Feb2020: How Life Should Be vs. How Life Could Be

by Brad on January 31, 2020

“I’m not asking you to believe anything, but you’re going to find this day a lot easier if you simply accept what is, instead of trying to fit it into your preconceived notions.” – from “The Shack”

“No, thank you, I don’t want to.“ A clear statement, it would seem. So we’re done, right? Perhaps … but hold on. You don’t like that I don’t want to; you think I should want to; you think I should say yes even when I don’t want to. Now it’s my fault that I don’t want to. Argument often follows – directed at me, of course, when the true problem is your unwillingness to accept what is so. I simply said, “no thank you.” Does this sound familiar? Curiously, unwillingness to accept “what is” runs deep in our lives – in relationships, in businesses and in our institutions – so deep in fact that we often outright deny the truth in front of us just to uphold our opinions. Our unwillingness obviously causes upset, but less obviously causes us to miss out on huge potential in life, too. While we hang on to a preconceived notion of what should be, we miss altogether the possibility of what could be. And given the dissatisfaction and stress so prevalent in our world today, it certainly seems we could use some new possibility!

How did all this come to be? Most of us grew up influenced by western society, which means our early lessons emphasized how life should be over how life really is. (You should be nice to others, should do well in school, should get a good job, should work hard, should stay busy, should earn lots of money, shouldn’t rock the boat, etc.) This leaves us believing there must be something wrong with “the way it is” (and with us, too). No matter what we’re doing, we believe we should be doing something different – something more, nicer, useful, busier, productive, etc. Of course we then believe our work in life must be to: (1) want something (if you don’t want something, you’re lazy, right?), (2) control how it turns out (you should be in charge), (3) expect things to go our way. We’re clueless this way of seeing is of our own creation, so when we struggle (and with these beliefs, we will), we tend to blame life (others, ourselves) for our stress, having learned that life’s answers live “out there,” in the external world. Of course this blinds us to new choices and to taking personal responsibility for change.

What’s the path beyond? The ideas noted above are often so ingrained that we can’t imagine an alternative, but I want to do just that. What if we had instead learned to greet every interaction, with life, others, even ourselves, with both understanding and acceptance of what is true, right now? (Accepting what is doesn’t mean liking what is; it means seeing/acknowledging, without attachment/judgment. “OK, that just happened.”) What if we had learned that our greatest potential lies not in wanting, controlling and expecting, but in curiosity, imagination and creative genius? First, we’d see more clearly, as things truly are (our opinions can come later). Second, with nothing “wrong,” stress would fade away. Third, with no “should” to constrain possibility and send us into “control outcomes” mode, we’d be free to both see andstep into the possibility that has always been in front of us, creating what could be instead. In short, we could honor what we put into life, not just what we get out of life.

What now? Infinite possibility greets us everywhere. If we want to go there, we first need to see it (we can’t do that when lost in programmed thoughts of old lessons). We’re then free to choose a new path. These are issues of consciousness. We’re being asked to shift our perspective, not fight harder with what life dumps on our plates.

When we see our part in creating life as we know it, we reclaim our power to choose what could be instead of bitching about what should be. When we see our preconceived notion of “should” as the false promise it is, we release its icy grasp. When we see that our power to create what could be has always been inside us, we become energized by its potential. When we see that blaming others (or life) offers only a false sense of comfort, we become intrigued with what’s real and true … despite its discomfort. When we see our attachment to “should” as pure illusion (an artifact of the mind), we begin to look inside ourselves for more reliable clues. And as we do, we re-kindle our own self-trust – a sense of knowing that our innate potential will fuel us, and that our inner guidance system will light our way. (Too bad we gave these away years ago in order to accept society’s lessons.) Choosing to create what could be is a simple product of growing conscious awareness. And that is a simple (yet powerful) product of the practice of noticing – noticing the thinking that has, until now, kept you from it.

Exercise: If the dilemma presented in this month’s article opens you to a new path, here’s a practice you might take on as a way to help release old “should” lessons, and rekindle the infinite potential of life’s “coulds.” The idea is simply to contemplate why and how you do what you do today, discovering where the programmed thoughts of “should” actually came from. (If you need clues to finding those thoughts, look at each time you say “I can’t help it.” Yes, you can.) When you stop, look and listen to your thinking, as an observer in what’s happening instead of as a participant in what’s happening, you see with less attachment, releasing your need for a specific outcome, releasing your need to control outcomes, releasing your belief that you can or should control those outcomes. Contemplation allows you to notice, and thereby quiet, the thinking mind. Seeing your “story” without judgment expands and clarifies your thinking. Clear thinking leads to new choices, choices unavailable to you beforehand when your mind was clouded with outdated and constraining lessons. As is true with sports or with any new undertaking, it takes practice.

The practice: Stop what you’re doing a few times a day. In a few moments of quiet reflection, replay events or conversations from your day. Include some you may have had with yourself. Reflecting purposefully on what has already happened, you see your “should” lessons more clearly. This allows you to release them, without “trying.” As you develop this awareness capability “offline” (in practice sessions designed to grow that awareness), you’ll find yourself soon able to notice all this “online” (as it’s happening.) One of the reasons you can’t just start noticing “on the fly” is that among your programmed thoughts is one that tells you to not stop and look, because you’ve “got more important things you should be doing.” Offline practice interrupts that thought framework long enough for to you catch it in the act. Eventually, as you practice regularly, you’ll notice that you have traded the “I should do this, now” story for the more freeing, constructive and productive story:  “I wonder what is possible, now. Wow, I could ….”


Life lessons from nature: Nature lives for what could be. For her, it’s easy. Not prone to disillusionment, denial or deception, she just continues to create – even in the midst of chaos. As a matter of fact, she even trusts that it’s her essence, or purpose – to create, and to create order out of chaos. There’s no such thing as “should,” and even “what is” true in this very moment is already “done,” just a starting point for what comes next. Everything in front of her is possibility – pure potential. The strategy (with over 4 billion years experience): try stuff out; keep what works; let the rest go; repeat. It’s curious, but when we experience time in nature, we marvel at her creations, clueless perhaps that her strategy might offer us the same peace we find in her presence.


My book: Living Authentically … in a World That Would Rather You Didn’t. Its premise is simple: in the midst of a world that has lost its way, you need never lose your own. Get to know, then honor, your unique truth; the self-trust that emerges will light your way forever. Insights, perspectives, personal reflections and exercises … so you can make your life your own, not someone else’s. All you need to know here – intro, samples, purchase link – for you or as a gift.


Coaching programs: I appreciate the interest many of you have expressed in a personal coaching program to explore living authentically with greater depth and meaning. If you would like support for the journey and are committed to your own authentic path, give me a call or send me an email, and together we’ll create a program just for you. Just imagine living authentically … in a world that would rather you didn’t.


Book of the Month: Still Here, by Ram Dass. All his work is filled with insight – about life, about being human, about living authentically. This is his “story of self,” a reflective piece on his own life and on what mattered – to him.  What more fitting antidote to the pervasive trappings of our world than a perspective on what will matter most – when the rest fades way.  And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.


Download February 2020 pdf

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