a while. Pretty much every time I go to the store, I fail to pick up something that I either forgot to include on the list or just skipped entirely. I’ve been grocery shopping close to 50 years now, and I’m finally willing to accept that this is not a perfect system.

Truthfully, nothing is. The notion of a perfect plan is just something I made up—probably as a result of too many made-for-TV movies and a need for order. But I’ve tortured myself for years with the idea that if I just work hard enough at something, it will all come together and it will stay that way forever. I’ve applied this unlikely scenario to more areas of my life than I care to acknowledge. And, even though I know that striving for this perfect, magical system is just a pipe dream, I still do it, often without fully realizing I am.

No system I devise during long, sleepless nights will result in a life of totally smooth sailing.

Whether it’s trying to figure out some problem that may or may not occur in the distant future, or planning what my retirement days are going to look like while I’m still working, I strive for the perfect solution, as if it actually existed. Of course, it’s the opposite of having equanimity, as my therapist reminds me—and our online meditation coach urges. I see what they mean, of course, that the ideal state of mind is to just be in the moment with what’s happening then. I totally believe that, and a huge part of me longs for that feeling—to just accept life as it is and manage my way through it. But in a parallel universe, I can't help but wonder if maybe there really is a perfect way to do things, a magic formula that would simply make things easier and smoother. If I could figure that out, then I could no doubt be a much more relaxed person, right?

But the older I get, the more I realize that navigating this evolution of people and things and ideas is the purpose of life, not the encumbrance that stands in our way. My goal shouldn’t be getting rid of the barriers. Instead, the aim should probably be to just stay as calm and present as I can while I maneuver my way through them. No system I devise during long, sleepless nights will result in a life of totally smooth sailing. That just doesn’t exist. But I can’t even count the number of nights I’ve spent in that pursuit.

Life is what it is. We are supposed to learn and grow and be present. We need to be awake and aware and honest, but even if we aren’t, we still have the chance to use our skills to get through the maze in front of us on that day. I’ve devoted so many hours, pages of journals, and conversations with friends to devising plans that would keep those muddled paths away from me, or would eliminate them completely. I get it now that those circuitous pathways are the core of life. How I meet them, how I traverse them, and how I feel about myself while I’m doing it is all up to me. No amount of pre-planning or scheming can change the outcome. The result is whatever the result is. How I feel about it makes all the difference.


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