“Life is the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations” (Herbert Spencer).
IF WE DO NOT ADAPT, WE DO NOT SURVIVE. Spencer was not exaggerating when he said that life is a “continuous adjustment.” The reasons why we must make adjustments are many, but for today’s meditation let’s consider just three things that require us to adapt.
(1) Undesirable circumstances. The real world is far from the ideal world we long to live in. So we have a choice: confronted with difficult, unpleasant, sorrowful, or painful conditions, we can cave in and become mere victims, we can accept the world with a bleak fatalism, or we can use our freedom to find constructive ways of adapting. “Learn to adjust yourself to the conditions you have to endure,” wrote William Frederick Book, “but make a point of trying to alter or correct conditions so that they are most favorable to you.”
(2) Change. Sometimes it is just the ever-changing nature of life that requires us to adapt. It might be nice if once we got our lives the way we want them to be (more or less), they would stay that way, but as we all know, nothing stays the same for very long. So next year will present us with a new situation, and we will have to adapt to it.
(3) Other people. Perhaps our greatest challenge is to adjust ourselves helpfully to the people around us. Some of the ways people differ are insignificant, but some are very serious. When we don’t adapt, we make ourselves miserable, but when we adapt to others with love, wisdom, and courage, we give them a very beautiful gift.
T. S. Eliot wrote, “It is not necessarily those lands which are the most fertile or most favoured in climate that seem to me the happiest, but those in which a long struggle of adaptation between man and his environment has brought out the best qualities in both.” Do you see the connection he makes between adaptation and happiness? It’s true, even if it sounds contradictory: we are happiest when we’re busy making the adaptations that life calls on us to make. And rightly engaging in the process of adaptation is a big part of what constitutes human virtue and goodness in this world. Eventually, we’ll have to answer for our choices!
“We talk about ‘circumstances beyond our control.’ None of us have control over our circumstances, but we are responsible for the way we pilot ourselves in the midst of things as they are” (Oswald Chambers).