Where You Should Be

Should.

It’s is a problematic word. It implies that the present could be different from what exists now.

It’s a sensible sentiment, the idea that things should’ve worked out differently, but here is the problem: Things didn’t work out differently. The present could be different only if we could change the past. But -to my knowledge- we can’t. Specific causes lead to specific effects even if we can’t measure or understand them. Every moment is perfectly aligned with the causes that created it.

The present moment can’t be different from what it is, and in the mind, fighting what is with illusions of what should be leads to confusion. The tension caused by this battle is like a trap that limits our possibilities. Yet we constantly should all over ourselves (and others).

  • The outcome should be different.
  • You should be different.
  • I should be someone else.
  • I should be a better, tougher, stronger version of me.
  • I should be with someone else.
  • I should be somewhere else.
  • I should be at a better place in life.

The desire to should on life is certainly understandable. When it seems like things aren’t going our way, we have a tendency to believe things should be different. It’s a protective mechanism. It helps saves our self-worth. It helps the world seem a little more controllable and fair.

I’d love to tell you there are guarantees in life. There aren’t any.

I’d love to tell you life is fair. It’s not.

I’d love to tell you you’re in control. You aren’t.

The fact is this: Life is not controllable, guaranteed, or fair. The illusion of control exists when you only account for forces you can observe with your limited awareness. The perception of control is like admiring the top level of a house of cards while completely ignoring the bases that support it. This limited admiration ignores the fragile, connected beauty of the entire structure. Every moment of our lives, forces out of our awareness and control influence what we are capable of thinking, feeling, and doing. Like a house of cards, a change in one aspect can influence a change in the entire structure.

The illusion of control is compelling. It seems to make sense. It’s also quite convenient at times. But the illusion creates problems. When we believe in the illusion of control we tend to throw shoulds at everything we see because we see causality in a very limited, constraining way. This has some consistent effects. When things appear to be going against us, the illusion of control leads to confusion, blame, frustration, and eventual despair. When things appear to be going our way, the illusion of control blocks us from the gratitude that naturally flows from understanding the beautiful and miraculous harmony of uncontrollable forces that have aligned to give us what we want.

We desire control because we imagine it helps us feel powerful. To relinquish control can seem scary and uncertain, but in truth, the illusion of control is limiting, confusing, and frustrating. When we reject this illusion to clearly see degrees of influence in the order of the universe, we gain clarity, freedom, and possibility.

  • We don’t get to change the past, but we can influence how we understand it. A change in perception of the past changes our experience of the present.
  • We don’t have control over other people and the situations of the world, yet when we understand we have creative influence over our own experiences, we gain incredible freedom. Mind over matter isn’t a power struggle. It’s the way we are built.
  • We don’t have control over our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we have influence over possibilities that far exceed anything we attempt to control within us. When we learn not to fight ourselves, composure, awe, gratitude, wonder, curiosity, joy, and love flow through us.
  • We don’t get to control other persons’ thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet our influence is far greater than any control we might attempt to impose upon them. Don’t sell short others’ ability to love, admire, and appreciate you and your deeds.
  • We will never truly understand the order that created the present moment or where the swirling forces are taking us from here, yet we can influence finding reason, meaning, purpose, and connection along whatever path we travel. When we learn to dance with the rhythms of life, we find the miraculous in the common.

Much of the order of the universe works outside our awareness and understanding, but our lack of awareness and understanding doesn’t mean things should be different from what they are. Things are as they should be. Every moment is perfectly aligned with the causes that created it. We may not understand or appreciate it. We need not like it. We may wish things were different and even have regrets. But ultimately, the order of the universe is a good thing because if there is solace in the order of the universe, it is this:

You are where you should be. Here and now is the only place you can be. It’s the only place you’ll ever be, and you are enough to be great where you stand.

What’s In You Today

What do you have in you today? What can you do, think, or feel today? What is possible for your experience of life today?

Please rest assured, you have enough in you to be great today. I say this not knowing what you intend to accomplish. But no matter how limited your initial thoughts on this topic, please understand my point.

Your capacity to imagine greatness in this moment doesn’t change your capability to manifest it. In other words, the old adage, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right,” is wrong. Dead wrong. It’s not an absolute. Optimists fail and doubters prove themselves wrong on a daily basis. The only thing that hides us from these facts is denial. Why live in the illusion of denial when something more powerful exists? These clear facts exist: We can experience great thoughts, feelings, and actions out of the blue, and others experience the greatness of our thoughts, feelings, and actions without our awareness.

You don’t have the capacity to understand how powerful a little gesture might be to someone else. You simply can’t judge it. You aren’t in their shoes, and you may not be in the right frame of mind to see how powerful any kindness can seem to someone else. Have you ever expressed deep gratitude to someone only to have them shrug off their efforts as no big deal? It didn’t seem like no big deal to you, did it?

Not only that, but the person on the receiving end of your kindness may change her mind about its power down the road of time. How often do we come to understand the impact of someone’s influence on us only after they’ve moved on? Shouldn’t we take time to appreciate those people today? Shouldn’t each of us strive to be one of those people?

Furthermore, you do not have the capacity to judge the impact of your own efforts on yourself without the benefit of passing time. How often do we look back and discover that small seeds sprouted into something enormous? Shouldn’t we recognize the enormous potential of the little things that exist in this moment as it occurs?

Nobody is guaranteed anything. Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you may still be capable of greatness. You may not always manifest it. That’s life. You win some, you lose some. But before rejecting your potential for greatness, allow me to ask: Who are you to judge your capacity for greatness before giving it a shot?

Trust what’s in you today. It’s enough.

It’s Been Fun

Human resilience amazes me.

After a long battle with various ailments and pain, my Great-Uncle Jake died Sunday. We buried him Thursday. He was 87 years old. He was a fine man. A damn fine man.

To me, Jake always looked like Johnny Cash if Johnny Cash were a farmer. He was a big, strong guy. He had a great sense of humor and was quick with a smile and an unforgettable laugh.

If the world around us had ever sunk into chaos, Jake’s farm would have been a good place to be. Jake was self-reliant. He could grow things. He could fix things. He could hunt. When he wasn’t working on the farm “making hay while the sun shined” -as his eldest grandson Steve eulogized – he was working a second job in a saw mill or spending time with his family. He had an unstoppable work ethic and generous heart.

Jake walked a path in life that is hard for me to imagine. When he was 11, he and my grandmother (who was then 16) ran the family farm when their father died (he was trampled by horses) and their other brothers were off fighting World War II or running their own farms.

When he was 29, Jake (and my Great Aunt Mary Lou) lost a daughter. She lived 4 days. When he was 48, he lost his oldest son. Young Jake was 21 when he was cut in half by a drunk driver who plowed into the back of his semi as he attended to it on the side of the road. He left behind a wife and a 9 month old son (Steve, Uncle’s eulogizer, now a 39 year old PhD geneticist with a wife and 2 children of his own).

When I sat down for the funeral and read his obituary printed in the program, I’d forgotten about the young daughter, Marilyn. But I remember when Jakie died. I was 5, but I still remember my mom and grandmother and their seemingly unstoppable tears. It was the 3rd death of a 20-something male in my family in a 5 year span. I was only 7 weeks old when my father died, so it was my first memorable experience of despair.

But this isn’t about despair. It’s about resilience.

Our moods ebb and flow, and with the changes, our thoughts change as well. We go from up, optimistic, open, full of possibility, to down, pessimistic, closed, and devoid of hope. We then feel our thoughts. When we lack awareness, we blame the world for how we think and feel. When we are fully aware, we understand that we project our thoughts and feelings onto the world independent of the circumstances of the world. As John Milton wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Our experience of the world is what we can make of it. Most of us understand this at times. We have some say in how we experience life.

Yet certain situations seem to have a gravity to them, an inescapable force that sucks us down into it. The death of child is one of those. Uncle Jake lost two of his children.

To me, the most incredible part of the grieving process is our human resilience. While it is completely normal to grieve, it’s also completely normal to move on from it. Yes, when the loss is in mind again, the pain returns. Yet we always move on at times, often long stretches at a time, demonstrating that forces such as gravity do not exist in thoughts and feelings even though it seems as if they do. It’s in our nature to overcome what seems like emotional gravity. We have resilience. We nurture our own emotional crops.

My uncle understood this. You see, farming wasn’t just his occupation. It was his life. He used the dirt of this world as a fertile medium for growing the life he desired.

Once, when Steve asked why he became a farmer, he responded, “You get to be your own boss.” Despite all the lack of control farmers have over weather, disease, and soil, he still viewed himself as his own boss of his experience. He was a farmer. He was his own boss, the man with influence over the crops he cultivated. He did the best he could with what he had.

He understood this to the very end. At his funeral, Uncle’s pastor described his last rites and meal in the hospital before going home to hospice care. He asked Uncle, “Is there anything you want to tell Mary Lou.”

“It’s been fun,” Uncle said.

It’s been fun. Imagine that. After 87 years, under any life circumstances, could you have a better testimony about life? This was from someone who was forced into being the man of the farm at 11, lost two of his children, farmed for a living (and sometimes a starving), breathed saw dust in the mill all winter long, and fought the pain of those physical occupations for decades.

It’s been fun. What a damn fine man my uncle was to be able to see that. And yet, if we are being honest, he was completely ordinary and normal. He is a testament to finding the miraculous in the common.

For his last act of resilience, his sons Bill and Mike have taken on their father’s sense of humor. At the funeral, they laughed the laugh they inherited from him as they delivered a nod to the cycle of life only a farmer can truly appreciate, “He still has one more spring planting to do.”

As the procession left the funeral home parking lot to go plant Uncle in the cemetery soil, we drove past a last reminder of his life here on Earth, a life spent working the earth. Mike had driven his father’s old tractor to the funeral home and parked it in the lot near the road. It was the first thing I saw when I pulled up. It was one of the coolest and most fitting tributes I’ve ever seen at a funeral.

It was a fine tribute to a fine man. A common man yet a miraculous man. A man who used his life to point in the direction of our incredible resilience and capacity to enjoy life.

I have no answers folks. I won’t pretend to understand how the spiritual works here on Earth or beyond. I won’t tell you what to think, and I am fine with whatever you believe. But today I like to believe that Uncle drove his tractor to heaven, hopped out on two good knees, and firmly shook God’s hand. And I like to believe that God grasped my uncle’s big, powerful farmer hand in his own and gave it a worthy shake, the type of firm, respectful shake I practiced with Jake when Mom and Grandma tried to teach a father-less boy how men shake hands. And I like to believe God greeted Jacob Hoffman with the message I would speak to him if I had one more chance to tell him what I thought about his time in Earth’s dirt.

“You cultivated a damn fine life, Jake. Glad you enjoyed it.”