Sometimes your life seems to be a roller coaster. Up and down it goes, seemingly at random, bringing you good and bad times. One minute everything seems to be going your way, and the next things are going against you. If you didn’t know any better, you would think someone was pulling the strings of your life, bringing you triumph and disaster in different measures. Sometimes you seem to have no control, and it is as though you hit storms, or have sunny days, when the weather determines, not when you decide.
But looking a little closer, it may be that there are some unexpected patterns. This is an exploration of a few of the patterns that may be making triumphs and disasters in our lives, without us really realising.
When you get tired, you dramatically increase the chance of accidents happening. And sometimes disasters are co-incidences of accidents. So, if you’re exhausted, you might drop a cup on the floor (because your hand isn’t gripping as firmly as usual), and then reach down to pick it up, and tip over (because you don’t have the usual conditioning in your leg and back muscles), bang your head (because you didn’t have time to position yourself more auspiciously), and end up in hospital. When talking to friends, you may describe this as a completely unforseen accident. But there are at least three parts to the event which result from getting tired, and/or not allowing yourself enough time.
When you blame others, you dramatically reduce your opportunities for learning. In fact, the definition of learning is the ability to modify your own knowledge-patterns, or behaviour, in the light of your experience. So if you are obsessed with getting others to modify their own behaviour, instead of focusing on your own opportunities for learning, then you become learning-disabled, and disasters will more readily arrive in your life.
Anger is a huge part of blaming others. If you find yourself blaming others, usually this will be accompanied by anger. Anger increases the pressure on your cardiovascular system, reduces your perceptual flexibility (you often get very blinkered and narrowly-focused, and can’t see the big picture). It also makes you obsessed with your own self-protective perspective, and makes you very defensive. You cease to be able to see the all-round view, and you tend to become isolated, because others will avoid you. Without knowing it, you are sending out distress signals that say ‘keep away’, like a barking dog. You will find yourself more alone.
When you are eventually alone, you may describe this as a terrible thing life has done to you. But, in fact, you may have encouraged this to happen by indulging in a pattern of behaviour that consistently involves blaming others.
When you delay things until the last minute, you are inviting misfortune. The more parts of an activity that you leave to the end, the more you are relying on nothing going wrong. You need a perfect path at the end, or failure will result. If, however, you prepare things long in advance, then you have already created most of the conditions of success, and success (or what you might call a fortunate outcome) is much more likely.
Procrastination is a risky strategy. It has some advantages, such as increasing creativity, and leaving options on the table. But the failure to decide and act generally builds up future problems, and eventually whatever you are delaying will come and ‘bite you on the bum’ when you least expect it.
When you eventually crash into your deadline, you will swear that a misfortune has occurred. But in fact, you may have brought this on by waiting and waiting, until disaster was quite likely.
IT’S HUMAN NATURE
Before you get too depressed at our usual habits, it’s worth taking a look at why these causes of disaster are so common.
Tiredness, blaming others and procrastination are all natural in terms of our evolved, biological selves. Just look at cats. Firstly, they spend much of the day lying around; but we humans, addicted to power, have decided to try to act differently, and ignore our need for rest and restoration. Secondly, in terms of blame: try stroking a cat on its stomach. It’s self-protective urge is so strong, that it is likely to scratch or bite you quite quickly, blaming you for interrupting its comfort. And thirdly, re procrastination: if you try telling a cat to get a move on, it will stare at you and move at its own pace, unless physically pushed.
As humans, we are subject to the same urges. But we also have a super-skill, if we choose to use it. We have an ability to conceptualise these things in a way that animals cannot, and respond differently. Animals are stuck living at their natural pace, getting angry when that natural pace is interrupted. As humans, we have the ability to look again, and learn to modify our behaviour, adapting it to the circumstances.
WHAT WE CAN DO DIFFERENTLY
To avoid the above causes of disaster, perhaps we can take time to do the following:
Allow plenty of time for your mind and body to flow at their optimal state. This is an area where we should observe nature and learn from it. We have taken ourselves our of nature’s long-standing cycles, and think we own the world in a different way. We rush around obeying clocks and meeting schedules, ignoring the fact that we are built on natural rhythms.
Treat your day as caused by you, not by others or circumstances. From the moment you wake up, take personal responsibility for ensuring that you think and act wisely. Avoid blaming others – this is a disease that will take you back to your animal self in a bad way, and cause fights. Instead, lead yourself, not others. Imagine that every time you blame others you are trying to put a dog-lead on them. They won’t like it. Instead, put your dog-lead away and act freely, setting an example to others. Negotiate by all means. But don’t impose on, or coerce, others unless absolutely necessary.
Instead of delaying until the last minute, take time to plan. See what you have coming up, conceptualise it, and try to clear the way for an easy path. Of course there will be unexpected things cropping up all the time. But at least you are doing your best to prepare yourself for what is coming.
Watch your own suffering, and the suffering around you, and in the world.
Notice where you and others are trying to do things without adequate self-care, rest and recovery. Resolve to be better at looking after yourself and others.
Notice where you are spending time complaining about or blaming others. Resolve to be better about putting your own self in order first. There is plenty to do there.
Notice where you are leaving things undecided and incomplete until the last minute. Resolve to be better at planning, and clearing the way for an easy path.
Self-care, personal responsibility and planning.
We often blame the world for bringing us disaster. But we (not always but often) contribute to problems by getting tired, blaming others, and failing to plan. We should not be too hard on ourselves about this; after all, we are evolved from animals which live on natural rhythms, are quite temperamental, and don’t really plan consciously. However, if we want to, we can teach ourselves the art of self-care, the virtue of taking personal responsibility, and the skill and foresight to plan ahead.