How Are You Living Your Life?
My teacher, Swami Satchidananda, used to say, “Make no appointments and you will have no disappointments.” I believe we all know what that means but let’s explore the statement a bit more.
We human beings have a tendency to follow the traditions and rules of our culture without really reflecting on why we do so. One of the most prominent traditions is that of “The Narrative.”
There is the narrative of our personal past. From our earliest memories up to this moment, we have a narrative, a line of successive events leading to now. And there is the narrative of what we imagine will happen in the future. We call this, “The Story of my Life.” We also have the narrative of our collective past. We call that History. We go back even further, beyond recorded history, through archeology and paleontology, to find out what happened in pre-history. We dig up the fossils of our distant ancestors, the early hominids, to determine how they lived and what their lives were like.
Cosmologists and physicists study the origins of the universe. We want to know what happened after the Big Bang. But we don’t stop there. We want to know what happened before the Big Bang. This adherence to the tradition of narrative is as old as the people whose fossils we examine. We can imagine them sitting around the fire at night listening as an elder tells them the origin story of their clan.
Though individual and collective narratives play an essential role in our lives, weaving together our insights and actions, we often receive conventional narratives without determining their validity.
And there is another side of this adherence to narrative as a way of living our lives. That is when the concept of narrative gets entangled with the word, “should.” As in, “I should do this (whatever this may be at any moment) because it fits with the narrative of my life.” Or, “I should do this because that is what is expected of me in this culture.” And, “I should do this because of what other people may think of me.” This way of being stunts and limits your life. It also has the potential to bring frustration and resentment into life. Or, as Swami Satchidananda said, this can lead you to disappointment.
We develop the idea that our lives should follow a particular trajectory and we put great effort into maintaining that trajectory. The narrative becomes intertwined with our identity. If the narrative does not turn out the way we think it should turn out, the result can be anger, frustration, blame, disappointment, and a feeling that may cause you to say, “My life is not turning out the way I expected it to be.” This way of thinking, and all the resulting emotions that surround it, can damage and even kill you.
Can You Let it Happen?
It comes down to this question that everyone needs to ask themselves at some point in their lives. Am I attempting to direct the narrative of my life or am I allowing the narrative of my life to simply unfold?
We have already explored the negative aspects of trying to control the narrative but can you imagine what it would be like to stop trying and to just allow the narrative of your life to happen? In other words, No appointments means, no disappointments.
Swami Satchidananda also said, “Brahma, do whatever you want with me and I will follow.” This is truly how he approached living his life, not controlling the narrative but going with it. An example of this is how he ended up leaving India and coming to the US. In 1966 his teacher, Swami Sivananda, sent him to France for a week to teach Yoga and give Satsang (spiritual discussion in the Yogic tradition). The artist, Peter Max, happened to be in France at the time and heard Swami Satchidananda speak at a Satsang. Being quite taken with what he was saying, Max invited him to come to NYC for a week. He had many friends there whom he knew would be interested in what the Swami had to say.
Can You Live your Life in This Way?
So Swami Satchidananda got permission from his teacher to travel to New York for a week where he gave several talks. The people who heard him were deeply affected by his words and asked him to stay longer. He stayed for a few months and then the people said, “Please stay longer.” Eventually, funds were raised to create the Integral Yoga Institute in NYC. As interest in Integral Yoga grew it became an international organization which Swami Satchidananda led for 35 years until he died in 2002. He initiated none of this. He had no plan. He had no personal narrative to fulfill. He allowed the narrative of events to carry him along.
Can you live your life in this way? Can you live without trying to control things, without ambition, and without adhering to conventional and perhaps damaging cultural expectations? And, just as important, can you live your life without attempting to control the narrative of other people’s lives. We think of ourselves as being stuck in life and say to ourselves with resignation, “This is just how my life is with these limitations.” Most often this feeling emerges from the fear of being unmoored when you consider giving up strict adherence to a narrative that may be false. Being “stuck” is a false narrative because it is impossible to be stuck when the flow of your life keeps on going-wherever it goes!
We can be free from narratives we may have unthinkingly received from the conventions of our culture, or a story that is not who we are. Perhaps we adhere to this conventional narrative to feel safe. Not joyful, not happy, not curious-just safe.
We can simply allow whatever happens to happen and to be okay with that and be curious (rather than fearful) about where the flow of life takes us. Our lives then become a much deeper experience. You can live your life in a way that allows you to experience surprise, insight and peace in being with what is happening now and what is happening next. Pursue nothing. Be with everything.
You will be liberated. Life is no longer is a burden or a struggle to get somewhere. First of all there will be nowhere to get to and there will be nothing to get. Instead of struggle there is curiosity and joy in the simple experience of living.