Making the most of life's opportunities

Photos: Getty Images
Photos: Getty Images
Who can recall being told by their parents, "it's a fact of life, get used to it." I suspect it was often trotted out when something wasn't going our way and we whinged about it, writes life coach Jan Aitken. 

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
I was having a conversation recently when that comment came up. It got me thinking "What are the facts of life?" (no, I don't mean the birds and the bees, I know about those).

Well, the sun comes up in the east and sets in the west - that's a fact of life. The seasons follow each other in a particular order - that's a fact of life. The planets in the solar system orbit in a pattern - that's a fact of life. But none of these seem particularly useful in helping us deal with life around us on a day-to-day basis and I don't think any of those facts were what my parents were hinting at. There is, however, one fact of life I've discovered that can help us on a day-to-day basis: nothing is permanent. That goes hand-in-hand with "change is the only constant".

Buddhist tradition embraces this concept, everything, absolutely everything is impermanent. Including us.

It seems to be one of the things we almost actively resist and try to ignore. With the exception of when we're going through a tough time it suits us to remember that "this too shall pass, it's not permanent, this tough time will change".

But I think we're deluding ourselves if we acknowledge that fact of life only works one way. I understand that while it's a liberating and helpful concept for some of us, it can be a bit frightening as well. Frightening because most of us like to feel attached to someone, a group, our material belongings or whatever is important to us. We live with the mistaken belief that that we'll always have those things we are attached to and we'll be able to keep them just as they are. The thought that people, things or situations might change or disappear completely, leaves us feeling vulnerable, sad, lonely and a myriad of other uncomfortable feelings. Feelings we don't really want to embrace.

But burying our heads in the sand and not being realistic about change and impermanence doesn't help us when we get thrown into a period of upheaval, as we inevitably will. Being prepared at least allows us to have some control over how we respond and maybe to even influence the direction of the changes.

When we deny the reality of loss and change, we tend to take all we have for granted. If we think we will have something or someone forever we get a bit complacent and do not treasure, cherish them or be grateful for them.

Living in the fantasy that it all takes care of itself and we can sort it tomorrow, stops us from taking the responsibility to do all we can to grow and invest in our lives and relationships. How many opportunities do we miss? How often do we miss the chance to say "sorry" or "I love you".

The paradox is that it's only when we see ourselves within the limitations of time that we become aware of the value of time. By acknowledging that life and its circumstances are limited, it gives us the opportunity to live each day, good or bad, to its fullest.

We may look at change and loss with dread. I wholeheartedly acknowledge that there are times when it just plain hurts like hell. But it will pass and it's good to know that. So too will the good days, so remember to enjoy them, to be grateful and to avoid becoming complacent.

Change and loss may be a fact of life, how we look at it though is entirely up to us.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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