“I can’t make any commitment rights now because my life is a mess. I’m not really sure what I’m going to do in the future.”
…isn’t that the truth? Aren’t our lives ALWAYS a mess and we are ALWAYS unsure of what is going to happen in the future? I always thought that the closer I got to my 30’s, the more stable my life would become, and the more I would mellow out. But, now that I’m close to 30, and as I talk to people who are in their 30’s, is still seems like everyone is always still trying to figure the future out. Everyone is always still stuck in a limbo of job situations–am I going to change jobs or not? Will I get a promotion or not? Do I want to change my title or not? No one ever really knows where they are going to live. Should we buy a house that is our forever home or should we find a fixer upper? Will we live in this town until we retire or will we have to move? Do I like the color of this paint or will I want to change it sometime?
When I think in retrospect about my life, nothing has ever stayed the same. Friends come and go, jobs come and go, interests come and go. While I may think something is forever and static and will never change, some unexpected obstacle or life change occurs, and I’m forced to also change the trajectory that I think my life is following. This is because everything is temporary–nothing ever stays the same.
This is good news for times of suffering. When I’m out on my runs, and I’m stranded 5 miles in, and I know that I still have to go the 5 miles to come back in, I just remind myself that this suffering is temporary; that in the 60 minutes it will take me to run those 5 miles, my suffering will be over, and I’ll be onto new things. When I know I have to have a tough conversation with someone, or that I have to attend a potentially contentious meeting, I remind myself that suffering is temporary–that soon, it will be over, the conversation will be had, the conflict revealed, and I’ll be onto something new. When a loved one is away on a trip, and I know I won’t be able to speak to him/her for many days, I remind myself that suffering is all temporary–that if I can only get myself to the day that he/she returns, we will once again be reunited, and I will no longer be in a period of waiting and agony and longing and suffering–that all of these moments do have a stopping point–a timeline–to them, and that the suffering really is only temporary–it will not last forever.
And, this happens in times of not suffering as well. Vacations are temporary–we enjoy our time off for only so long until we have to go back into the working world. Wedding, festivities, and celebrations are temporary–we enjoy the food and the dancing and the company for a short period of time. Receiving an award for our hard work and accomplishments is temporary–when the new year rolls around, likely someone else is given the recognition, and we go into the ‘alumni’ or ‘previous winner’ pile. While suffering is temporary, not suffering is also temporary.
Of course, there exists a tension between looking at our temporary states and planning for long term goals. The question of, “where do you see yourself in 10 years from now” is still relevant, because we must set long term goals and projections for ourselves, because these goals and projections allow us to better ourselves, to make meaning of our lives, to reach for something greater. When I am 18 and entering into college, it is important for me to set goals for the next stage so that I am diligent in my work and that I build my resume and explore opportunities for my next stage. When I am graduated and working, it is important for me to set new goals for myself, so that I allow myself flexibility, so that I enhance my skill set, so that I continue to make myself smarter, more knowledgeable, more useful. When I’m setting lifestyle goals for myself, it is important that I am mindful about my health and nutrition so that I eat the right amount, exercise the right amount, meditate and sleep the right amount. All of these long terms goals give me something to strive and to reach for.
When we look at things as long term (rather than temporary), we anticipate different attachments. When I think about my relationships as being forever, and then something happens to disrupt those relationships (someone moves away, someone says something that offends us, we simply just grow apart), we sometimes have a difficult time grieving the loss of those friendships. When we see our jobs are continuous, and then something throws those off track (we are asked to take a new position, our company moves to a different state, we don’t have that job anymore), we sometimes see ‘all the hard work and dedication we put into that job’ as meaningless and a waste of time. When see our daily routines as necessary, and something interrupts those (our dog runs away, something breaks, inclement weather closes the gym), we sometimes feel a sense of anxiety and panic–as if this interference will forever disrupt our patterns, and our destiny has forever been thrown off track. When we see our lives as static, unchanging, not temporary, and something happens to change that nature, we may feel a sense of devastation, of panic, of uncontrollableness.
As a Type A personality, a person who likes to control everything, trying to embrace this temporary nature of life is definitely not natural, but in many ways, it is also freeing. Since things don’t have to stay the same, it means that when they do change, it is an opportunity for something new (rather than a loss of what once was). It means that I can alter and shift my goals as I go–that I am allowed to pick up new experiences–that I can belong to one gym and then someday, quit and try something else and I have lost nothing, that I can choose to pick up a painting class and then try rock climbing instead, that I can dabble into different lifestyles, and that I am not required to stay if it doesn’t fit me, or if I get bored of it, or feel like I have mastered the skill. And, accepting life as temporary means I can endure those moments of suffering, because they will soon be over.
When I think about things being temporary–the fatigue in my legs, the anxiety in my chest, the longing in my heart–I can get through them, because I know it will soon go away, and I will be onto to something else, and I likely will have forgotten all of what was once that suffering. When the weather starts to change–it is either miserably hot or miserably cold–I remind myself that, too, will change, and soon, I will be asking for the opposite. When I get a bad hair cut, I remind myself that my hair will eventually grow into itself, it will soon be time for another haircut, and this awkwardness is also temporary. When I sleep poorly and I wake up tired, and tell myself it will only be a few hours until I can slumber again–this miserable tiredness I feel is not forever. When I catch a cold and suffer through a few days of work, sniffling, I remind myself that this, too, shall pass, and that I will not always feel this way. When I make a mistake, and feel that deep sense of guilt and awfulness, I remind myself that feeling, too, will go away–it is temporary.
Because everything life is just temporary.