Here’s a scenario that’s all too common in my life:
I think of a situation and am unhappy with it because something–let’s call it x–is missing. The thought occurs to me that if only x were true, then I would be happy or things would be easier or life would run more smoothly. But x is not true. Instead, y is true. As a result, I am thinking about and hankering after a situation in which x is present, and I am consequently discontented, not at peace, and suffering.
Do you ever do that? I imagine most of us do. It’s so futile, though, that putting it in plain terms like I just did makes me feel a bit ridiculous.
We waste our energies longing for something that doesn’t exist, and so we don’t actually resolve the situations under our noses. We think it is impossible to do so because that certain element that is so “necessary” is absent. Life then becomes a matter of discontented endurance, during which we kick at our circumstances and make ourselves feel worse.
But the funny thing is that all the time we can fix it.
If only we would look at the materials we have, if only we would say, “X doesn’t exist, but y does. What can I do with y?” then we would actually get someplace. I’m determined to weed this problem out of my life, so I have decided to implement the following process:
1. Catch myself doing it.
This is, as they say, half the battle. If we recognize that the problem exists, we can fix it. If we don’t realize that we are causing ourselves to be unhappy, we can’t. Enough said.
2. Resign myself to the absence of x.
The first step toward remedying whatever the situation is, is making ourselves accept that “if only” is not true. No amount of wishing will make it true, and no measure of energy expended in vociferating against life will go an inch toward resolving the issue.
3. Look at the situation as it is in reality.
Having resigned ourselves to the absence of x, we must also accept the presence of y and z. We must detach ourselves from our wishful thinking and see what we have to work with. And here it is so important to be practical. We need to look not only at what is real in the situation itself, but also at what is real in us. If we don’t do this, we won’t be able to take the next step without setting ourselves up for failure.
4. With this reality in mind, ask myself, “What can I do right now?”
And so we come up with a plan based on what is actually true. We learn to work with what exists, with our own limitations and those of the situation, to figure out some kind of solution.
5. Put my plan into practice.
No plan would make a difference, of course, if we didn’t execute it. And we must be realistic about executing it. Our plan might fail, and we have to be so careful not to go back to longing for x or to begin desiring a new x. Every time we fail, we must use that failure to learn something new about the situation and then form a new plan based on that. And if we repeat these steps often enough, we will eventually get to where we want to be.
The process may sound obvious, but it helps to spell everything out. And though it may seem difficult to do (I know it does to me), it will bring with it so much contentment and peace. Even though I am not there yet, I know it will.
Because we will be living in reality and not longing for the other side of the fence.