Why Life Happens While We Make Plans

So, I almost missed my own baby shower. I mean, I'm sure it would not have gone down that way, but when my mom brightly suggested that a huge gang of us go out to brunch at a popular restaurant where we did not have reservations, I said "NO WAY." Of course, unbeknownst to me, it was all a ruse and a room and flowers and food were already booked. But I'm not much of one for surprises; I kicked and screamed about driving "all the way" to the venue without a plan in place. Because I'm a planner, see? Depending on who you are and what your relationship to me is, this is either a very, very good thing or the reason you call me a control freak behind my back. I do not "fly by the seat of my pants" ANYWHERE... although some days I claim to be, for STRATEGIC reasons. That's right, I'm strategically casual. If my efforts have not lived up to my standards? Well, then...I claim I didn't make an effort at all. I also get strategically sick. Ask my mom about the time I wriggled out of a Bette Midler concert I was dreading with a spiking temperature that magically resolved itself within 36 hours. That was no Ferris Bueller trick, btw. Thermometer-against-the-lightbulb is amateur hour. I was ACTUALLY (albeit very temporarily) SICK. That is planning, folks! I even catch viruses on a schedule!

This is a quality I own with pride and also credit for my ability to maintain so many long distance relationships for so many years. Planning is critical if you want face time with people who don't live in your immediate vicinity, and I excel at it. I live for getting my "ducks in a row," as it were, and I'm totally comfortable being the point person. I've always thought of planning in terms of maturity and taking responsibility and have rolled my eyes at anyone who suggested it was a less-than-desirable quality. But I recently was having a conversation with a friend about the end of my father's life; he was in hospice care at home, so I was staying there with him. I loved my dad to distraction and cherished every moment we had together, but those weeks spent anticipating his death were a very anxious time for me. Waiting for the other shoe to drop almost makes you begin to long for it, in a way. My friend's response was that it is interesting how our inability to tolerate discomfort makes us want closure, at any cost. This hit me squarely, although it was not presented as a judgment.

The wonderful Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron once wrote, "The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To the degree that you didn't understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you're given...everything you need to open further." My friend's comment made me realize that my compulsive planning...while certainly an often helpful, productive trait... is also a tactic for protecting my soft spot, as Pema put it. I don't like surprises because I don't feel prepared for or in "control" of the situation. Of course I intellectually understand that we are never truly in control of anything but our own attitude. But I am also armoring my heart against disappointment with my planning, like I don't quite fully accept that uncertainty is the only certainty there is. Madeline L'Engle, who wrote the transformative A Wrinkle in Time explains it best: "When we were children we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability... to be alive is to be vulnerable."

We all understand in the abstract how vulnerable we are; our soft bodies, our tender hearts, our open minds are exposed daily to risk and negativity. Planning helps me circumvent the visceral fear of this... it is my bulletproof vest, so to speak, affording me some protection from the inevitable arrows of uncertainty. Most all of us have some kind of defense system in place. But how much of life are we missing out on because we are actively "armoring our heart"? We long for love while protecting ourselves against it. I think it is interesting that mythology warns us that Cupid's arrow -- just in time for Valentine's Day -- will cause a wound that fills us with uncontrollable desire. How does that sound to you? To be filled with uncontrollable desire? To me it sounds raw and vulnerable and wild and SCARY. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that most of us have been taught that desire is a BAD THING; all but one of the so-called seven deadly sins are uncontrolled desires: lust, greed, gluttony, wrath, envy, pride. We shrink from our desires; we make responsible choices, abstain, diet, save our pennies, hold-our-tongues, work hard and stay humble. We protect our soft spots and wonder why we don't feel fully alive.

In his book The Way of the Wizard, Deepak Chopra posits that desire is the direct path to God; he tells us to look upon desire as a willingness to receive what God wants to give. The Upanishads teaches, "You are what your deep, driving desire is." But a lot of us... maybe even most of us... wouldn't know what our "deep, driving desire" is if it walked up and introduced itself. We have built up walls around it and we exist on the outside... making plans and lists and appointments and schedules and meals and beds and time. But it's always knocking on those walls, asking to be let out. We feel the dull thud in our chests, nagging pull on our attention, the pit in our stomachs. Our inability to tolerate the discomfort of vulnerability has ironically given birth to the discomfort of being disconnected from our source, our true selves. I almost missed my own baby shower because it wasn't PART of the PLAN I had for my day. It makes me wonder how many amazing things I have actually missed out on because they weren't "on the schedule." I am not going to give up planning -- one might almost say I have a deep, driving desire to plan -- but I am going to question my own resistance to vulnerability. Karma dictates that our walls will be broken down; the only question is, will we do it ourselves with tenderness and care, or will we allow circumstances to be a wrecking ball?