Relax into the Unknown

Relax into life, Italywise

Let the river take you…

This has become my mantra.

Why? Because, for most of my life I’ve tried to master and control my experience. Trusting life and knowing how to relax into the unknown were things I gave good lip service, but knew little about in reality.

LIfe continues to heap lesson-upon-lesson in this regard. In response to experiences asking me to “let go”, I’ve usually answered by whining. That is, until I’ve remembered that life has a tendency to repeatedly serve up lessons that can vastly improve life. They aren’t meant to make life miserable. For me, ignoring the lesson “relax into the unknown” is what resulted in pain, unhappiness, and exhaustion.

Moving to Italy requires an enormous amount of thinking, planning and doing.

I realize how fortunate I am now that I’m clearly on the other side of all that up-front stuff. You know, getting the elective residency visa, closing up “shop” (job and home) and getting my permesso di soggiorno and residency. The list goes on. I share this because, if you’re about to do the same, or are in the process, you’ll understand how easy it can be to get stuck in high gear. And when it comes finally to downshifting, you may find yourself mired in hypervigilance. That’s pretty much what happened to me. I’d landed in this amazing country but my mind still was scanning the horizon asking “What next?”. It’s taken me a few years but I’ve been settling down. But that’s only because I started learning how to relax into the unknown.

Learning to relax has broad application and benefit.

The lesson as it applied to moving to Italy was loud and clear. And then I realized I had an opportunity to do this on a grander scale. That’s when a huge realization emerged.

I’ve been attempting to control and orchestrate my experience of “what is” for most of my life.

And I stink at it. I’ve tried to create a world and an immediate environment that fit with preconceived ideas of what reflects professional and personal success and what makes me feel good. The key phrase is “preconceived ideas”, meaning all that I had been taught through school, church, society and the media. We don’t give much weight to the world beyond our understanding. We aren’t taught how to trust the unknown.

You might think I’ve gone around the bend with this next part but bear with me. I’m normally not a fan of Disney World. Yeah, heresy, right? The first time I went, the experience fell incredibly flat. Why? Because it all felt manufactured and artificial, a sanitized idea of happiness. Only when I metaphorically slapped myself and embraced complete escapism did my mood change and I began to enjoy myself. Kind of like allowing yourself to enjoy that huge wad of cotton candy and making peace with the sugar withdrawal later.

This experience taught me I wasn’t keen on a world of manufactured happiness. It just didn’t smell or feel right. Ironically, this experience has come back to tell me I’ve been trying desperately to create Jed’s personal Disney World.

Use imagination, and envision the life you want, but then get out of the way and let the unknown happen.

I’ve learned this is where things can get really interesting and really exciting. I’m a big believer in having a vision and richly coloring that picture with ideas. But If I get so fixated, so insistent on how it all needs to play out, I can be missing out on the good stuff. How many times have I thrown inner and outer temper tantrums because things aren’t unfolding in The World According to Jed? Plenty.

Trying to control one’s experience is exhausting and impossible.

Of course, we all have the choice to how to respond to what shows up in life. But trying to be master of the universe is a recipe for disaster. I believe this is partially what the Buddhists talk about when they refer to clinging and attachment. I know that I, all too often, cling to my ideas of how things are supposed to be. I also hear the voice of my ego threatening me that everything will come flying apart if I don’t stay at the helm. “Let go of control and you’ll be sorry.” That’s what I hear. But that’s a lie.

The absurdity of taking on the entirety of life in one fell swoop.

I’ve become well-acquainted with the utter futility of this endeavor, yet I still find myself trying to take it all on. If anyone has figured out doing this with any amount of success or peace, believe me, I’m all ears.

I no longer can spend time locked in a mental analysis of the past while simultaneously using it as a filter to anticipate, predict and plan for the future. When I’ve done that I’m not in the here and now. That’s like traveling through life trapped in a capsule of thinking and labeling everything in an attempt to exact control over life. How many times have I been so intent on translating what’s happening only to find out later I wasn’t even “there” for the full, tangible experience?

Relax, relax, relax…and take it one day at a time.

I know this sounds incredibly trite. When my sisters and I were unruly young tyrants we loved making fun of country music lyrics, and of particular ridicule was Cristy Lane’s “One Day at a Time (Sweet Jesus)”. Well, I’m singing along now (minus the heavy twang). What a relief to live without being in a constant state of readiness and without trying to micromanage everything for the rest of my life. Yes, planning and doing still have their places, but they don’t rule my life.

And herein lies the great paradox. The less you try to take on, the less you try to control and to exert power over your experiences, the more power shows up. And that’s when really cool stuff starts to happen.

“The most exquisite paradox…as soon as you give it all up, you can have it all. As long as you want power, you can’t have it. The minute you don’t want power, you’ll have more than you ever dreamed possible.” – Ram Dass