Recently I was reading an article, in one of those slick semi-popular Buddhist magazines you see around town, about how great it was to let go of your plans and just, you know, go with the flow. The writer was a woman who loved planning things in minute detail. She had spent months obsessing about a cross-cultural vacation for her and her 10-year-old son in a small Mexican village, but on the first leg of their flight he got sick, and instead of going to Mexico they spent several days in the airport hotel until he recovered sufficiently for them to go home. The point of the article was that once she gave up her attachment to all the plans she’d made she was able to enjoy the experience: The board games! The airplanes taking off on a runway they could see from their window! Room service! Cool movies on the tv!
And I wondered: What if her son had been gravely ill? What if, instead of ending up in a hotel, they had ended up in a hospital? What if, as my grandmother would say, God forbid, her son had died? Would she have written a piece about how, having given up her attachment to her plans, she could truly enjoy the hospital food? Would she have written about the scintillating conversation of the other parents whose children were dying?
There are two good reasons to not be overly attached to our plans, and neither of them has to do with having a good time. The first is that it’s really stupid to keep trying to do something that clearly isn’t going to happen: If your kid gets a fever on the first leg of a flight to Mexico, you aren’t going to Mexico, so you might as well forget about it. The second and more important reason is that if your kid gets a fever on the first leg of a flight to Mexico and all you can think about is the fabulous plans you made and how they aren’t going to happen, dammit, then how can you help your kid?
If all we can think about is the plans we’ve made, we can’t really see what’s in front of us. Which means we can’t deal with what’s in front of us. Which means we’re pretty much useless.
And that’s the point. From the evidence she presents, she got that point: For several days in a hotel room at the Dallas airport, she focused completely on tending to her son. But when she came to reflect on her experience, she saw it through the inevitably distorting perspective of her self. So the point got lost, and the message became yet another piece of advice on how to increase our own happiness.
That’s never the point. Even if you live as a hermit in the woods, it is never about “me.” It is always, whether we realize it or not, about “us.”