Good day, team.
Since my accident two weeks ago, I’ve had lots of time to think. Last week, I noticed that my brain had already started compartmentalizing my thoughts and memories into “before the fall” and “after the fall.” Funny, how the mind scrambles to assimilate information and process it. I’ve also noticed something new in my normal thought patterns. Since everything was taken off my calendar, except for doctor’s appointments, my thoughts about what I must do tomorrow, what comes next or what the future holds, haven’t been happening. This void has made me realize how much time I spend dwelling on the future or often having fearful thoughts about what will happen if I don’t do this or prepare for that.
Most of us spend an enormous amount of time worrying about, strategizing for and planning the future, even though we know things rarely turn out exactly as we expect. One of life’s great lessons is to realize that all the imagination in the world gets you no closer to actually knowing what will happen in the future. One of my favorite statements is, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plan!” I’ve thought of that statement so many times in the past two weeks. Before the fall, I had a plan of how the next few weeks were supposed to go. After the fall, none of it was relevant any longer.
Here’s an ancient Taoist story that clearly illustrates my point:
“There was a farmer, a gentle man, a humble man. His wife had died a few years before, and he and his son lived near the border region in China. One day, their horse ran away. They were dependent upon the horse. When the neighbors came to console the man for the loss of his horse, he answered them, ‘Who knows what the future brings?’
“Several months later, their mare returned with a wild stallion. Everyone in the village came to marvel at the magnificent stallion. ‘You are wealthy now,’ the villagers said to the man, congratulating him. And he answered them, ‘Who knows what the future brings?’
One day, the son mounted the wild stallion, but he did not know the ways of the stallion, and within a hundred meters, he fell off the stallion and broke his leg. The leg healed, but the boy limped. The villagers again went to the man to console him. ‘What terrible misfortune,’ they said to him. ‘Now your only son is a cripple. Your living will be limited. Worse still, how will your son be able to care for you in old age?’ The simple man answered his neighbors, ‘Who knows what the future brings?’ ‘A simpleton,’ the neighbors said of the man.
“A year later, a tribe from across the border was preparing for war. The Han army arrived in the farmer’s village, and every young man was drafted except the lame boy. He was of no use to the army. He stayed home. It was a dreadful battle. Only a few of the boys drafted returned alive. The lame boy cared for his father until his father’s death.”
The moral of the story is that the present is impermanent and the future is unknowable and filled with possibility. The farmer’s view differed from his neighbors’ because he understood that no one knows what the future will bring and that infinite possibilities can arise in the moment. If the farmer had been unwilling to let go of his idea of what would happen next, he would not have been able to take advantage of what was presented to him in the moment.
This week, try seeing how much of your time is spent worrying about what the future will bring. Do you often think about what to do next? Or do you have a strategic mind that loves to compare and contrast what’s happening now with what happened in the past in hopes of understanding what might happen next?
These mind exercises can be good in their right place. I have some close friends who get paid lots of money to spend all day doing just this kind of strategic analysis. This kind of thinking is simply a tool to help us predict what might happen. The conclusions we draw and our inability to let go of them — even though we can see they’re not relevant — is what gets us into trouble.
Like the farmer, try to see what’s directly in front of you to inform the best course of action now. Perhaps your strategic plan isn’t working the way you thought. Don’t be afraid to let it go and spend some time creating a new plan that’s more applicable to what’s happening. Or create multiple plans for different outcomes so that you give yourself more options.
When my grandfather was in his 80s, he said one of the compensating factors about old age was that the future he used to worry about so much was now here. “I can see the finish line from here,” he would say with a look of relief on his face. “Happy to say, it looks better than I thought it would. So I’m having a pretty good time right now!”
Have a good week!
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