Do you ever wish that you could bargain with fate? If I get so-and-so, I’ll never tell a lie again. If so-and-so happens, I’ll never behave badly for the rest of my life. As a child, I used to think that if I did certain things in a certain way, I would get whatever I wanted…life would surely go my way.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I still engage in bargaining, but these days, there’s far less child-like innocence to explain it away. It’s more like an elaborate mental drama that unfolds in my mind about what I would do about x, y or z; how I would react; what I would and wouldn’t say; what the other person would and wouldn’t say; and what the exact sequence of events would look like. What amazing future is waiting in the wings to unfold. What torturous future is lurking in the shadows, waiting for me to misstep and how I will avoid it. In every circumstance, I am the epitome of poise, grace and equanimity. Yup…that’s me. Every. Single. Time.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am rarely the epitome of anything, and I am very often the queen of all-that-is-imaginary. And while I’m busy doing the very important work of mental bargaining in my imaginary life, my real life remains somewhat neglected and grossly underappreciated.
I am slowly realizing that when this state of affairs has gone on for too long, real life will often find a way to give a nudge (or bite, or kick in the bum) in order to be acknowledged. It’s a bit like how things in nature try to move back towards equilibrium, or even how man-made social constructs like the stock market will try to correct itself. This can happen in the tiniest of ways, such as cutting myself yesterday whilst preparing lunch because my mind was too busy elsewhere: “which e-mail should I answer first after eating?” quickly got replaced by direct attention to the blood spurting out of my finger. And it can happen in enormous ways, such as when someone close tells me that I freak out at the mention of certain topics (politics, feminism), whilst in my mind I am patient, gentle and fully capable of rational discussion (of course!). I was forced to re-examine the truth of how I really respond to any perceived dissonance in the issues that I care most about.
Our real lives will always eventually demand to be acknowledged. And as with all relationships, this relationship with real life is one that can be cultivated, be kept real, and be navigated with love. Keeping our real life close at hand and fully inhabited rewards us with a breadth of possibilities for both skilful action and inaction (i.e., not everything needs a reaction every time, not even feminism!). Plus, real life will never abandon you, cheat on you, or give you back-talk. Although if it could talk, it might say something like, “When was the last time we did something together?” or “You don’t bring me flowers anymore.” It’s really as simple as coming back to the present each time our thoughts fly to the imaginary. Then we realize that there is no-one and nothing to bargain with. Only we ourselves are here, just as we are.
So as we’re busy pondering the various permutations of love on the heels of Valentine’s Day, remember also your real and natural dwelling place in the present moment. An acknowledgment of real life is really just an acknowledgement of yourself, and this can be done with love. And instead of bargaining, as Tara Brach so beautifully advises, “make love of yourself perfect.” 🙂