As we sit in our homes in NJ bracing for Frankenstorm aka Sandy I am reminded of a Kabbalistic/Hasidic saying, “Man makes plans and God laughs”.
I don’t believe in a sadistic God (although some may disagree) and I don’t believe that our lives are predetermined, but I do understand what the Kabbalists meant. How we understand the phrase “and God laughs” may determine our level of serenity or anger and bitterness.
Many if not most of us try to direct our own lives. We may also try to direct the lives of others we love and care for. We seems to know many individuals who could be categorized as “control freaks”. And clearly we all fear the chaos that life can bring to anyone of us at anytime.
To a great extent we can visualize a future situation, can make decisions and undertake actions that we firmly believe will get us there. But how often do we find our paths blocked? How often do unexpected events and circumstances change our deeply desired futures? How often do situations or people come into our lives which cause us to change our own thoughts of our own future?
We have all experienced individuals who have deeply disappointed us, who did not live up to our expectations of them. We have had jobs in which our bosses or fellow workers made life unbearable for us. We have worked diligently and successfully for companies whose corporate bosses made decisions which deeply impacted our own lives. We have lived with unforeseen medical problems and the death of loved ones which have torn our dreams apart.
And then there are the natural forces. Sandy is clearly one of them. When they occur ( even to a much smaller degree than Sandy) we are have no choice but to accept our dependency on forces greater than ourselves.
Sometimes there are conditions beyond our control which may cause us to reflect and reconsider. Unexpected situations arise and we must accept them as the new baseline from which to operate.
Perhaps that door we are pounding on to open is not where we should be going after all. Perhaps the door that is partially open next to it is a better course for us.
The path to a meaningful life requires us to walk the tight rope between accepting what we cannot change despite our most courageous efforts and finding meaning in the way forward. The unfortunate result of disappointment can be anger and bitterness, but it doesn’t have to be.
Just be aware that it is not completely in our hands. How we understand the phrase “and God laughs” will allow us to live our lives with serenity or bitterness. That is still our choice to make.
One of my closest friends had a reading with medium Lynn Milano. Among many quite accurate particular statements was one that was both charming and amusing.
He brought a picture of his mother and himself and asked facetiously “did my mother love me?” Lynn found herself laughing. “Of course she did. But she doesn’t particularly like the picture you brought of her.”
And which one did she prefer? She told Lynn she liked the one in which she has a flower in her hair over her left ear.
My friend laughed. He knew exactly which picture she was referring to.
I did as well. I had seen it in his home many times. This time when I looked at it, I smiled as well. It showed her much younger, very pretty and with the flower over her left ear.
I cannot resist a well written article on end of life issues. The NYTimes by Bill Keller offers an example of the British concept of palliative care. Unfortunately Keller cannot resist politicizing the argument by emphasizing the right wing of the Republican party's discussion of "death panels". I don't think politics needs to be injected here, the issue is important enough to transcend even that.
Death is that unspoken reality that most of us choose to ignore. And yet we all recognize it is a fundamental to life as night is to day. Of course we choose not to dwell on a topic which is painful to ponder. But this constant attempt to sublimate the topic of death only makes it more powerful. Reportedly, young Buddhist monks in training were placed in a room of decaying corpses for the express purpose of shocking them into the reality of impermanence and ultimate death. Having faced this truth, understanding life became more potent.
Even more important than death itself (I'm a bit facetious) is dying. The process is what is difficult and that cries out for discussion and dialogue. It is a product of modern medical technology that we can and do keep people alive or "alive" for longer periods of time than in the history of humanity.
The real question which needs to be addressed is should we and how? The concept of palliative care is what Keller is referring to. It has also been described as the Liverpool protocol in England. But palliative care committees exist in many of our leading medical institutions in this country. Why not all of them? Difficult to say. They ARE controversial. They do evoke strong emotional responses from patients, families, doctors.
Palliative care is often confused with Hospice or with Kevorkian's methods. Palliative care is not about ending life prematurely. It is about allowing a natural process to proceed with control of suffering and with dignity when no reasonable medical treatments remain. Of course there are areas in which many opinions may arise here. But we need to address the issues squarely and without fear.
Enormous amonts of money are spent and "wasted" at end of life. This is not a harsh or unfeeling statement. It is fact. I truly believe billions of dollars could be better spent on the early stages of life, on the health care of millions who now go without, and NOT withhold necessary procedures and treatments for the elderly who could benefit from them. And I do not believe that age should be a criteria for not providing health care. A completely mentally and physically intact 100 year old may benefit from a cardiac cath or colon resection despite their age.
It should be about the quality of their lives. And forgive my use of the word. I understand that term is difficult to quantify. But let us not decide to ignore this topic just because it is difficult and painful. It is needed and justified on many levels. These include religious, ethical, moral, spiritual and financial. This is one area in which they can all align for the good of individuals, families and society as a whole.
Am I the only one who gets annoyed by the obvious partisanship and hypocrisy of party faithfuls who overlook the failings of their favorite political leaders and completely whitewash them? These same party hacks will lam bast their opponent who makes a mistake during a speech, is caught having an affair, or was found cheating on a high school exam, while excusing similar behavior on a member of their party who they support.
This blind political spinning of events seems at times to be ludicrous. Yet each party does it. Ironically, most of us in our own lives actually do the opposite. We are often our own worst critics. We don't like the way we look. We fear that someone might find out that we aren't as smart or talented or adept as others believe. Most of us suffer from some degree of insecurity. We may even have difficulty accepting praise from others. We may question their sincerity or deny that we are worthy of it.
How different are politicians! They believe their own hype. They often can lie to the public without so much as a tell-tale blink of the eye, be discovered to be lying and not even feel remorse. They exhibit a resilience and inflated self-image that helps them overcome adversity and not appear to be defeated.
But what if we could borrow just a small bit of this attitude? Would it be so terrible if we became our own cheering squad? The field of positive psychology has identified individuals who seem capable of interpreting their own mistakes and failures as temporary events. They may even blame others, believe that they were unfairly singled-out, even discriminated against. Their own self-image remains intact and they rarely suffer from depression and malaise. They seem to live longer, healthier, even happier lives.
While too much of this approach may lead to delusional thinking and inability to learn from failure, just the right amount of self-praise might actually be beneficial to us. Can we "learn" to become our own best advocates? Can we judiciously apply positive attributes to ourselves, forgive our mistakes and believe that we can do great things?
Perhaps just a bit of such "spin" can help us get through life's challenges and keep our chins up.
Why do we feel overwhelmed by worries and concerns regarding upcoming events? Why does our mind race from one to the other and leave us anxious, unfocused and even incapable of rationally resolving our problems?
The reason we feel so distressed is that all our thoughts and feelings appear in our minds simultaneously. In other words one problem leads to thinking about another, then another until we are engulfed by them. It seems to our consciousness as if all these problems are happening in the present moment. And in fact they are. By thinking about them, they are affecting us all at the same time.
This feeling of suffocation, of near drowning in negativity and worry can lead to extreme anxiety. How will we ever deal with them? This may lead to a feeling of panic and, even worse, paralysis.
One way is to focus in on them in "time order.". They are separate and individual even if several are linked together. Most likely they will occur in some kind of. The key is to literally address them separately and in that order. That doesn't mean the others will not periodically arise in your consciousness or produce some temporary anxiety. When they do just place them back where they belong, in the future.
That doesn't mean we should ignore them. That would be foolish since long-term planning is often necessary to achieve our goals. But when they do arise in our awareness, address them as deemed necessary, make whatever plans are required, then re-file them into the future.
We prioritize our problems by time sequencing them. They may be challenging, difficult and truly life changing but by seeing them lining up in a row like airplanes landing at an airport, we can focus on what is next. We also realize that what may be approaching in the future may not be ready to address fully anyway. Perhaps those events that we worry about now may not even happen, or if they do, be less monumental than we imagine them now.
When we focus our awareness on the task at hand a sense of order is reestablished in our minds. Chaos fades a bit and anxiety as well. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, even paralyzed by fear, we are better able to deal with the problems more directly and successfully. It will allow us to face our problems with a healing serenity which we all seek.