You Can’t Get Life Right

By Paul Dunion | February 1, 2017

It can take a long time before we understand and accept that we can’t get life right or correctly.  Our culture is obsessed with the illusion that we all can get life right. You just need the right education, the right networking, the right financial investments and right stuff to get it all right. Of course, it means attaching to two illusions: life is essentially understandable and we are all capable of such understanding.  When failure happens, we either turn against life for having done awful things to us or condemn ourselves for being so inadequate.


Turning Against Life and Ourselves

One way we turn against the mystery of life is to reduce our lives to whatever is practical. The concreteness of life lends itself to some sense of rightness or correctness. We can learn about personal hygiene, bringing beauty and order to an environment, learning to purchase healthy food and prepare it, getting formally educated, acquiring a job, managing money and acquiring social skills. Once we reduce life to these measurable items, we can comfort ourselves with getting them done right.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t appear to be content with being reduced to what brings us comfort. Natural disasters, loss, illness, oppression and a myriad of what appear to be unsolvable predicaments have life reminding us of its immensity.

The other option is to dare to bring more depth and meaning to our lives. We can acknowledge the value of practical accomplishments, and refuse to allow concrete matters to be the essential story of our lives. Hence, when it comes to expressions of life’s mystery such as love, freedom, generosity, gratitude, humility, creativity, courage and compassion, we must be ready to let go of getting life right. If we don’t, we are inclined to turn against ourselves with accusations of stupidity, insensitivity and lacking vision. These indictments suggest that the core of life’s mysteries is penetrable and we can shame ourselves into getting it right.  If we are willing to let go of turning against life or ourselves, then we may allow life to get us right.


Life Can Get You Right

Allowing life to get us right is a powerful spiritual axiom.  It calls for a serious downsizing of the ego. Since most of our life experience is out of our control, it makes sense to allow life to be mostly in control.  When life is allowed to be in control, there’s an opportunity for it to get us right. We return to who we were meant to be rather than pursuing who we thought we should be. Thomas Moore speaks about allowing life to teach: “Real strength of character shows itself in a willingness to let life sweep over us and burrow its way into us.” As we allow life “to burrow its way into us”, we take on lessons that endure through our entire lives, rather than be satisfied with knowing how to operate the latest technological device.

Let’s examine some ways we can allow life “to burrow its way into us”, teaching us with both ferocity and gentleness.

  • Letting go. Learning to let go of what is out of our control returns us to who we are, living with less illusion and pretense. When we are less distracted by what is out of our control, we are less fatigued and more receptive to life’s teachings.
  • Remain a student. In order for life to get us right, we must remain a student, allowing it to teach us. This happens by being aware of attaching to contrived certainties that are organized in order to massage the ego. Remain curious. Hold you unknowing shamelessly.  Do what you can to hold the faith that more will be revealed, especially when you feel lost and when you’re convinced you’ve attained some significant truth.  Always listen more than you speak.  Stay close to the questions: Where in my life are my actions yielding no satisfactory results? Has complacency numbed my curiosity? What is my heart’s longing? Is there a particular life pattern repeating itself, seeking my attention?
  • Getting support. Adventuring into life’s unknowns should not be done alone. We need viable support. The process is too big and there is always the seduction of giving up and returning to something more parochial.  And then the eventual experience of feeling overwhelmed where we need others to carry us for a while. We can ask: Who in my life is a seeker? Am I willing to ask for their help? How might our collaboration be mutually beneficial?
  • Self-referenced but not personal. Remaining self-referenced means staying focused upon what we desire, what we love, what we feel and what we value. Not allowing ourselves to take life too personally means noticing that most of our experience and our choices reflect the human condition and not your personal condition. Making mistakes in relationships, crafting a vocation, living with more generosity and gratitude are simply much larger than who we are. We can acknowledge one of our shortcomings while also holding the immensity of the undertaking and the inevitability of some oversight.
  • Self-forgiveness. We remain flawed (imperfect) human beings stumbling toward enlightenment. Hence, we will need to dare and risk, stepping into the unknown. It becomes critical to learn to forgive the stumbling and fumbling because without forgiveness, we get preoccupied with self-abuse. We ignore the teacher and the lessons shrouded by a perseveration of criticism.


Striving to get life right is destined for failure, and that just may be its greatest gift. It is typically failure that can help interrupt our fascination with getting life right. The hope is that life simply introduces its impenetrable mysteries over and over again, until failure brings us to our knees with some interest in another option. At that point we may have enough humility to become and remain a devoted student of life, allowing life its favorite pass time, teaching and getting us right.


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