Most people think life is comprised of the big decisions we make. Where to go to college. What career path to follow. What jobs to take. Who to marry. What town to live in. To have kids or not. Who we choose to be friends with. And on and on.
But what I have come to realize is that while those decisions of course have meaning, we overlook the most important decisions we make hundreds of times a day and fail to see how those decisions are what really shape our lives.
These are all elective emotional decisions we make all the time which we typically tell ourselves we have no control over. And yet, we can make decisions like whether to accept a new job, what to eat for lunch or whether to exercise or not, but we can’t exercise control over the decisions that dictate our reactions to situations we are confronted with all day long?!?
Most of us go through life this way. “I am disappointed that he acted this way.” “I am so frustrated at this person who treated me like that.” “My kid didn’t listen and so I got so angry I lost my temper.” “I can’t believe he said that to me, I got so upset by his comment.” “So and so was twenty minutes late and I got really impatient.” “This person cut me off in traffic and I got so pissed.” “I wish I had the lifestyle of this person.” “I can’t believe she got that promotion and I didn’t.” And on and on.
Desires. Expectations. Attachments. None of them are real. They are how we allow our mind, narrative and ego to exercise complete control over us.
We let our emotional reactions dictate our life conditions. These constant decisions are what really determine how we interact with our kids, spouses, family, work colleagues, friends, neighbors, etc. We surrender control to them.
When you really start to get clarity and understand this concept, you will see how your lack of control over your reactions to situations in life really are the things that determine your true state of happiness/unhappiness.
Most of our emotional reactions are tied to our ego but also our fears and self-protection. If we put expectations on other people and situations, we are doing our best to protect ourselves from getting hurt. When we react to events that unfold with things like anger, we are also sending a message to our ego that we will not surrender and we WILL BE IN CONTROL over everything. And we will fight back from these challenges to our ego.
It’s how we deflect the pain of our own sense of failures and disappointments on the outside world.
It’s what often times leads to self medication, depression, bad work experiences and broken relationships.
When I started practicing Buddhism, mindfulness, yoga and meditation, I truly began to understand how to let my thoughts drift in and out of my mental state. And how by truly disconnecting them from my actions, I would be able to live in such a state of calmness and serenity, and ultimately, a sense of complete and utter joy.
When I read books like Untethered Soul, I Can See Clearly Now and The Buddha In The Mirror, I really started to understand the concept of surrendering to life and letting it unfold without trying to force it, control it or react to it.
This concept of non-judgment and acceptance is the cornerstone of mindfulness and mediation as well. Observing life as it unfolds and accepting every single thing that is happening around you with the understanding that it’s all part of the larger Universe is the most liberating discovery I have made on my journey towards a less anxious and stressed existence.
I used to be “that” guy. The one who reacted to every situation with an emotion. That tried to control everyone and everything in my orbit. I tried to make everyone around me happy. I was disappointed when people reacted differently than the scene I had played out in my head. I was in constant need of affirmation.
And obviously as a result, I was easily disappointed and frustrated with people, and my life in general. It was never unfolding exactly as my thoughts and internal script told me it should!
Now, I simply observe. I smile at the the person who would have disappointed me in the past. I laugh at the person who cuts me off in traffic. I have compassion for others who act out in anger and I see their own suffering. But I don’t own any of it. I refuse to make it part of my own narrative.
I also see that everyone has their own journey and it’s not mine to control. That’s the ego talking. As much as we wish to place our own expectations on people, especially those we love, when we do so, we are merely forcing our own ego on them and our need to control uncontrollable situations. That’s what leads to anger, rage and resentment.
It’s why I find myself no longer in any arguments with people. When you see every situation from the lens of compassion, acceptance and love, what is there to argue about?!? And when you understand that it takes two people to argue there can be no argument if you choose not to inject your ego into the situation. And then as a result, you see people’s anger as their own and you decide to have sympathy for their struggle instead.
I know now that I have a clear, conscious choice to make in every situation. That I, alone, are in control of my thoughts. And I no longer surrender or outsource them to my ego, my fears, my insecurities. So when those situations arise, I am 100% aware that I have a decision to make. Will I let my ego react and act out to protect me or to impose my will on that situation, or will I simply observe it, acknowledge, not pass judgement on it and let it go? (Btw that is what yoga is all about.)
And those are the decisions we all make day and night that we aren’t aware of. When you do become aware and understand that indeed you have a choice to make, and you wind up actually choosing not to let your ego dictate your actions, it’s incredibly liberating. And eventually, if you practice this over and over again, you will see that in time, you won’t actually have to make any decisions going forward. You will simply go through life observing in a total state of mindfulness, and you will find that your life is so much more joyful, stress-free and, ultimately, consistently happy.