“When you let go, something magical happens. You give God room to work.” – Lifehack
The baby started fussing just as I was hitting my stride. I was giving a talk to a surprisingly large group of people at my church and my nervous butterflies were starting to settle down when the baby toward the front of the room ramped up to a full-throttle scream. “Ah,” I thought, “there will be no ignoring this.”
I looked up from my notes to give the mom a 100% empathetic smile (as a fellow mom, I’ve absolutely walked a mile in her shoes). Instead of looking back down to pick up where I left off, I went a little rogue. I looked out at the audience, smiled again, and made an off-the-cuff joke. This may not sound like a big deal to you, but anyone who knows me will testify that I’m not super funny. I’m much more likely to botch a joke than actually get a laugh. But that morning, I got a laugh! And I sailed through the rest of my talk.
It wasn’t just that the joke helped bolster my confidence. Sharing a laugh with the crowd shifted the dynamic of the experience for me. Instead of feeling like I was talking to them, I felt like I was talking with them. We were suddenly a group of people having a conversation. And that made all the difference in the world. As I took off the microphone at the end of my talk, I knew I had done it. Not only that, but I’d enjoyed it. Mostly, thanks to a crying baby.
Seriously. By disrupting my exceedingly well-planned plans for my talk, that baby forced me to work with a situation that even a talented planner like me could never have planned for. My talk came to life the second I chose to embrace the moment exactly as life delivered it to me, rather than trying to force the situation back to the way I expected it to be. When I let go of my plans (and my script), I made space for something better than what I’d planned to happen that morning.
Is that magical? It sure felt like it to me.
I think it’s also a very practical tactic. We simply cannot control or foresee all the surprises that life brings our way. Truly, the only thing we can control is our response to these surprises. As a life-long planner, I have spent a staggering amount of energy resisting life’s surprises as I tried valiantly to stay the course for which I was so well prepared. I did this in friendships, at work, when learning a new piece on the piano, in my marriage, when getting settled in a new school or in town, when raising my children and training my dogs. There is literally not a sector of my life where I have not tried (wicked hard) to be in control; where I have not fought to stay the course.
Looking back, I see that the course I was fighting to stay on was the one I imagined to be mine, but perhaps was not the one life had in store for me.
Does being open to life’s surprises absolve me from the responsibility of planning? Actually, no. What it does is free me from is my death grip on those plans. Had I not worked so hard planning and re-planning my outline, my talk that morning would never have survived my “baby heckler.” I knew what I wanted to share that morning, so it was safe for me to go a little rogue. Because I wasn’t up there winging it, it wasn’t hard for me to respond to the reality of my audience while still winding my way through the points I wanted to make.
I do the same thing whenever I’m teaching – whether it be a yoga class, a college philosophy class or a teacher training workshop. I always show up with an intention. In fact, I also always have a detailed plan in my back pocket. For a yoga class, it is usually the Ashtanga primary series. For one of my philosophy classes, it’s a pretty detailed outline of a lecture. For a teacher training workshop, it’s a schedule for the day and a series of detailed outlines.
Yet I find that my worst classes are the ones where I teach as if I were bound to all those well-planned plans. It never fails that the classes that leave me knowing for sure that I’ve shared something meaningful in a way that will have made a mark on my students are the ones where I let go of my plans and instead embrace what the class brings my way. Perhaps I notice two or three students with tight hips, or sense a low energy level in the room. Whatever I see molds my language and the postures I choose for the class. Or perhaps a student shares an insight that draws us away from my planned points. If I cease to resist, choosing instead to accept his invitation, I often find myself in fertile territory I’d not considered while making my plans.
So, it is with great relief (being in control is hard work, after all!) that this planner invites you to explore the freedom to stay open to life’s surprises. To be willing to hold your plans lightly – even to let go of them. Perhaps to be willing to go a little rogue if the opportunity presents itself. To notice and welcome what is, rather than desperately seeking what “should” be. When you do let go like this, I think you’ll find that whatever you’ve prepared and planned will come to life in ways you never could have imagined. Perhaps in ways that even seem a little magical.