Welcome to Your Life: how life changes us
I’ve been learning a lot in the past several years. I have delved more deeply than ever into the areas of philosophy, psychology and religion in ways that have been more than stimulating. Much of my exploration has been to try and make sense of my own struggles and those of my clients, but it has also become about the very act of exploration, which I find to be my craft.
Now that I have said that, what I want to write about today is how none of that has taught me as much as life itself. Life teaches profound truths for each person.
We can often attempt to put other people, Gods, or theories in the place of what life itself teaches. For instance, those of us who are parents can often get caught up in thinking we are the main and biggest influence on our children. We are pretty important, but life itself will have an influence on them as well and we can do nothing about it. People have different concepts of a Higher Power and sometimes those concepts can get in the way of what life itself is trying to teach. Maybe God or some power is trying to teach through life but you are stuck on a conceptual understanding of what or how God is teaching. Or we can hold very tightly to our favorite philosophy or theory about human life in ways that keep us from learning from life as it is – as it is being lived by us.
I have fallen prey to all three of those areas. And I see others doing the same.
We can often go searching for answers as though they can be inserted into our lives like a new part for a broken engine. We can often treat the human brain/body/psyche this way, as though it were a machine. We look for all sorts of psychological, philosophical and scientific answers that will hopefully change things in very quick and fundamental ways as though we had a lobotomy – something that forever changes us firmly and strictly. I want this. I have always wanted this. But it never comes. I refuse, as do many others, to accept life on life’s terms. To listen to life.
Nothing will assuage us from confronting life. But what is this ‘life’ I speak of? What do I mean?
Life is the personal experience of our current circumstances as they are happening. We can wiggle and squirm all we want but our lives are right in front of us. Life is changing, unpredictable and uncertain. We are always living with the reality that we will die and that we have not yet fully realized our potential. Life brings us tragedy and heartbreak that feels unfair. Life brings us happiness and love without us doing anything to get it. Sometimes it just happens. Life happens, it really does.
I don’t believe we are just determined completely and that we must sit back and take it. It is the opposite. It is how we interact and engage with it. It is how we respond. It is how we get in the game. We can’t control the whole game but we can play and have influence. There is so much we have little control over. There are so many patterns that feel like suffering that ask something of us. Our patterns and our struggles can be met with anecdotal insight from our favorite theories and religions, but will not even come close to how your current life is changing you.
Life is also translated here as your life. All the ways in which you see the world and think about the world and feel within the world, are at stake all the time. We are always in our lives. We have perceptions and assumptions and beliefs that often go unchallenged. But at some point, some of those pre-reflected-on patterns of thought and being will come into contact with life in a way that no longer produces effectiveness. We hit a wall. Life comes to us on its terms. Our lives, our worlds, break down in some way, showing us that something isn’t flowing right. The hose gets kinked and unkinking it isn’t as simple as it used to be, or old strategies just don’t work for this very kink.
Life teaches us many important things, like patience, humility, happiness, courage, honesty, perseverance, resolve and anything of value really. We cannot just go after these and acquire them like new tires for a car. Showing up to life and listening, truly listening, helps to produce these virtues. You can still believe a God is behind that or you can believe nothing is. You can still break down all those patterns psychologically or philosophically, analyzing and solving the puzzle with explanatory language. But all of that is still separate from the actual change that occurs from the actual experience of living your life and running into obstacles and challenges and even successes. Even a person’s religious beliefs tend to change over time because life has showed up. As a therapist, I have been forced to challenge my own understandings of change because this client’s life is showing up differently.
Life requires us to be open. Life requires us to see. Life, requires us to submit to the reality of our lives. This is when we change – but not until after some good teeth gnashing.
Welcome to your life.