Control: The Anti-Happy

anti happyI recently read this passage in Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart” and couldn’t help but see myself, and many of my clients, needing the lesson in Pema’s words:

“We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that’s death...Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later, we’re going to have an experience we can’t control: our house is going to burn down, someone we love is going to die, we’re going to find out we have a cancer, a brick is going to fall out of the sky and hit us on the head, somebody’s going to spill tomato juice all over our white suit…

Life is Challenging

‘The essence of life is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is bitter. Sometimes your body tenses, and sometimes it relaxes or opens. Sometimes you have a headache, and sometimes you feel 100 percent healthy. From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death, because it involves a lot of your basic experience…

‘To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again…Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together.”

Live in the Present

In these words I hear Pema’s encouragement for us to go with our present moment experience. I know in my own life that when I try to control my experience and I don’t flow with it I am unhappy and stuck. In my therapy practice I see many people who say “I want to be happy”. I know from experience that pushing back against what life holds because I “don’t like it” or its “not good enough” I experience the opposite of happiness.

Sometimes we may not even be pushing back consciously, sometimes we hold on as a result of trauma, anxiety, depression or other mental illness, and holding on gives us the illusion that we can protect ourselves from pain. However, the pain is not so much from “losing your house” but from feeling that we can completely prevent and control events that ask us to let go of things, material or otherwise.

Pema is not saying that we shouldn’t plan or make efforts to live well, but reminds us that the unexpected, from hang nails to cancer will happen. We may lose something in the process, but we lose more when we hold on because living happens in the moment, not in what we wish was or wasn’t.

What do you think of Pema’s words, are you “willing to die over and over again”? What is scary for you in letting go? What is scary about living each moment new and fresh? And conversely what is exciting about living and letting go?

We have the capacity to live in the moment, to recover from loss, and to live each moment fresh and alive. How do you want to live?

To schedule a session contact Kimberly Schmidt Bevans at or 617-651-0996.