The happenings that remind us of the uncertainty of life are usually big and often unwelcome. I had the good fortune to experience a simple one over the past couple of weeks—being on call for jury duty for a court that was three hours away.
I had to check in one day to see whether I needed to serve the next, but if I was called, I would be sleeping in a hotel that night and possibly for the rest of the week. All the activities on my calendar would be cancelled, and no work would get done.
My approach the first week was to not plan or prepare. I didn’t buy groceries because I might not be home to eat them. I neither made new plans with friends nor cancelled existing ones.
The second week I made tiny plans, such as if I’m called, I’ll try to get together with friends in L.A.; if not, I’ll cook a pot of beans. And then for perhaps the first time in my life, I held the outcome lightly. I didn’t expect either the visit or the beans to happen, didn’t develop a preference for staying home or traveling to L.A.
A friend often recommends holding whatever we’re aiming toward lightly, but until last week I had no understanding of how to put that idea into practice. In losing my ability to pretend I knew what the next day would hold, I could see that my knowing was an illusion to begin with.
Every day our lives could be profoundly different when we wake up in the morning, but we live as if we know exactly what we’re going to do the next day. To some extent, this is necessary. We need to buy groceries after all, but there’s an openness that comes with remaining conscious of the uncertain nature of our existence.
It reminds me of how one would hold a small, injured bird—gently, with an open hand so as not to hurt or scare it. You might take the bird home and put it in a box. Perhaps it will recover, perhaps it will die. Or, as you’re carrying it, it might shake itself and fly right out of your hand, surprising you both.
4 thoughts on “Hold It Lightly”
You could have stayed with us!
Yeah. Great frame of reference for not having one. I like. That happened to me once, with a hummingbird. But I didn’t think of it in these terms. Yay for new ways to think. Or not think. Thank you. Bless.
I think the craving for security that people harbor in the face of a world that is not configured to grant it, is what the buddhists refer to when they speak of greed. (As in the buddhist diagnosis of the roots of suffering: greed – hatred – delusion). This craving has an addictive character to it; as in, one can never really have enough security; and the more one has, the more one becomes focused on the sense that it is not sufficient.
This human condition, situated as it is within an unpredictable and capricious world, is a recipe for real suffering. Reality will simply not relent. I think the best we can do is to investigate it carefully in order get a clearer sense of where we stand within it. And to see what wisdom can be gleaned from doing so.
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