My most recent trip brought me out west to Wyoming, Montana and (through) Idaho, my first time to these states. The primary purpose of the trip was to run in my first destination races, namely, the Tetons (6/4) and Yellowstone (6/11) half marathons. I filled in the time between races with visits to 3 of our amazing National Parks, the two I mentioned previously and Glacier. I had more time in the Tetons, so I have a great appreciation for the beauty of that mountain range. As a result of some rain, a cold I picked up along the way, trying to save my legs on days before the races and exhausted legs on the days after races, I didn’t have enough time to fully appreciate Yellowstone and Glacier so I may need to get back there some day.
One thing I made sure I saw was the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone. It turns out I walked away disappointed. I was not disappointed in its beauty or majesty, but with its timeliness. This probably sounds as weird to you reading it as it is for me to write it. Let me explain. The name, “Old Faithful” evoked for me a dependability, a reliability, a timeliness that I had equated (up to now) with the precision of a fine Swiss watch. Instead, I learned that the geyser could only be predicted to within plus or minus 15 minutes and only one eruption in advance. I now know that my lifelong expectations of nature’s underground hydraulics were unrealistic, but the feeling of being let down was there nonetheless. See these links for more on geysers.
Over the course of my travels, there were additional examples of our desire for certainty (or at least predictability).
- When I was in and around Tetons National Park, I found that I could not take my eyes off of its majestic peaks. I stared at them for hours. I even cried at one point at their sheer beauty. Whether I was walking, driving, running, or hiking, when the peaks came into view, my eyes were drawn to them. My rational side wondered why this was the case. After all, I was basically just looking at rock, snow, and sky…right? When I asked others for their opinion on the subject, one woman told me that, for her, the mountains meant security and stability. They were “rock solid”, having stood for 40,000 years (the Tetons are a newborn mountain range by geological standards) and would stand for tens of thousands more. Once again, I was witnessing a desire for dependability. My fellow hiker seemed to be heartened that there was something permanent and predictable in this world.
- The trip was beautiful and successful and went mostly as planned….until I got to Glacier National park. When I got to the hotel after a 6.5 hour ride in the car, the front desk did not have my reservation. Although I was able to get a room, I was not able to get the room I reserved. I got a lesser room in another building across the street. I was aggravated over this. The next day, the cleaning staff accidentally threw out my travel folder with all of the information I had put together for the trip. Further aggravation! This aggravation stuck with me for a couple of days. I had planned this trip with great care and others were undermining all of my hard work. Once again, life’s randomness undermined my desire for control and predictability.
- A more dramatic and heartbreaking example of life’s unpredictability occurred in Orlando last week, when hundreds of people walked into a club expecting fun with new or old friends. Never in their wildest imagination would any of them have predicted the violence, madness and cruelty they experienced that night. All I can say is peace to them and their families.
- The stonefly is a little creature that is native to the Northwest United States. It is a large part of the diet of trout and other fish. Stonefly nymphs love the cold, fast moving, mineral rich waters from the glaciers like those in Glacier National Park. Unfortunately for them, climatologists are now predicting that the last of the glaciers in the park will be gone by 2030 as a result of climate change. Now I don’t know if stoneflies have something akin to expectations (and disappointment), but it sounds like life for the stonefly will be changing dramatically over the next 15 years. It also means some changes are coming for the trout. That also could mean changes for the eagles and osprey. And so on…
- While I was on this trip, two legs of the horse racing triple crown were run. At the Preakness, Nyquist was the overwhelming favorite to win the race after going undefeated for his first 8 races. He ended up coming in third and did not look anything like the invincible horse he was made out to be. Just a couple of weeks later, Exaggerator, who beat Nyquist in the Preakness was the odds on favorite at the Belmont. He lost big to a long shot.
We are comforted by predictability and certainty. It helps us manage, it reduces stress. We seem to want to push as many activities as possible to semi-conscious, lower brain function as we can to free up higher brain function for more important things. We don’t want to be constantly looking over our shoulders waiting for the next attack, problem, surprise or disease. We don’t like dis-ease.
But what guarantees do we have in this life? Very few, in reality, even though that controlling part of us wants to think that we can control most outcomes.
Perhaps these little (or big) deceptions help us cope with a complex and difficult life. Of course, these deceptions may also be the very things that contribute to taking the blessings in our life for granted, to not accepting the world as it is, to not saying the things we need to say to people, to procrastinating and putting off fun or obligation, to being blind to the fragility of life and not savoring the precious little time we have on this earth. We tend to appreciate the blessings in our life only after they are gone and we are mourning a loss.
In actuality, we do not know what the future has in store for us. With life though, it’s a pretty sure bet that we will have some share in joy and sadness, wonder and grief, laughter and tears. Some seem to have more “luck” in this life than others either as a result of where and when they were born or because of their actions in this life (or perhaps past lives). There are also many people who, despite being dealt what we might consider a “bad hand”, are much happier and more adjusted than others with far more “luck”. These folks offer us valuable lessons.
What am I going to do about all this? Well, I plan on having a conversation with this controlling, planning, obsessive, uptight aspect of my personality and try to remind him that:
- Shit happens- people get sick, glaciers melt, favorites lose, there are crazy, angry people in the world, mountains rise up and fall, Old Faithful is only predictable to within 30 minutes. Do the best you can and let the rest go.
- Stop trying to control every outcome to make it come out your way. You can control many things. You can influence other things. But there are many, many, many things that you cannot control no matter how hard you try and how much energy you expend. You need to come to peace with this.
- Try not to get so hung up on relatively minor things that don’t go as planned. Stop (or at least take it down a notch) deluding yourself that life should work to your plan and schedule. Realize that some of the best things in your life have just showed up.
- Realize there are helping hands all around you. They have always been there and they always will be. If you can let go just a little and trust more, we could have a lot more peace in our life.
- Go with the flow. Let it be. RELAX! Remember to breathe!
I also want to take a moment to thank this aspect of my personality publicly. It has made me responsible and reliable and dependable. It has made me pretty good during an emergency. It has allowed me to retire early and focus on things I love to do. I couldn’t have got here without him.
Any 5 year old child at play can serve as a model for us. They are fully engaged in the moment. They are not thinking about “what’s next?” or “what could happen?”. Their life is fully lived in the present moment. When our minds are constantly in the future, we may think we are being constructive and productive but, in reality, we are only undermining this moment.
We can’t control the future. We can’t ensure we get all of the outcomes we desire. Maybe we need a little self-deception to get by. But we also may just need to give ourselves a hug once in a while and remind ourselves that it’s going to be ok, no matter what.