There is absolutely no contradiction, even if there seems to be one.
What we call planning for the future is often mistaken with worrying about the future. We need to plan for some things, otherwise we cannot efficiently act. When the right moment comes, we need to put our thoughts together and try to figure out, to the best of our ability, the things we need to do. It may take one minute, ten minutes, one hour or however long it takes, but once we have done it, we need to return to our moment and not keep going back over and over to what may or may not happen with our plan. ‘Man proposes and God disposes’ 1 is a very good thing to remember when we plan. We can – and should – only do our best, but then what actually happens is never under our control.
Even our ability to really be good at planning is something that has been given to us. Some people are great at it, and can think of very small details which allow them to be on top of many possible difficulties. Other people don’t know how to plan so well. There are many ways to study and learn how to plan, but as with anything else, some people are better at it then others. But even the best people cannot control everything. Steve Jobs was an example of doing the impossible, but even he could not control his own sickness and death.
We can and need to plan, but we can never know for sure if our plans will give the desire result or not. So, when the right moment comes we plan, and when the next moment comes, we move on into the next thing the moment brings our way. If there is no need to plan, AND MOST OF OUR TIME DOES NOT NEED OUR PLANNING, we return to the moment, to what is, to what is in front of our eyes.
The problem is never with the planning but with the fears and insecurities that planning entails in our uncertain world. We need to move away from that fear into trust, to move from insecurity to a place of confidence in life. The universe is benign, even considering all the apparent contradictions in it. It took me, and it still takes me, a lot of understanding to be able to say this, but I know now with confidence that it is like this. The essence of the universe is love.2
Sometimes – even often – things don’t seem to be that way. But I have no doubt that ‘in the end, everything will be fine; and that if it is not fine, is because it is not the end’.3 If we have eyes to see and an open heart, we can come to this understanding, to this certainty, and then, we can allow all our actions to be embedded in this trust.
We can never know for sure if our actions will give our desired results or not, but we can trust that by doing our best, in the end everything will be fine. And in this trust we do our planning, and when our planning is over we return to the moment, we return to now, we return to the only moment that really exists, to the only life we ever have: this one, right here and right now.
1 Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471)
2 The following is just a logical explanation of something I know in my heart. But to know it in my heart, the logical explanation really helped me. Unless you also know it in your heart, this explanation will not help, but it may give you a pointer where to look…
How can I say that the essence of the universe is love when there is so much misery and suffering and despair all around?
Try to follow my logic.
Any suffering may come from only three sources: myself, other people or the world.
Imagine a person that feels satisfied with herself, a person that does not need anything either from you or from the world. Would that person do anything to harm to herself or you or the world? No! Why would she? The only reason why anybody would harm something or someone else is because that person wants something. Nobody will lie or cheat or hurt anybody else unless it believes that doing so will get him something he wants. But if that person were already satisfied, already complete, with no personal desires, that person would be in no need to harm, lie or cheat anybody else. Not because the person was trying to be good, but simply because it would have no reason to do so.
We seem to be very incomplete, needy beings, always looking for something that can make us feel better, from a small piece of chocolate cake to a bigger house, from a new job to a bigger family, from a new trip to another relationship. We are always in need of something or someone. But the reason for this IS NOT BASED ON HOW THINGS ARE, but it is based on our separation from ourselves, on our lack of knowledge of what we really are.
We want the house or the job or the relationship or whatever it is we want not because of those things but we want them because when we get them we feel, even if for a very short moment, connected to ourselves (this may not be very obvious, and it may take some time and study to understand it, but it is what it does). The problem is that the effect of all those things wears off very rapidly and so we start to look for the next thing to make us feel connected to ourselves again… and then the next thing, and the next, and the next, and for many people this desire can be so strong and powerful that they are willing to go against their integrity to get it.
But this need is not ‘natural’ but only a lack of knowledge of ourselves. It is only ignorance of our own inner fulfillment. In a way it’s not different from a person that robs banks in order to make money ignoring that a relative has left him a huge inheritance. This person believes to be poor, that is why he is robbing banks, and is ignorant of the fact that he is actually rich. If he knew it, he would not rob banks. The problem is not in him being poor but in his ignorance of his richness.
It is the same with us. The problem is not that people are bad or that the universe is unloving. The problem is that people don’t know that they are already fulfilled and so they look for fulfillment outside, creating the suffering we all experience.
But if we have the desire, we can recover our knowledge of what we are. And what we are is love.
The other place where suffering seems to come is from the world itself, things like earthquakes, floods, disease, old age and death. But an earthquake or a flood (other than what is created by our own ignorance, which is a lot of what is happening now) is nothing but a movement of the earth to heal itself, no different from a gas or the need to vomit from our body. From the point of view of the whole cosmos, an earthquake is a movement of love – healing being love. Of course from our own little points of view, it seems terrible and scary, and it is so. But we are not the center of the universe. And if we know this, then we can see that what happens is not bad but is what has to be. It is love.
The same goes with old age and death. Life is a wonderful gift, and life comes with death, it is inherent in it; just like a tree comes with wood and a shirt with cloth. They cannot be separated, and there is nothing wrong in it, unless you chose to think so. And so the problem is not in what is, but in our thought, in our beliefs. Life and death are an act of love.
What is more difficult to explain is the sickness and premature deaths that are not dependant on ignorance (that are not man-made) but that simply happen to some people for no apparent logical reason. To start with, these things are really an exception, meaning that the large majority of people do not experience them. But they definitely exist, and they seem to be completely unjust. Here, the old traditions speak of the law of karma, that says that everything that happens now is nothing but an effect of a previous cause, a way to fulfill a debt, to discharge an account. If you really study this, and it is quite a science, you will understand the logic of it. But in our western way of thinking, this seems no more than an excuse. I will not go into it, at least not here.
But nothing happens out of the laws of creation. And the essence of those laws is love.
3 A quote attributed to Fernando Sabino, Paulo Coelho and John Lennon.