Thursday, October 11, 2018

Making Life an Adventure

Several years ago, my wife, Lynda, and I began to refer to various things we found to do as “adventures”.  The adventures were generally things that were out of the ordinary for us that might stretch us a bit, but in which we learned something new or experienced something we might otherwise not have experienced.  There was that time that I won a trip to the Texas Motorspeedway.  We are not generally NASCAR Fans, but the trip also included some other things that we thought would be fun.  It was on this trip that I discovered Robert Earl Keen, Jr.’s music and I have been a fan since.  That was our one and only trip to the famous Billy Bob’s in Ft. Worth.  However, we also enjoyed the experience of being at our one and only NASCAR race.  It was truly an adventure.

Recently on our anniversary we decided to go to a candle-making class – something we had not done before.  Afterwards we went looking for a place for dinner because we didn’t really want to wind up at one of usual favorites.  We happened upon a new restaurant that featured a menu of Indian-Italian fusion.  It would not have been our usual choice, but we gave it a try.  The dinner was great, and the wait staff was friendly. We had a great evening on a little adventure.

We have realized over the years (and probably with some life experience) that even the things that we would have preferred to not have to deal with have become a kind of adventure on their own.  The days of being unemployed and not knowing for sure if we would have enough money for groceries.  Having to figure out how to make dinner from what ever was in the freezer and the pantry and coming up with some unexpected combinations that weren’t half-bad.  We have lived through the loss of a house, loss of jobs, loss of family members and loss of friends.  We have had cars breakdown and lived through some car accidents.  Many of these things came with insight and lessons that could not otherwise be learned.  Not every event turned out as you might script it, but we have realized that we are always ok.  So, there are many things that we don’t want to have to live through, but in the midst of difficulty we try to remember that it will somehow be ok and the difficulty becomes a kind of adventure.

I don’t mean to imply a “Pollyanna” syrupy false sense of optimism, but a stance that can acknowledge the frustrations, disappointments, and griefs of the moment and still approach life with a curiosity about what will happen next.  There are few attitudes and outlooks that I believe can help make life more of an adventure:

1. Limit your expectations.  

It has been said that expectations are the thief of joy and I believe that is true.  If we expect that our life, an event, an encounter, a person should be a certain way, then we are easily disappointed or angry when those things are not like we expected.  Whereas if we try to limit our expectations, we can be grateful for whatever unfolds.  This not to say that we never make plans or have dreams, but it does mean that we might relax and breathe when our plans don’t go exactly how we thought. 

2. Approach others and life with curiosity rather than judgement. 

Similar to expectations, when others do not conform to our idea of what people should be, do, wear, etc. we have a tendency to judge them.  This judgement is the root of bullying, racism, and a number of other such things.  We start from a position of knowing how others should act or how things should be and then criticize, mock, or discount others when they do not fit our ideas.  By contrast, when we encounter an event or a person that does not fit with our experience, our expectations, or beliefs, if we approach those people or events with curiosity, we may find something that is interesting or inviting about the other person.  We may also find commonality with others.  If you find yourself saying, “I would NEVER do such and such” in response to another, why not try, “That is not something I usually do, tell me about that or let me try that.” 

3. Don’t be Afraid to be a novice.

When I look back on my life, I realize how much I missed out on because I was too afraid to not be an expert or to not be good at something.  However, no one ever got good at something without first being new to it.  This is why in my 40s I took up Taekwondo and learned to ride a motorcycle.  There was always somebody that was better than me at both, but I learned a lot about myself and others by challenging myself to be a novice at something and letting someone else teach me. 

4. Say, “Yes”

If you have never seen the movie, “Yes Man” with Jim Carey, I would recommend it.  Jim Carey’s character lives a very limited and unhappy life that is characterized by fear and doubt.  He is challenged to be more open to life and to say, “Yes” to more.  He winds up taking it a bit to far and learns to moderate, but the key issue is being open to new things and saying yes to things that feel unfamiliar or new.

5. Feel your feelings.  

In my therapy practice I have seen so many people thorough the years that were limited in life or in relationships because the were trying so hard to avoid feelings they did not want to feel.  I have been paralyzed in my own life by fears, insecurity, and attempts to avoid guilt, grief, or disappointment.  Though I still struggle some, what I have learned is that it is ok to be afraid, to be worried, to be hurt and disappointed.  Feel those feelings.  Talk about them with a trusted person or therapist, but in the end, feel your feelings, but don’t be controlled by them.

6. Trust God (Don't Assume You Know What I Mean Here)

Many people approach life believing that “everything happens for a reason” or that God causes all things.  The reality is that sometimes the reason things happen is that we (or someone close to us) have a lapse in judgement or act impulsively and there are consequences.  Romans 8:28 does not say that God controls everything but says that in everything God is at work to accomplish all the good that can be accomplished.  However, this is only true for those that “Love God” and are “Called according to God’s purposes”.  I believe that God is always at work to accomplish all the good that can come from any situation, but unless we are attuned in our hearts to see it, we will miss it.  Or as I sometimes say it, “God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose…and for everyone else it is just shit that happens to you.”.  To have the attunement to see the Good that can be gleaned from a situation does not require a correct belief in God, but merely an openness to see God at work.  With such an outlook, we can trust that there will be good to come from any situation.  So, we can do our best to ride out the journey to see how the story ends.  In the midst of any struggle, we can say, “I hate that I (we) are going through this, but I can’t wait to see how this chapter of the story will end.”  Again, the experience in the moment is rarely that fun, but I think of it is a goal to shoot for. 

May you find the adventures in life, but more so, may you find your life to be an adventure.  Amen. 

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