On Having the Courage to Trust the Universe will Provide
Ethel Merman, Scandals (1931) – lyrics Lew Brown, music Ray Henderson.
For speaker, coach and entrepreneur Colin Hiles 2003 and turning 40 didn’t mark the start of an existential crisis, but it did mark the start of what Colin describes as “an internal creeping crisis that had grown over time.” And although Colin was very happy with his family, friends, career and income he became aware of “a gnawing sense that something was missing.”
The successful business he’d created went from being a vehicule for doing what he was passionate about (helping individuals tap unrealised potential and make a difference in their lives) to something that made him feel lost, dissatisfied and drained.
Determining that what was required was to slow down, he made a lifeshift and went off grid on the Spanish island of Fuerteventura with his wife and 2 small sons. It was during this year that he had a dream in which he was sitting in a restaurant. Over one shoulder he overheard a fellow diner say “life is”. Moments later, another said “a restaurant”.
“Life is a restaurant” became the metaphor by which he now lives his life. Tanned, smiling, relaxed and looking like a man at least 10 years younger, he ended our Skype call when his son arrived home from school to go surfing. Where is this restaurant and how do I book a table?!
When we go to a restaurant we choose something from the menu. We know what we want, we order, we sit back and wait for the kitchen to create our meal. We trust that the chef knows what’s he’s doing. We don’t barge our way in to check that he’s cooking our meal the way we like it. And if the waiter brings us salad when we ordered steak? Well then we have a choice. We might send it back. We might eat the salad, grumbling silently and vowing never to return. Or we might recognise that actually, a salad is precisely what we need right now.
Knowing what we want, we trust that the universe will provide it. The how doesn’t matter, it’s important to trust that our wants will be met in a form that we can’t necessarily imagine now, but we have to be intentional about our wants.
However, knowing what we truly want is easier that it sounds. A lot of us have no clue what we want, often unwittingly following a path established for us in childhood (I did tell you my Dad was an accountant didn’t I?). Or we follow the sensible one, the path that is safest (I did tell you that I was an accountant didn’t I?).
Complaining bitterly, in rich detail about our asshole of a boss / unfulfilling work / lazy SOB of a husband / hum-drum life isn’t enough, we have to know in rich detail what we want. “Love”, “to feel fulfilled”, “something more”, this isn’t enough either – it’s too vague.
People who get what they want, generally put effort into knowing what they want and use all the disappointments, setbacks and detours in the road of their life to give them a new vantage point to redraw their map.
In his classic work The Road Less Travelled, psychiatrist Dr M Scott Peck suggests that our incessant moaning and complaining about our lot stems from the fact that we fail to appreciate that life is difficult (in the Buddha’s teaching “life is suffering” is the first of the “Four Noble Truths”). Dr Peck states that life is a series of problems there to be solved using a disciplined set of tools: delayed gratification; acceptance of responsibility; dedication to truth and reality.
Delaying gratification is “a process of scheduling the pleasure and pain of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. It’s the only decent way to live”. In his book Dr Peck describes how this discipline helped a financial analyst who sought therapy for her tendency to procrastinate in her job.
Exploring her feelings about her employer, her parents, her desire to compete with her husband, her sexual identity – the usual psychoanalytic route, bore no fruit and she continued to procrastinate as much as ever. Finally, Dr Peck asked her if she liked cake. “Of course” she replied. “Which part of the cake do you like better – the cake or the frosting?” he asked. As they explored the procrastinating financial analyst’s cake-eating habits, naturally they discovered she ate her favourite bit, the frosting, first.
Understanding her inability to delay gratification, allowed her to see how this was mirrored in her inability to attend to the unpleasant parts of her work first. The more gratifying parts were always done first. Now, she schedules pleasure and pain and no longer procrastinates.
Yes, life is a bowl of cherries, it is short, but life isn’t just cherries, cake or frosting it’s the whole restaurant. Eat in good company, tip the waiting staff, order the steak, eat the salad, don’t eat the salad, whatever. But if you’re going to eat the steak, savour every mouthful. Don’t eat it then moan you should’ve ordered the salad.