‘No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it,” he said. “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.’Hagred, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
So much of our suffering seems to be self-inflicted. When I was younger I learned to retreat from life. I found the world to be harsh, dangerous and the only way I could cope was to stay in my shell and play computer games. ( it’s a problem I still face today, only it’s more work, not games].
It was lonely but at least I was safe. Whilst I was leveling up, defeating bosses, winning battles the world passed me by. My story was essentially that of a hermit. I hid away from the world, thinking that happiness and success was something other people deserved, but not me.
By not engaging with the world I never learned to cope with its uncertainty. It remained scary and unpredictable.
It shows that a good life has a lot to do with how we show up, our mindset towards a changing, and temporary existence. I’ve come to realise just how self-destructive my attitude was/is.
I had to learn the right way to live. and to do that I had to go out and meet the world. I call this ‘Meeting Serendipity Halfway‘, Handshaking Serendipity, or the Halfway Strategy. It’s both an attitude and a way of life.
To explain better let me outline two extremes that are not good ways to live. Each at the opposite end of a spectrum. It’s here we can see that what you believe becomes your reality.
This way is the way I fell into when I was younger. Fear and anxiety kept me at home. Such disengagement is a kind of death of the soul, where you’re alive without really living.
Here there’s an emptiness, a vacuity, a lack of meaning or direction in life. It’s people who have lost hope. We feel put upon, worthless, powerless. Condemned to suffer a scary existence.
We can get angry at the world for how it treats us, and afraid of it. Our attitude is that of a cynics and the pessimist.
So we hide away desperately trying not to die, yet afraid to live.
There’s a faint hope that somehow things will change, things will get better, but it’s all that’s is left.
Such a state is called, Learned Helplessness. The perception that we have no control over our surroundings, so there’s no point trying. It’s a type of mental defeat where we think we are victims of circumstance, powerless, and worthless. You become sensitive to adversity, you hurt more easily because you’re already hurting.
Depression is found here, we almost give up on life, broken, defeated. All this leads to stagnation, which in turns leads to more suffering, feelings of self-pity, and victim-hood. Such beliefs become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a spiraling circle that in extremis leads to suicide.
Attempts to change things no longer happen because you are so convinced that they will not succeed.
The control freak
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the over engagement or grasping with life. The control freak, who can’t let go of out of fear of what might happen. The over organised controlling type with a sense of entitlement.
Individuals here think that they can succeed through will and work alone. That there’s nothing they can’t do.
You can be massively successful this way, but it’s unlikely. Worse still the workload is so great ill-health is certain to follow. You will suffer from fatigue and eventually burnt out because you can’t let go.
It’s a very egocentric view of the world. They think everything revolves around them, and that the world should be the way they want it. So they exploit other people seeing them as disposable objects rather than meaningful pursuits themselves.
By letting go of what you can’t control you gain more over what you can. So your feel more in control.
Both these extremes can be seen through the lens of fear.
- One is afraid to stand out, to make a difference, the other the fear of losing control, not standing out.
- Personal power: One fears to have it, the other fears they don’t have enough. One shies away from power and responsibility, the other grasps for more.
- Control and security: one retreats from the world to find safety in smaller places. Another tries to control the ever-expanding circle more to make themselves feel safe.
It comes down to how we face uncertainty. These two extremes aren’t all negative, however. There are positives to each of them. A disengaged individual is safer. The driven focused individual often gets a lot done.
Because we are complex individuals we can adopt both strategies, but for different reasons and different circumstances. We may be a hermit when it comes to work, safe predictable easy work. But overly controlling in our personal lives.
Disengagement from life can be just a way to seek more absolute control over what you do engage with, like those individuals who become obsessed with their weight, or obsessive-compulsive types seeking control by repeating a behaviour again and again.
For me, it was to retreat from social interaction because I found it stressful, so I found my control by taking fewer risks, and playing games.
The important point is you don’t stay in one of the extremes for long.
The Middle Way
‘If you know the way broadly you will see it in everything’Miyamoto Musashi
In my own life, I can see both drives, a part of me wants to hide away from the world and have more control.
The halfway between these two extremes is the strategy that seems to work best. The Middle Way is the strategy of Buddhism.
It says to live a good life we have to face uncertainty, but without trying to control everything.
The Halfway Strategy involves many ideas and practices but in short, is about letting life flow. To use a metaphor, we’re navigating an ocean, but we are not in control of it, yet we can travel successfully if we learn its ways.
It means you have to show up, but showing up is not enough. No one will reward us for showing up, but success will never happen we don’t.
‘Ships are safest in the harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.’John A. Shedd
It’s the same with ourselves. Safety is desirable but not to the exclusion of our happiness. We need some risk to make life worth living It’s a life that surrenders to how reality works and works within those limits. Not claiming we can do anything, but neither we can’t do anything.
This is the way Buddhists and Taoists see life. It’s about being a player in life, not a spectator, or a dictator. Taking part, not falling into apathy, nor the egotistical notion everything revolves around you. It’s halfway between drifting aimlessly and being a control freak.
Success and happiness are about meeting reality halfway, is in those liminal places, the place in-between that things happen, you on the rock face.
‘Fortune favours the prepared mind’Louis Pasteur
Life is not about control or passivity, but somewhere in between. Playing your part, and letting the ‘chips fall where they lay’, because the cosmos has its way of doing things.
The best life I’ve learned is to live in accord with how reality works. Not to reject it because we don’t like it, but neither to demand it has to conform to our expectations.
Letting serendipity, or luck play its part in our lives. Like a kitesurfer catching waves and wind, being on the water in that moment, ready and receptive to what turns up and using whatever does.
Life is not about us, but it is there for us. To go out and meet it, to be part of it, like Hagred says.