Freedom on the River of Life

Life has what seem like ups and downs. The more we notice that these ups and downs correspond with an existing mood, which is intimately connecting to our thoughts and the possibilities or limits we have in mind, the more we realize we create our experience of life from our own thoughts. Most people find freedom in this realization. It’s what I call understanding our mind over matter existence.

Another thing that seems to create freedom is the understanding that the river of life is going to flow whether we want it to or not. Sometimes the current is gentle and manageable, our intentions and actions result in desired outcomes, and we seem to be in control. Other times, the river is raging and exerts its influence upon us in more obvious ways, some we perceive as good and others we perceive as bad. In any case, make no mistake. Whether the current seems to be working for us or against, we can’t own, manipulate, or control the current.

I have found that when people try to own, manipulate, or fight the current, they become exhausted and feel helpless. As they battle against it, trying to stay in place or desperately fighting to move in a direction against the current’s flow, they seem to lose their independence. And oddly enough, in losing their independence, they lose their connection to the grand order of life.

Others seems to acknowledge the current of life and flow with it more harmoniously. Perhaps they do not necessarily learn to enjoy the feeling of giving into the current’s force, but they seem to learn how to connect to it and embrace it for what it is. They learn how to dance with it no matter how bullish its behavior. They come to see the current as an essential element of their journey, and as they connect to it, they gain freedom.

Unchained from Luck

I recently sought the thoughts of a lifelong friend. This friend had fallen on hard times at one point in high school. He was caught stealing. He spent a week in an inpatient psychiatric facility. A year later, he was caught drunk in school. He was constantly getting into fights.

He changed all that. It didn’t happen in an instant. It took time. But within a few short years he was in graduate school working to become a doctor.

I wanted his thoughts on his change so I might be able to apply them with other people people I know. So I asked him, “What were the keys to your turnaround?” Here is his response (names have been changed):

Man really hard question. I guess I would first thing I would say is if he has any negative influences he needs to get rid of them. Easier said than done sometimes. I guess if I were talking to him I would ask him what he wants out of life and what his goals are. Large and small. Every decision you make has consequences positive and negative. It’s ok to make mistakes, sometimes that’s when you learn the most, just need to make sure you actually learn from them. For me I just wanted more out of life than what I grew up with….. I’m not sure when I realized it exactly, but I realized as I looked around that there is no free lunch, and I had to work for what I wanted. Frank was a good influence on me. Always treated me well and believed in me for some reason. And Jane was a good influence. I wish I had some magic for you. Tell him there is no luck, luck is where opportunity meets preparation. Actually I am lucky as hell 🙂

What I love about his response is the acknowledgement of both the inner and outer aspects of this change process. The outside exists and plays a role, but the internal is what really makes the outside world appear as it does. Immediately after stating there is no luck, he quickly switches when he understands luck is in the eye of the beholder.

Luck is a funny thing. There is an order to the world. Whether one believes this order is built by the hand of God or just the laws of physics (clear, simple laws we may not even understand yet) doesn’t really matter in some ways. No matter what we believe, everything happens for a particular reason, and each reason is made up of countless factors that come together at a single moment in time.

But that’s not what really matters to us in making our way in life. The actual reason and the countless factors that compose it matter very little to us as individuals. What matters is the meaning we attribute to it. When we understand that this meaning is a product of our personal thoughts, we gain some measure of freedom. What we are gaining freedom from is the tendency to blame our luck – or lack thereof – on anything outside of ourselves. The outside plays a role, but luck only happens internally. Luck is a completely personal fabrication. We are completely free to fabricate this luck at any given moment. We may not be capable of doing so (because sometimes our thoughts get stuck momentarily), but we are free to do so if we can. This truth is what sets us free.

Possibilities

When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven’t. 

-Thomas Edison


If, for a moment (or longer), we believe in matter over mind, then we are likely to believe that situations are too big, too small, or just right for us. Typically, this mindset severely limits our engagement. We tend to devote relatively low effort to activities we believe are too challenging or too boring for us. Further, if we believe in matter over mind, we believe our engagement is an effect of the outside world, so why give an effort to change what we are experiencing if we believe we are being controlled by something outside of us?

In contrast, when we understand that we live mind over matter, that the boring, daunting, or just right challenges in front of us are creations of our own minds, we gain freedom and possibility. In a mind over matter understanding, it is quite possible to be aware that if we aren’t controlled by the outside, then our thoughts and feelings of boredom and challenge are self-created. This can be the impetus for awakening to the idea that change is only a thought away, and with this understanding, we can begin to see what we can do to engage in the present moment.

Thus, attributes such as grit and perseverance are states that flow from the mind over matter understanding. Over time, as we persist with the understanding that nothing is too big or boring for us and attack life with the effort that flows from it, we appear to have grit and toughness.

The key understanding is this: The mindsets that create grit and toughness are available to us frequently if we understand that we live mind over matter. The more we believe we are bound by matter or matters, the more will will see limits in our lives, the more likely we are to quit. At these times, it pays to remember and believe Edison’s words: When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven’t.

Mind over matter results in moments of clarity, freedom, and perhaps most importantly, possibility. When these moments are strung together, they appear as grit, perseverance, toughness, tenacity. Be awake to possibilities. They are endless.

The Can’t Pile

For years I’ve watched myself and others sort what is possible into piles: The Can Pile and the Can’t Pile. Sometimes this is done for seemingly good reasons, such as sorting into piles based on what I can control and what I can’t control. The thinking is, “Why bother with what I can’t control? Just let it be. Save my energy.” On the surface, it makes sense, but there is a problem with sorting like that.

When you sort like that, the Can’t Pile gets too damn big. Please do not limit your influence and possibility in this way.

Let me give an example. I was talking to a young softball player one time, and she was discussing how she controls the controllables and leaves everything else be. She can’t control it, so why bother?

I wanted an example, so she mentioned that she can’t control umpire calls, so she leaves them be and doesn’t worry about them (doubtful this always happens, but I love the effort). In other words, umpire calls are in her Can’t Pile.

This was curious to me, so I asked, “Do you think you can influence umpire calls?”

 She thought about it for a moment. “Yes, maybe. I can talk to them. Thank them for coming. Not complain about calls but rather ask nicely about calls and their strike zone in between innings. I think all that influences calls. If someone likes us, maybe they give us the benefit of the doubt. And people like it when others are nice to them.”

“So if we put umpire calls into our Can’t Pile, aren’t we limiting the true possibilities of our influence?”

She got it, and I hope this example suffices to make a point. When we sort too much into the Can’t Pile, we are limiting our influence too much. We can’t control anything (read the * below if you want more on my definition of control), but to me, we should operate under the belief that we can possibly influence everything to some degree.

Despite our lack of control, our influence is powerful. When we act on what we can influence, so many times we find that forces align to give us what we need and want.

While it is true that our influence is very small sometimes, a small influence can make a huge difference under the right conditions. And small influences over time can have rather large cumulative effects.

Thinking in terms of influence, potential, and possibilities will help open up new worlds to you, so please do not sort into Can and Can’t Piles. The Can’t Pile is too damn big and limits the possibilities you recognize.


*I know control gets confusing for people because I am now the, “We don’t control anything guy,” which makes me a freak in some circles but also seems to hit home in a profound way with so many people. So let me explain.

My definition of control is that to have control, one must control not only their action (or thought or feeling), but everything that goes into allowing that action to happen. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can demonstrate to me they even control something as simple as their consciousness. We are awake now, and we want to be. We don’t control it. It’s a happy coincidence, a beautiful alignment of what we want and what we’ve got, a coming together of forces to give me the illusion of control in this moment.

 If you think you control your consciousness, fall asleep right now and wake up five minutes later to keep reading this. If you can’t do that, the best we can say is that you have some influence over your consciousness, but it certainly doesn’t reach my bar for the definition of control.