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The Practice of Changed Plans

The flexibility to change a plan

Every good trip requires a plan. You must plan your means of travel, whether that is booking flights, determining routes, or making reservations on a ferry. You must sort out your accommodations – hotel, lodge, Air BNB, or making sure there is room for you at a family home. And, at the very least, you really ought to have a wish list of things you’d like to see and do.

Interestingly, every excellent trip requires the flexibility to change the plan – often on a dime.

A change in plan becomes the best part of a trip

One of the most memorable parts of our recent trip to the Pacific Northwest was a morning when we changed our well-planned plan to return to see again something we’d visited the day before (as planned) but were thwarted by an unexpectedly high tide.

There was much discussion about doubling back. Changing a good plan is not something done lightly. Doing so meant we would not see something else we’d chosen for our itinerary. Because of the timing of the tide, it would also require us to wake earlier than a typical vacation morning.

We arrived at an other-worldly and completely different Rialto Beach. The striking rock formations that we’d seen the prior afternoon were towering behemoths in the low tide.  Thick mists skirted their bases, making an already dramatic vista mysterious and a little holy.

As we walked down the beach, it was hard to put the camera away. The early morning beams of light, the mist, the enormous sea stacks, the stark white tree trunks piled like a sculptured dune, the forest just beyond – it was like walking in a painting.

A fellow walker rather casually pointed up to the top of a towering tree and we stopped in our tracks. A bald eagle was perched, quite regally , on a branch hunting for breakfast. Suddenly it was like walking in a painting you’d scoff at as wholly unrealistic.

The grand landscape got some competition from hundreds of tiny sights – pink and green anemones in tide pools, brightly colored rocks hiding amongst the infinite shades of gray, smooth pieces of white driftwood that fit perfectly in your hand, millions of barnacles that looked like snow, a family of snails lined up waiting for the tide to return.

The destination of our walk was a sea stack called “Hole in the Wall” – whose name sums it up. “Hole in the Wall” was beautiful, and very cool to walk through, but a little anticlimactic given the overwhelming beauty we were surrounded by the whole way there.

To say we are all grateful that we were flexible with our plan is the understatement of a lifetime. That walk on Rialto Beach was not something that was high on any of our wish lists. Nor could even the best trip planner have planned the amazing artistry of Mother Nature that particular morning. It was pure gift.

You can use changes of plan to deepen your meditation practice

Our choice that morning in Washington illustrates the possible fruits of a contemplative practice taught by Father Thomas Keating called Guard of the Heart. This practice was developed as one way to use your daily life to deepen your meditation practice.

As described by Contemplative Outreach, the organization founded by Keating, “when something arises independently of your plans, try not to spontaneously modify it.” In other words, when life takes a twist or a turn, try to resist the impulse to grit your teeth, squinch your eyes, and white-knuckle life back onto its “proper” (a.k.a. planned by you) path.

Instead, Keating invites us to practice the willingness to change our plans at a moment’s notice. For me, at least, doing so often requires a deep breath (or fifteen) as I cajole my inner planner (who is typically kicking and screaming) to open her heart, mind, and hands to receive life as it is happening rather than as I imagined it happening.

Truly, I say to you, I have never been sorry to have chosen to do so. In fact, most of my pain and suffering arises from not choosing to allow life to take its often mysterious course. Bob Mischke (of Contemplative Outreach) sums up the fruit of this practice rather brilliantly – we will not be upset if our plans are upset if we are determined to stay open to what is.

Meditation can, in turn, help you be more flexible and open in life

For all of you fellow planners out there, that bears repeating – we will not be upset if our plans are upset when we trust the vicissitudes of life. How can planners like you and me practice responding to life with this kind of receptivity?

In meditation, we practice non-judgmental acceptance of ourselves as we are. However we show up – with monkey mind, sleepy mind, spiraling anxious mind, calm spacious mind – the only thing that is important is that we’ve showed up. What happens is enough. The “sit” is what it is. It is beyond the reach of any plan.

You could also stay flexible when on a once-in-a-lifetime, exceedingly well-planned, bucket list trip. Or as you drive to work, or make dinner, or mow the grass. No matter how you practice, the fruits of the choice to accept life as it is will be an inner peace that comes only when you willingly join the flow of your life to the flow of Life.

Interested in learning more about meditation practices like Guard of the Heart? I’m happy to help! Consider reaching out for a spirituality one-on-one.