“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” –Mark Twain.
Okay, okay, I have three kids and a job, so of course I make plans. I need to put food on the table, coordinate soccer practices, organize family outings (well, my wife does most of this stuff), do my job (I’m a teacher, so lesson planning is a constant process). That’s good planning. You “organize” what you will do next.
But stop there. The problem with many of us is we keep going. We not only plan the event, we then go on to plan our feelings, expectations, and reactions to the event. That’s where we waste much or our mental energy. How do mystics plan? I don’t have a clue. But here’s some thoughts from a pathetic mystic…
Yes, tomorrow I’m planning to get up with my kids, go to the cleats exchange at the local park (a brilliant idea–to trade your kids soccer gear with other kids so you don’t have to buy new cleats every year), then we go to the Early Childhood Education Spring Fling with Bill the Juggler, eat pizza, then off to a friends for a barbecue. It’s a full day. It’s planned down to the minute, once you throw in my little girls nap, some quiet time for the boys, maybe dinner, a beer, and a movie on the couch with the wife. My wife and I have even made “plans” for what will happen later when the kids are in bed (yes, scheduled spontaneous love-making–because with three kids and a band (www.thefalderals.com), if you don’t plan it, it ain’t ever gonna happen).
That’s the schedule. Those plans are important.
But for many years, I didn’t stop there. I added to those plans a whole pile of extra junk which sounded a lot like this: Ugh, I have to get up with the kids. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. And the cleat exchange–how’s that going to work? Who’s in charge? It’s gonna be a nightmare and it probably won’t work and I’ll end up having to buy them new cleats, which we can’t afford. Then I have to go to the ECFE spring fling–my forth time seeing Bill the Juggler. He was good the first time. We never win the raffle prize. I wish I could go on a run or a bike ride. No time for me. All booked. Boy my wife really is trying to zap it to me. She’s volunteering, of course, so I’ve got the kids for that too. Then the picnic. Sure, it’s a friends of ours, but it’s really her friend, so who’ll be doing sidewalk chalk for two hours while she sips cosmos with her girlfriends. Me. Then I’m sure we’ll be too exhausted to “do it” later, and we haven’t “done it” in like two hundred years. My love tank is empty. I should have scheduled that retreat and gotten out of all this. I never get any time for myself on the weekend. I’m going to be so bored. Blah, blah, blah…
Those are the plans on top of the plans.
The plans on plans manifests itself often at work too. I plan a lesson and then I plan on how the kids will react to it. Well, come on, after ten years of teaching I should know that I can’t plan on their reaction.
My favorite plan is the planned argument. I’m running late or I’ve made a minor mistake (forgot to take out the trash) and all the way home from work I plan on the reaction my wife will have and then I plan my rebuttal, and back and forth, until I’ve gone through the entire argument and won it. When I finally walk through the door, my wife greets me with a kiss and nothing happens. But emotionally, I still feel as if I had the fight. My temper is charged. My blood has boiled. I’ve wasted vast resources of energy planning on something that will never happen.
Watch yourself carefully, because if you’re like me, you do this, hundreds of times a day, all day, everyday. Making plans for events that will never happen.
My best strategy for un-planning (or giving up and dying to plans) has been meditation. Typically we are always doing this kind of planning, a constant dialogue in our head, like a bad TV channel we can’t turn off. Typically, we don’t even know we are doing it. I’ll walk the whole way to work, not noticing that I’m obsessing over a meeting I’m going to have, repeating the same scene over and over, something that hasn’t happened. If I were talking out loud, people would think I’m insane. When I notice, that’s the breakthrough. I can attempt to breathe deep and stop myself. I can force my brain to take on a new topic.
Give up and die: Give up obsessive-planning of how people will feel or react to you. Die to the results of your actions. If you act in a responsible and reasonable way, a way that you believe appropriate, then die to the reaction of others. As a teacher, I’ve learned over and over that there days when I could bring in strippers throwing hundred dollar bills and my students would still growl and yell.
Obsessive mental planning pulls you out of a moment when you could be enjoying yourself and puts you into a future that probably won’t happen. How often are you wrong? Is it worth it to mentally live through arguments and insults that probably won’t happen. NO.
Give up and die. You’ll be glad you did.