I do, of course, have an idea – several, even – of where I would like to go, but one of the things that has changed for me in the last few years is the realisation that I am in control of nothing other than my own behaviour and choices. In truth, I’m not always in control of that either. For those freaking out at the thought of such powerlessness, let me reassure you that I couldn’t be happier with this situation. No, really. I am happier today than I have ever been. Paradoxically, in accepting my lack of control, I feel empowered, supported, loved and guided.
25 years ago, after attending a Tony Robbins’ workshop (the one where you do the firewalk on the first evening), I pinned a note to my fridge; “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.” It served me well at the time. It gave me the courage and drive I needed to pick myself up after a difficult few years (which had left me with fresh, deep wounds atop childhood-acquired scar tissue) and build a successful career for myself. Looking back, I realise that despite the good it did me, this mantra actually reinforced in me the unhelfpul and not uncommon belief that I alone was responsible for my future. In my head, to win at the game of life, I had to be some kind of lone superhero… invincible and immune to the nemeses of other people and happenstance. I worked (and played) ridiculously hard in the ten or so years that followed, and for a while I was pretty happy. And then I wasn’t. I kept getting sick. And amongst some really good decisions, I was making many, many bad ones. Then I got really sick. As fast as my life had been rebuilt, it fell apart. Again. I was utterly burned out. How, I wondered, if I was in charge of everything, would I ever get the hang of life? What was the point of it all anyway? Though I had no idea where I was headed at the time (ha!), that was the start of my eventual return to God – my Spiritual Awakening 1.0.
When I started this post, I didn’t intend to write the short story of ‘my life until today’. It just seems necessary to provide some context before I introduce you to my new mantra, which was/is the point of this post. You see, it’s actually a prayer. The words are Thomas Merton‘s, yet they perfectly echo my beliefs and so explain the basis of my ‘software update’ to Spiritual Awakening 2.0 and with it the understanding and acceptance that what happens in my life is not all up to me, after all, and that’s ok. It’s taken me the best part of another 10 years to get to this sweet surrender and even though I chat away to my ‘god’ throughout the day, I still get muddled about what is and isn’t in my control. That though, as I’m finally accepting, is because I’m human, born with the double-edged sword of free will and more fallibility than I’d previously recognised. So I’ve mothballed my cape and mask and committed to live by God’s will rather than my own and it’s brought me a clarity and peace I’ve never experienced before. And what feels right now like a sense of purpose so strong, that how it all unfolds in the future is of little concern provided I keep the words of this prayer in mind.
Here it is again as it appears in the 1956 book of his spiritual writings, “Thoughts in Solitude”
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” ― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
(The image, by the way, is my own. Taken in Powys during the weekend of the Cancer Moon in January 2013.)