Where We Meet Ourselves

Don’t take the cheese out of the refrigerator until you’re ready to slice it. That’s my deep spiritual insight for the week.

It came about when, you guessed it, I took the cheese out of the refrigerator, thinking I’d do two quick things and then cut up some dairy goodness to take to work the next day. I have no idea what or how many things I did, but by the time I got to the cheese, it had started to wilt.

Every day I create an itinerary for each hour in my head, and every day, it doesn’t go that way. I mean every, single day.

Often around 5 p.m. I think with a tinge of confusion or surprise, wow, that didn’t go as planned. Existence consistently moves along in ways we cannot predict as we trail after saying, huh, I didn’t think it would happen that way, even though it has never once happened the way we envisioned it. It is so difficult to learn that we are not in charge.

Maybe the late Irish poet John O’Donohue was having a cheese moment when he wrote the short poem “Fluent”:

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

What freedom we’d have if we lived in openness to the surprise and unfolding of ourselves. Instead of trying to stay on a course we charted for reasons that no longer apply, we could inhabit the spaciousness that exists within and around us.

We are already flowing whether we know it or not, and the moment we are flowing through has never existed before and will never exist again. It is incomparably beautiful. It is more full of life than all of our plans. It is where we will meet ourselves and all of creation, cheese or no cheese.

What, Me Plan?

Planning is a strange thing—delusional and necessary at the same time. I recently spent a day at El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico. To quote the monument’s website, “The primeval black basalt terrain of El Malpais [which means the badlands] was created by volcanic forces over the past million years. Molten lava spread out over the high desert from dozens of eruptions to create cinder cones, shield volcanos, collapses, trenches, caves, and other eerie formations.”

Because the ground is solid rock, there’s no way to make a trail other than to mark it with cairns. As a directionally-challenged person, I felt somewhat unnerved heading out into this place where I was one cairn away from being lost. In reality, an always visible sandstone ridge indicated the direction of the road, but when I looked ahead and didn’t see the next cairn immediately, my mind started creating stories of being lost in the lava wilderness. “Unprepared hiker dies half mile from the road,” the headlines read.

The next cairn often wasn’t visible until I’d reached the one immediately preceding it. It reminded me of that E.L. Doctorow quote: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I think all of life is like this. We can plan all we want, but we usually can’t see the next cairn when we’re making the plan. The trail rarely follows the course we prescribe in advance.

But without a plan, without some sense of our eventual destination, we don’t know what direction to set out in, and we might not recognize our cairns along the way. We might even forget to look for them all together.