“Every once in a while, you’ll succeed. Most of the time you’ll fail, and most of the time the circumstances will be well beyond your control.” – Aaron Sorkin
It makes sense that we aim for the important things, things like what we know or think we know will make us happy. Things that sustain us. Things we are invested in. Our future….
If a certain amount of our lives is up to us, then it makes sense to do with it the best we can. Its like we are driving in a car, and the front windshield tells us where we are heading. We are in the driver’s seat and we get to drive. And mostly it is a headlong rush, and we barely notice the scenery until its already in our rear view mirror….. We can follow the road we are on, or we can sometimes change lanes or take off ramps and detours. We can park the car and stop the world from rushing by us at this enormous pace. Not that life doesn’t still go on, just that we sometimes choose to look at the same horizon, our lives with the parking brakes on. And when it gets dark outside we can light our high beams or slow down to a cautious crawl…..
The way forward is just step after step, not always a leap into darkness. But the interesting thing is that while we focus on the moment, or on looking where we are going, it all seems pretty straightforward (pun intended!). However, sometimes if we look back at where we’ve been we have no idea how we got here from there. Sure, I’m sitting in this chair right now, and I was in the kitchen but a moment ago, but why? And how the hell did that happen? And possibly more interestingly, was it important? I can remember getting in the car and driving. I just got out at my destination. But how did I get here? Why did I get here? How much of our lives is really like that?
You see, where we are at any given moment is not always by design, not always our intention, and not always something we are particularly aware of. Sometimes our feet just carry us. Sometimes its with a destination in mind and sometimes its without an overarching plan all mapped out. We get where we get, and sometimes its a mystery. And so, how much control do we really have? Is the sense of our mastery behind the wheel a bit deceiving?
With our eyes peeled on the horizon we have this inevitable sense that we get to steer the ship. “Look! I can see where I’m heading. I get to change course by turning this wheel and pulling that lever!” It seems for this one brilliant moment that by paying attention our fate is entirely up to us. And the better we pay attention, therefor, the more control we have.
But is there ever an absolute symmetry between aiming and arriving? Can we have our lives exactly as we want? Do we ever? The small islands in a sea of surging chaos? How permanent are those craggy rocks really anyway? By the time we get from one to another the one we are now on is likely different from what we first saw, and the one we just left was different from when we first landed there…. Is our aim always spoiled by a shifting and poorly seen target? And does this tell us something important? That even our islands are flux? That stability may in fact itself be only temporary? A resting place at best? Shelter from the storm…?
We often don’t need to try to do new things necessarily, they just happen on their own. We end up in unexpected places whether we want to or not. Just by living. The world acts on us perhaps even more than we act on it in the best most lucid of times….
So, just maybe while its a good thing not to take too many leaps off the cliff, maybe also its not as vital that we know firmly where the next secure step is planted, or where we are going always and at all times. Does our confidence rest only on the appearance of stability and control? A shifting bed of sand? A delusion of ultimate agency? Are we coddled only by illusion…? Are we simply more secure with an illusion of control than the idea that our small dingy is tossed mercilessly about on the seas…? Or can we also find new confidence in the unknown and even the unknowable? The confidence of explorers? Is the evolutionary price of our conscious awareness that self reflection always leads to a fabulation of our control?
The conscious course of our lives is usually a battle between staying the course and following our nose. But interestingly also, sometimes even that doesn’t matter, and we are simply caught up in events and circumstances beyond our managed or operative control. The reasons we have for jumping are not always the reasons we have for landing….. We often get lucky. Taking the step seems easy. Predicting where it will land is often quite something else…. We need to step, and we often get the chance to choose where and when to do so. Seeing what happens if we take the turn at this corner rather than the next one often leads us to an unexpected and serendipitous place. Sometimes the success of our lives is simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. And this usually seems to happen quite despite or regardless of our manipulation and designs…..
But we think about our lives almost always as if our control were the most important thing to us. As if it were our steady hand on a thrashing beast of entropy that keeps us safe. As if these tiny reins were all that prevented our buggy from sailing over the cliff…..
So much of our lives seem determined by our expectations, and so often those expectations are focused on preserving the status quo or on the pursuit of particular dreams. We are not always as interested in the motivation of just seeing what happens. Taking a walk in the woods without aim or conscious design. Its not always a leap off a cliff, but its a sense of adventure. Not knowing. Not being too invested in particular outcomes….. We simply like to know. Our hands are rigid and bloodless with the force we are exerting to clamp down on the wheel….. And where exactly does all our controlling anxiety actually get us…..?
If we look back at our lives I wonder just how much of it was a victory of persistence, a victory of desire, and how much simply happened despite our agency or without our foreknowledge and expectation?
So, next time you are faced with a decision to try something new and are begging off for the sake of that comforting security of the known, ask yourself just what is at stake…. Sometimes its not the way forward that should be so disconcerting but the way from which we came. And if we look in our rear view mirror the illusion of our control is exposed for the nightmare of accidents it actually is….
Something to think about at least….
Make beauty real!