So much of our lives is spent in preparation to avoid disaster, pain, discomfort, or just plain old inconvenience. Last week I was driving when I saw the above sign, except I'm pretty sure it read, "Road May Be Flooded."
I chuckled, amused at how reactionary the sign was. I mean, how often does this sign warn people about an actual flood--maybe once or twice per year? If that. (It was a fairly elevated street, with no rivers, streams, or swamps nearby.) And yet, there the sign hangs, announcing to the world that there is a .1% chance that this road may be flooded.
The sign encapsulates human nature: we want certainty, safety, predictability. Even in the off chance that lightning might strike, we want to be prepared for it.
Buddhism confronts those needs, reveals how arbitrary and unrealistic they are, and gives us the skills to swim in the flood. Not just the actual floods--when life sucker punches us--but the imaginary ones, for those are the most prevalent.
When Mark Twain famously said, "Some of the worst things in my life never even happened," he was expressing a fundamental insight into suffering. More often than not, the source of our suffering is the anticipation of things that will never even happen.
Some facts about life:
It contains uncertainty.
We are going to suffer.
No matter how much we try to prepare for the future, eventually life will surprise us.How we respond to those unpredictable moments determines whether we view them as surprises or headaches.
The first step is recognizing our need to prepare our lives with mental flood signs and then try to accept the inevitable uncertainty that characterizes life.