People love to make plans. It is human nature to want to know where we are going. The psychologist Fitzurgh Dodson echoed many other writers when he said, ‘Without goals and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.’
But look back over the course of your life. Did you plan to be where you are now? For most of us, life hasn’t turned out the way we imagined. Although we like to think we are in control, we are very, very bad at predicting the future, and things rarely work out the way we expect. My own life is so utterly different from what I had envisioned that I have long since abandoned any notion that I can control or predict the future.
But this is what makes life worth living. The adventure of discovery, not knowing what waits around the next corner. Being willing to let go and ‘sail with the wind’ is the only sensible approach to life. Some of the most useful things have come about accidentally – penicillin, X-rays, brandy, to name but a few. None of these things would have been developed if people had refused to follow a new and unanticipated direction. Indeed, creativity usually requires a willingness to be open to novelty and innovation. If life is like a long walk in the countryside, detours can be the most fruitful and interesting parts of the journey.
It can be hard to let go and accept life as it unfolds. Often, we are afraid. Before we turn a new corner, all kinds of frightening images can crowd into our head. And yet when we steal ourselves, turn the corner and face those fears, we usually find nothing substantial. Indeed, we often find treasure where we thought a monster was lurking.
We all have a natural tendency to resist anything that makes us feel we are not in control. I am myself involved in the management of change, and if there’s one thing I can say about change, it’s that it is almost always difficult. People don’t like it, they feel uncomfortable about it and they complain about it. But growth and development only happen when we accept change. A life lived to the full is one of constant change – vibrant, growing, always ready for and even reaching out to new experiences, open to the transformations they can bring.
A Taoist analogy of the best way to approach life is the bamboo stalk – supple and ready to bend low in the wind, taking on the storm by accommodating to it, never resisting. If the storm is coming, then it is coming – you cannot stop it, but you can work with it.
What’s around the next corner? Who can say? When we let go, accept life’s twists and turns without seeking to control it, when we embrace change and face the fears that haunt us, we can find that wonderful new experiences open up. This is how we grow. This is how we learn. This is why we are here.