We learn pretty early in life the inclination to run away from things that scare us and cling to things that soothe us. What no one ever told us was this approach to life was not only flawed, but absolutely incapable of ever producing the peace, harmony and joy we hoped it would deliver. “The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences” – This quote from the verses on the faith-mind by the Third Zen Patriarch captures the essence of why this seemingly natural approach to life is doomed to failure.
If I have a particular way I want things to be, that means I also have ways I don’t want things to be. Since I have very little control over other people, places and life events, the likelihood things will unfold the way I need them to be to feel safe and secure is highly unlikely. This means that whether I consciously realize it or not, I will be spending my life attempting to manipulate, control and arrange things to be a way that makes me feel okay. These attempts rarely work of course, which creates what we call stress and problems.
The key to our freedom resides in shifting our focus from “how can I get things the way I need them to be?” to asking the only question that will unlock the chains that bind us, which is “why do I need things a certain way to feel safe, peaceful, loved etc.?”. This shift in our approach to life completely changes our interactions and is a totally different way of transacting with life and the world around us. One way seeks to get things how we define them as satisfactory and the other way lets life unfold without taking it so personally.
Afterall, we are basing what we want, like, approve of and agree with on our limited set of experiences. In the face of different experiences, we would have different likes and dislikes. When we encounter an experience that exposes us to a new point of view or impacts us deeply, we often shift or change our point of view. This very truth should tell us that the process of how we decide what we like or dislike is based on the flimsiest data set ever.
It is exactly why the Buddha said all of life is suffering, caused by preference. When we accept life on its terms, we can truly receive the gifts it has to offer us. That means we can feel joy, sadness, elation, grief and all other emotions without seeking to push away the scary and grasp at the soothing. We realize that it is all part of what life is offering us and we get the honor of taking this wild and crazy journey for a few decades, if we’re lucky. All we really have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.