Years ago when I was a teenager I was on a camping trip with my relatives and some of their family friends. I went for a walk in the hills with the daughter of one of the families. I took my walkie talkie with me and was radioing the camp. I thought it would be fun. At one point as we were walking down the hill back to camp we lost track of the trail. I said “We’ve lost the trail” and later “There are a lot of trees here, it’s getting dark”. I was not worried in the least. We had no map, and we had no trail, but there was a road by the campground and all we had to do was keep going down and we would have to hit the road at some point.
As we approached the camp we were greeted by a phalanx of adults who had decided to go searching for us. They thought we were totally lost in the woods. The girls’ brother had had an asthma attack from the stress and had gone to the hospital. The whole thing seemed totally ridiculous to me. But I realized then that most people really approach life in a very problematic way. They think you need to have some sort of certainty of outcomes. Minor things like losing the trail totally panic them. It seemed obvious to me, if you think about it for two more nanoseconds, there was zero real danger, given the nature of the terrain. My own parents were not worried of course. It was all the other parents and relatives.
I am a pessimistic person. Of all the people I know, probably the most pessimistic. I don’t expect anything to work out with certainty, and I don’t try to make things work out with certainty. But my pessimism doesn’t make me upset or sad or depressed, because I also don’t expect things to go wrong, either. I simply am open to what happens. If something goes wrong, I try something else. There is always some way to work with things, even if you are about to die in the next second. There’s always something to work with.
The Japanese say “gambatte” which means, roughly, “keep going!” It’s meant as an encouragement to someone going through a difficult situation.
I think optimism can be cruel when it is attached to outcomes. There’s a kind of open vast freedom which comes from working with every moment no matter what happens, regardless of outcome. You don’t have to have a map. You can work without a map. There’s actually no map, there doesn’t need to be a map. There needs to be working with everything, at all times. Just keep going.