There once was a time when we came into this life and we pretty much knew where life would take us. We usually lived our lives in the same town where we were born surrounded by the same friends and families we grew up with. Most of the time we had one career, and unless there were unforeseen circumstances, we retired from that job after many years of service with a nice pension and a gold watch or equivalent. Life was predictable, and there was a certain safety and security in this. Life was like going down a train track, station after station. We knew exactly what was coming next and what to expect at each station or stage of our lives.
These days life is more like a kayak. There are no absolute certainties but untold nooks and crannies to investigate. One must be able to float along with the current and change direction quickly if necessary without sinking. We need to be able to move out of harm’s way at a moment’s notice.
We are a mobile society nowadays, and few people live in the same town they grew up in. People relocate many times in their lives either due to job transfers or other interests. The U.S. Dept. of Labor studies show that people between the ages of 18 and 38 change jobs on an average of 10 times. This is not the old career track of days gone by. Very often there is not the opportunity to stay at the same job for 40 or 50 years until retirement. In this fast-paced world, job changes due to merging, downsizing, and reinvention are the rule rather than the exception. You have to be fluid, able to adjust quickly, and enjoy diversity to succeed in this climate. Very often, people have not one career but end up being trained in many different areas to give themselves an edge in the market. Everything is changing so rapidly that the computers, televisions, cell phones, cars, and cameras may be obsolete soon after you buy them.
A good rule of thumb for surviving in an evolving society like ours is to make plans, have savings but learn to go with the flow and not be attached to the outcome. By practicing being in the present moment and non-attachment, we free ourselves from needless pain. In 1988 while speaking at Harvard, the Dalai Lama said, “Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.” In today’s world of change, many things seem to be impermanent. By practicing non-attachment, we help to relieve ourselves of unnecessary discomfort.
I have seen many people devastated by the loss of a job after being laid off, only to find a year or so later that it was the best thing that could have happened to them. It caused them to change their lives in ways that would not have been possible in the old situation. With all the storms and flooding, many people have had to be relocated from their original homes, and many found themselves in much better living conditions after being relocated. The loss of a job, the loss of a home, or the loss of a spouse or dear friends seems devastating at the time, but if we can realize that all things change eventually and we are open to what the new circumstance might offer us, we can open ourselves up to a happier future.
Since we are here in the present moment, we cannot see what the future has in store for us, so we have to trust that everything happens for a reason and release the past and be willing to live for a time empty until the new situation unfolds for us. Being in the present moment, unattached to any outcome, is one of the best roads to peace I know. Someone told me that if you want to stay in the present moment, just make sure your mind stays with your body. Your body is not in the past where there may be regrets and it’s not in the future where there may be fear. It’s breathing and living right here and now.
If we can go with the flow and kayak our way through life, we can paddle our own vehicles and have the freedom to change direction and investigate interesting pathways. If we turn over, we’ll be able to bounce right back up. Kayaking is not like riding a train. It requires being in the present moment and going with the flow.