In his song, “Beautiful Boy,” written for his son Sean, John Lennon sings,“life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I love that quote. It’s a great statement; simple and profoundly true.
The unexpected is part of the deal, whether we like it or not. We simply can’t control everything. Shit happens and stupendous “good luck” happens, too. Most of the time, it’s something in-between. Life is meant to be a little bit messy. If nothing else, experience teaches us this.
When I was seven, I had spent my entire life in Madrid. I considered myself a Spaniard, despite my American father and Canadian mother, because I spoke only Spanish and attended Spanish schools. To my dismay, my parents announced that we would be leaving my beloved España and moving to India. It was time for me to learn English, they told me, because we would soon be attending an international school. I was shocked. How could this be? I vowed not to make any effort to learn English that summer. I had a terrible attitude in class and purposely failed my tests in protest. Did it help? Naah. We moved anyway.
It was a harsh and quick lesson. My life was going to be influenced by a lot more than any of my construed desires. Flowing with change, particularly when there was no control, and choosing assimilation, was the best way to go. Of course, I was a child, so I wasn’t capable of planning a damn thing; I was just along for the ride. But I immediately learned the value of accepting change, if not even trying to embrace it a little. In a matter of months, I became pliant. No longer the solid Oak, but the flexible Maple, as it were. In fact, what I had struggled so hard against happening actually became an unexpectedly exciting journey.
My family moved to new countries several more times after that, and each new country, each new school, each new culture and home, reinforced the value of pliancy. Lots of things didn’t go as planned or hoped, but what I learned with experience, was that the more flexible I was, the more in the moment I could be. I enjoyed honing my improvisational and personal skills that arose in response to doses of the unplanned or unforeseen. The stimulus of change also began to make me feel alive and renewed. I even felt constrained by a certain degree of self-definition that arose after too much time in one place, and too much routine. Each time we moved, I discovered new aspects of myself. I wasn’t just Johanna to new friends. I was Yojana, Yoyo, Jo, Yoey, or Yo, depending on the country.
Malleability to new surroundings has been a key ingredient to finding serenity in my own life. Tragedies have also struck, as they do with all of us. My dad passed away unexpectedly when he was only 54 years old. I had just turned 21 when that happened. A few years later, my mother’s home burned down in the Oakland hills fire and all the physical remnants of our family history turned to ash. A Korean chest filled with over 30 photo albums from all of our years abroad was gone. Our furniture, art, and all of our collected memorabilia and history disappeared in a great flash. We were left with absolutamente nada to reflect our previous existence in a physical way.
Any sense of permanency in life remained absent. I never counted on anything, but I didn’t see that as being cynical. I chose to focus on what was in front of me and tried to fully appreciate it in the here and now. Everything was ephemeral and I treated it as such.
Though I have come to a different place in life, with many years of stability and routine, I still keep in mind that nothing is permanent and I continue to go with the flow as best I can. Shit certainly happens. Unfortunately, there ain’t no getting away from that, unless you’re a true Yogi. But it’s equally important to note that unexpected good things happen, too All the time. It’s important to remember that, especially if fear gets the best of us or if we start to feel rigid about wanting things to happen exactly the way we planned.
I figure the best we can do is try to go with the flow as best we can, pay attention to the here and the now and value that as the ‘present’ that it is, and to remain open to the new and unexpected. We might as well, right?