Plan to be surprised

Sometimes things don’t go quite like you anticipated them.

Watched a movie the other evening in which the main character has a chance encounter in a bookstore opening up for him a chance of love and a new direction in life. At the end of the movie this line came up: “So instead of asking young people, what do you plan to do with your life? Maybe we should tell them this: plan to be surprised”. It is probably better to cultivate the capacity to be surprised by life rather than think we can control it. Certainly I could never have anticipated the turns in my life which have led me to this day, or encounters which have happened along the way. You just do not what may lie around the corner, and often the things you find yourself hoping for, do not work out.

Despite this happening so often, however, we still find ourselves planning and hoping. It is almost too difficult to not seek things which we perceive at the time to be good for us. It is hard to distinguish the things which lead to genuine happiness or the things we should continue to fight for. And so all of us get disappointed once in a while? We live in an imperfect world and bad things happen. And despite our practice and our life experience, it still can take a lot of energy to cope.

Our practice can help. There are some types of disappointment which come from us leaning too far into the future, imagining a certain development which never really had the potential to emerge. Developing the capacity to live in the present is a counter-balalnce to that. Another thing which can give hope is the understanding that we are just seeing part of the picture. The end of the story is not written yet. We try to stick simply to the feeling of disappointment without adding a fully ended story.

All the major wisdom traditions state that growth can come from working with pain and disappointment. It can help us develop compassion for others, patience with ourselves and, most of all, wisdom about the fragility, unpredictability and mystery of this life. Keeping an ability to be surprised leads to openness to this mystery and lets us receive growth from places where we probably would not go freely.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.

Woody Allen

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