The Wisdom of Futility: Are You Trying to Break Through a Closed Window?

We may not always have control over the circumstances within which we find ourselves, we always have the ultimate freedom to choose how we will respond to them.
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Buzz Buzz Buzz -- there's another fly banging against a closed window... Have you ever seen a dead fly on a windowsill? Sure you have. At one time or another, I bet that you've also seen a fly buzzing so frantically against a closed window that it looked like it was trying to escape from prison. Drawn by the seductive light outside and fixated on what seemed to be its one and only path to freedom, the fly eventually succumbed to forces greater than its own. Ironically, many of these poor souls -- and I'm still talking about flies-- appear completely unaware that there were other "escape" routes available to them, such as an open door or window on the other side of the same room!

Although I've freed many flies from captivity over the years, I've also witnessed the remains of many who obviously weren't so fortunate. Indeed, it doesn't take long for many windowsills, especially around spring cleaning time, to look like graveyards for flies whose lives ended tragically and prematurely due to basic instincts that did not in the final analysis serve their best interests or highest good. Existentially-challenged, flies don't have the capacity to learn from experience, gain insight into their personal circumstances, and grow or consciously evolve as a result. Flies, in other words, appear to be doomed to repeat their past mistakes no matter what or how dire the consequences!

Now think about how the fly and the behavior just described represent so much of life as it is lived by us -- human beings. As we begin 2011 this kind of thought-provoking exercise is especially fitting and may help to put those "New Year Resolutions," along with the stresses and challenges at this time of year, into their proper context. Imagine for a moment that you are now staring at a dead fly on a windowsill. What thoughts or images about life in general and about your life in particular fill your mind? I'm not asking you to become the character played by Jeff Goldblum in the 1986 movie, "The Fly," only to reflect upon what life from a fly's perspective may have to do with the meaning of your life.

Let me try to jumpstart your thinking. I think that we all can agree that the fly expended or exhausted all of its life energy on a futile, joyless undertaking. Let's face it, there was no way that the fly was going to break through the closed glass window, even though the view from outside may have been very attractive and seductive. Whatever the fly's "vision" at the time, there was no way that it was going to achieve its ultimate aim. Metaphorically-speaking the windowsill became the fly's "field of dreams" that would never be realized. Despite the fly's unrelenting, Herculean efforts to reach its goal on the other side of the window, freedom proved to be an illusion that was out of reach. Indeed, unbeknownst to the fly, things are not always what they seem! And, sadly, because it is incapable of stopping, listening and learning from its predicament, it isn't able to take corrective action that may save and extend its life.

So what does this little fly teach us about life? To be sure, we all know people who live their lives like this fly did! You know, people trying to get "out" through a closed window. We may even know people who "died" in mind, body, and/or spirit trying to do so! What seemed like a desirable "exit strategy," one that promised true freedom and a better quality of life, proved not to be one after all. These poor souls (now I am referring to people not flies) invested everything they had into getting through the closed window but were only able to die trying. And like the fly who died on the windowsill, these individuals, despite giving all they had, ended up leaving it on their field of dreams unfulfilled; that is, on the windowsill of life.

Fortunately, we are not flies even if we sometimes behave like one. As humans, we do have the innate capacity to learn, to be creative, and to grow in productive, meaningful ways. Whereas the fly never heard someone say, "Hey fly, you cannot get through that window, it's crazy to keep trying, so why don't you try the door or something else," I suspect that over the course of our lives, each of us has received such guidance from someone at some time. Moreover, because we are blessed with reasoning (i.e., critical thinking) and creative abilities, we've also been able to navigate our way through life's challenges and learn practical lessons along the way. These life lessons, in turn, provide a platform for future thinking and action enabling us to learn and grow further as a result. As we know, flies do not have such capacity and therefore don't share the same manifest destiny as humans, unless of course the latter choose to behave like flies!

Unlike the fly who saw the window as a way out and was determined to go through the window even if it killed it (and it did kill it), we have not only the freedom of will, but also a will to meaning that, if we use these powerful and uniquely human resources, can lead us to unlimited possibilities. And while we may not always have control over the circumstances within which we find ourselves, we always have the ultimate freedom to choose how we will respond to them, even if only through our choice of attitude. Fortunately, in most cases, we can do more than simply exercise the freedom to choose our attitude towards a situation confronting us. Unlike the fly, we have options; that is, creative license to find alternatives to the closed windows that separate and prevent us from where we'd like to go. Equipped with the benefits of faith and reason, we can get to our destination even if it means rethinking our strategy and taking a course that is much different and maybe less obvious than the window to nowhere. And because we are human, we have the added benefit of enjoying and discovering the deeper meaning of the journey too. So as 2011 begins, let it be the year you, like the fly, don't die on the windowsill of life. Instead, let 2011 be your year to explore other options, other routes, and live life to the fullest.

You can find out more about Dr. Alex Pattakos, author of the internationally bestselling book "Prisoners of Our Thoughts," in his HuffPost bio. You can learn about his new initiative, The OPA Way!® of "living a happy, healthy, meaningful life," as well as join the new OPA! Village (it's free!) at

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