I use my Google calendar to record every appointment and event. I make sure to allot plenty of time to drive to work, and I check the weather so I know how to dress myself and the kids. All of this makes me feel in control. But what about when things don’t go as expected? Last week I faced waking up to a sick child, finding the dog in a pile of torn up tissues when I was ready to walk out the door, and forgetting a container of chicken on the counter that I’d planned to use for dinner. No huge emergencies in the grand scheme of things, but none of these were in my plans! How I handle these kinds of curveballs is directly related to how attached I am to my expectations.
Let me explain. If I live my life believing I can actually control it, then I also believe that things ought to happen exactly as I expect they will. My calendar contains the events of the day, recorded at the times they will actually occur. When that inevitably doesn’t happen, I will be frustrated and angry because my thoughts will spin a tale of how unfair this is and how it shouldn’t be happening this way. Or, I’ll be anxious and overwhelmed as my mind carries on about how I’ll never get everything done now. My attachment to expectations has successfully ruined my day. I may react by trying even harder to control tomorrow! Conversely, if I do my best to plan ahead, but recognize that I don’t actually know what is going to happen each moment, my mindset will be completely different. Things will come up, but I can watch each situation arise and address it as it comes. Then my thoughts aren’t tied up in fear or frustration, and I can focus on solutions. Two opposite attitudes with two different emotional outcomes, like two different ways to wade in the ocean: One stands rigidly, waiting to be knocked over by the waves, while the other floats on top.
Trying to control life is as futile as trying to direct the waves of the ocean. That doesn’t mean we should give up planning and organizing, it just means we have to recognize the limits of our control. Set up a daily schedule, but keep an attitude of acceptance when things come up. What happens when I’m trying too hard to control life? I feel a tightness in my belly and a pounding heart while I have repetitive thoughts about forgetting something important. When I recognize these feelings, I know I have to stop and take some deep breaths. I practice lengthening the exhale, until it’s double the length of my inhale. Then my body becomes calmer, my mind more present. My breath reminds me to release my expectations and ride the waves of each moment. Mindful living means acceptance of this moment, as it is, rather than wishing it would turn out the way I expected.