Accepting The Things We Cannot Change

Last week we all had spring flashes and this week it’s welcome back to winter.  As usual, our weather here in the Black Hills is an adventure.  Wherever you are when you are reading this, my guess is you could say the same for your area.  Weather is a great example of how circumstances beyond our control affect our lives.  We can worry about it or get angry with it or defy it.  But in the end there isn’t a thing we can do to change or even influence it.  We can play with our clocks and give ourselves the illusion of control, but no matter what the clock says daylight will arrive and retreat on it’s own time.

Are there other areas of our lives over which we have no control?  Of course.  We dislike admitting it, but, for the most part going out into each day is an act of faith.  We might have a daily routine or what we imagine is a well-laid plan for the day, but in reality we will be lucky if things go the way we planned.  Yup – lucky.  Everyone wants to think that it is their own genius responsible for things going their way, but ultimately there is always at least a little luck involved.  Of course, we can prepare ourselves to take the best advantage of chips falling our way.  But ultimately no one – not even the most careful and detailed planner – can predict the future.

So how can we move forward when everything is really uncertain?  We could approach each day with trepidation and fear, worrying about every possible detail in hopes that worrying will somehow make a difference in the outcome.  Unfortunately, that never works.  Can you think of a single time when worrying about some unwanted concern actually prevented it from happening?  Maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t, but either way the worrying you did in advance didn’t change anything.  All it did was stress you out.  And if what you worried about doesn’t actually occur (which is most often the case) then you stressed out needlessly.  And what about events occurring that weren’t even on your radar screen?  You didn’t even have a chance to worry yet here you are, having to deal with it anyway.  It might surprise you to see yourself somehow managing the challenge, whatever it is.  All of us can look back through our lives and find examples where that was true.  We’ve all had the experience of living through something we never would have thought we could handle.  Yet somehow we did.

Of course, I do my share of worrying, too.  And this is not to say that events shouldn’t make us angry or sad.  It also doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bother planning. But a plan is like a path through the woods.  You don’t always know where it’s going to take you. Have you ever had the experience of following a route on a map but ending up someplace completely different from what you expected?  Outcomes can be unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean that the journey wasn’t worth taking.

Life is so full of uncertainties and none of us really knows what it’s all about. In the end, though, it all comes down to learning to go with the flow.  Which for me is a practice.  Not something I’ll ever be perfect at, but something to keep striving for and working at.  Accepting the good, the bad and the ugly of whatever life hands you and doing the best you can with what you’ve got to work with at any given time.  We can’t change the past or predict the future. And as much as we’d like to imagine we can control the behavior of others, that, too, is impossible.  Most of us can barely control ourselves.  Think of all the times you’ve said something you didn’t mean to say or done something you didn’t mean to do.

As Joni Mitchell writes in the song “Woodstock”:  “I don’t know who l am, But you know life is for learning”.  Treating life as an adventure is not always easy, but it might help to remember that nothing ever stays the same.  Everything is always changing.  Remember the weather.  As Mark Twain (or whoever it was) said, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.  It will change.”  Have a “Plan B” whenever possible, but no matter what happens, being kind to yourself and all those around you is always a good plan.  Focus on the things you can control like your attitude, your own behavior, your actions and reactions.  Attend to the journey and let the outcomes be what they are.

Advertisements

Challenging Competitiveness

Photo: Peg Ryan – Mile High Pilates and Yoga

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
October 15, 2017

Custer, SD – This summer I volunteered at a couple of local running races.  Having run marathons myself, I appreciated the efforts made by volunteers when I was running and now try to help when I can.  Watching the runners I admired their fortitude.  As a former ultrarunner, I have a particular affinity for long races and often try to staff a post at which the runners passing through are either near the end of their race or at least more than half way.  Abilities vary but all have one thing in common – the desire to compete.   Some are competing to be the first to finish.  Others choose their competition based on pace.  Many races have awards in age-group categories in addition to overall winners providing another level of competition.  In ultrarunning, the distance itself is a worthy adversary and challenging terrain can further add to the intensity.  Some people compete with themselves, trying to better a previous mark or reach a goal they’ve established.

Competition can be a great motivator.  It is part of our lives from earliest memory.  The games we play as children are based on competition.  We learn at a the start of our lives that there are winners and losers.  Winning is celebrated and rewarded.  There is competition for toys in the sandbox and swings on the playground.  Everyone wants to be first and best.  This can be a good thing when it encourages one to strive for greater heights.  But many of us also remember the experience in gym class of being the last to be picked on a team or struggling to complete tasks that others found easy.  This might prompt us to begin labelling ourselves as capable or incompetent.  The internal dialogue of not being good enough begins when we’re young and may continue throughout our lives.  Instead of being a motivator, competition becomes an inhibitor.

We live in a society where competition is pervasive.  Even when we don’t realize it we measure ourselves against others.  It is a double-edged sword.  Seeing someone else do something really well might be a source of inspiration or it might convince you that it’s not worth trying because you’ll never be as good as them.  The effects of competition can be insidious.  It is present whenever we compare ourselves to others or worry about what someone else thinks of us.  We all want to be viewed as winners and it hurts when we think we’ve been bested by another.

As with everything, though, there are many ways of viewing competition.  It’s all about perception.  The terms “winning” and “losing” are arbitrary labels meaning different things to different people.  Furthermore, like everything else in our lives, they are temporary.  Can any of you name a sports star of the past who kept winning forever?  Sure they had wins that will always be in the “win” column.  But eventually they had to cede the top slot to someone else.  That may not mean that competition stops for them.  But it probably means  that the competitive standards change

It won’t come as news to anyone reading this that our abilities change as we get older.  This can work both ways, though.  Your skills might decline in some ways.  For example, during my volunteer stints I heard some older racers lamenting the fact that they weren’t as fast as they used to be.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but just because it’s obvious doesn’t make it any easier to accept.  Still no one can go back; we all have to keep moving forward.  How to move forward is a matter of choice.  One choice is to change the competitive parameters.  Instead of competing with your former self and lamenting your inability to do so, perhaps you can move the target.  Back away from former goals and set new ones that more realistically reflect your current status.  Just finishing can be considered a “win”.  Being good at something is in the eye of the beholder.  Be your own cheerleader!  You determine what it means to win.

Those of you who follow this blog know that accepting change is a recurring theme.  Attitudes toward competition fall into this same category.  For me it is helpful to remember that doing something is better than doing nothing.  This is even reflected in my practice of yoga and Pilates.  There are moves and poses I used to do that no longer work for me for one reason or another.  It is worth more to me to continue enjoying the movement I can do rather than force myself into certain positions just because others are doing them.  Injury might mean stopping altogether, so being mindful about how I move and what I choose to do makes sense to me.  Still this doesn’t mean I no longer try new things or challenge myself.  But it does mean that I avoid being influenced by what others are doing or thinking.  The competitive parameters I set for myself now are subject to change on a daily basis and that’s fine with me.  Nothing is fixed.  Everything is fluid.  Some days are better than others.  But there is something to celebrate in every day.  And that in itself is a “win”.