Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Element of Surprise

--by Margaret Wheatley (May 19, 2008)

Very little about the emerging nature of life supports who we have tried to be. Life invites us to play along, discovering as we go. Life wants to work with us in surprising ways. We could make our lives so much more interesting, and develop so many new capacities, if we sought to work with the unknowns of emergence, rather than try and plan surprise out of our lives.

What do we do with surprise? What do we do with a world which cannot be known until it is in the process of discovering itself? It requires constant awareness, being present, being vigilant for the newly visible. We need to notice things we weren't looking for, things we didn't know would be important, influence we hadn't thought of, behaviors we couldn't predict.

An emergent world invites us to use our most human of all capacites, our consciousness. It asks us to be alert in the moment for what is unfolding. What is happening at this moment? What can we do because of what we just learned?

An emergent world welcomes us in as conscious participants and surprises us with discovery. "To recognize that everything is surprising is the first step toward recognizing that everything is a gift," says Brother David Steindl-Rast.

Our plans are nothing compared to what the world so willingly gives us.

--Margaret Wheatley

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Previous Reflections:

On May 20, 2008 Conrad wrote:
Excellent. It is so good that that I'm not surprised I sent this to 12 people. Thanks much. and peace to all.

On May 20, 2008 Denise wrote:
I just want to share this message with you.


On May 20, 2008 Richard Shotz wrote:
Well...this is so wonderful, isn't it?...So wonderful...

On Nov 10, 2013 sam wrote:

 Gave this to my husband.  just what he needed. he was not looking at the world's surprises.

On Nov 10, 2013 rmichael5766 wrote:

 The most dramatic experience I can think of is when I first arrived in Vietnam in 1967. I was waiting for the company commander to pick us up at the company rear area when I made an observation that was life changing.
I had come there with nearly two years of training to lead a squad of men who were trained in small arms infantry. The company commander said that he would need to retrain some of the guys to be medics and mortar people and after speaking to a few I mentioned that i had noticed in the breakdown of the company that there was only one NCO in the mortar platoon. He acknowledged that and also said that he would be returning stateside soon....was i interested? I had very little training at all with mortars but he said that wouldn't' be a problem. After becoming the platoon leader it offered me a chance to remain with the company during the day as well as to stay within the perimeter of the company at night unlike the other units that left.
That experience of being aware and present may have been what allowed me to return a whole person.

On Nov 10, 2013 Bonnie wrote:

 One of the reasons that I am a watercolorist is to see the surprises one is able to produce with the paints and water. You have to be open to surprise in these incidences, for sure.  Sometimes they are happy accidents, sometimes they require extra work.  In either case, it's worth the ride! It lives!

On Nov 10, 2013 Carl Riedy wrote:

 inconveniences...  Taking the trash out, emptying the dishwasher, standing in lines at the pharmacy, anywhere for that matter provides us with moments to be mindful of the more difficult alternatives and our interconnectedness with the world.  For example, as one waits for a prescription, we have the opportunity to consider all who made this drug possible and be thankful.  As we do the mundane, not only can we offer it up; we can practice one of the fruits of the Spirit such as patience, we can connect positively with those around us and we can try to discover the presence of the Spirit in the world around us.
While I often fail and become frustrated, when I do focus the world is calmer, the event richer.

On Nov 10, 2013 pumpedup.32 wrote:

 I had an unexpected pregnancy when my other four children had finally reached school age .  She has added amazing joy to my life!

On Nov 10, 2013 Rod Williams wrote:

 The world is truly a great teacher. The blending of the Yin and the Yang leaves a lot of room for us to grow. The us I am referring to definitely includes me.

On Nov 10, 2013 Lori Weber wrote:

 Being sent for training as a teacher, after 23 years , seems like a chore.The last two times I went to workshops ,however,turned out to be very inspirational and I am grateful for the insight and wealth of new ideas.

On Nov 10, 2013 Sarah Johnson wrote:

The desire to control, for me, is the biggest threat to accepting the invitation of the emergent world. 

On Nov 10, 2013 brad wrote:

 Well put!

On Nov 10, 2013 Angie wrote:

 This opened my eyes, i am a person that always throws a fit when things don´t come out the way I want, I will try to learn from this and see it as something that wasn´t  meant to happen at that precise moment.

On Nov 10, 2013 Betty wrote:

 I pray to be able to stay aware more, search for encouragement as it comes and give encouragement to others.

On Nov 10, 2013 Linnie wrote:

 The car parked across the footpath and into the driveway made it impossible for my wheelchair to pass using the pavement.  I called and called, but no one came, so I turned round and went back down the block to the corner where I could exit the pavement onto the road, and rolled up along the road, something I hate doing in the wheelchair.  As I passed the house that had left its vehicle so rudely across the pavement a huge drop of rain fell onto my glasses.  Momentarily furious, I shouted at the house as I passed - then was suddenly overwhelmed with joy:  for the rain, for the road, for the ease of my rolling wheels - how lucky I am, how fortunate to have all this and the senses to love it all - 

On Nov 10, 2013 Betty wrote:

 I love it when something seemly awful turn out to make me find my sense of humor and that brings joy!  Thanks for reminding me of the sweetness of joy!!!!!!!

On Nov 10, 2013 Ria Collee wrote:

When my car "died" last February I decided to try to do without one for one year. I live close to the center of town and we have reasonable bus service. There are still times when I feel: "oh bother" when I realize I need to do something that would be so easy to do if I had a car or when I am pressed for time.This morning I was running late for getting to the Friends Meeting  for worship but when there is no choice you just do it. One of the blessings is that you don't get tempted to use the car when you would rather keep your carbon footprint low. Cold morning but I had time to marvel at the beauty of the red/yellow/orange and brown leaves on the trees I rode past. Also grateful that at age 72 I can still get up those hills and getting the exercise will help keep my heart strong. Feeling very blessed

On Nov 10, 2013 Daisy1 wrote:

 I am grateful so often, I think, so when this prompt showed up I was a little surprised. How do I deal with inconvenience? Of course I was 'blessed' with several today...a wait at the grocery store, hot water that ran out when I wanted a good hot bath for a sore back, a gate that got locked and wouldn't come undone. Each time I noticed these I looked for my gratitude. And each time I said thank you for all of the times things worked just as I hoped they would. These tidbits today, humbled me and had me grateful for the good moments and hot water.

On Nov 10, 2013 NiceNora wrote:

 I have seen people park like this and have often wondered if this has actually presented such an issue for someone in your situation. I am always tempted to leave a note on the windshield telling the car owner how disrespectful and rude they are for parking like that. I walk with my 2 small grandsons and have had to take them around cars like this. I think I would be so tempted to call 911 and complain about being block from getting through on the sidewalk. Good for you for going around.

On Nov 11, 2013 Linnie wrote:

 The children who have to walk out on the road like this always do worry me - they have to compete with the traffic instead of using the pedestrian footpath because there is no way round - and there was no way for me BUT to go back and use the road - wheelchairs don't take to bumping down kerbs kindly!  And I once did write a note to someone to put on their windscreen -  but then I could not reach it!  That did make me laugh at myself, always a healthy thing!

On Nov 11, 2013 Rita wrote:

After reading the reflections of others, I came to the realization that there really are very few things in my life that are what I consider to be inconveniences.  It is for this that I am truly grateful and blessed.  The small inconveniences mentioned by many are just a part of everyday life.  A true inconvenience is disturbing and frustrating but should also make us examine our lack of patience when we over-react to life's little everyday inconveniences - ie. taking out the trash, finding a parking spot further away than you planned on a cold and rainy day, long line-ups when their is only one cashier open, realizing that you forgot your lunch, keys, etc.  Things can always be worse!

On Nov 11, 2013 sarah wrote:

 This is very inspiring and very relevant to me right now. I am working hard to 'go with the flow' of life and not force my plans onto it. Things go better when we let go.

On Nov 6, 2014 Joe wrote:

 Some unexpected events makes us more resilient.

On Nov 6, 2014 Ale wrote:

 I have a perfect example, my mother lost her job in July, but this opened her mind to look at new work opportunities, move from one country where she has been living for 30 years and come closer to me. Sometimes a surprise element is an opportunity to change for the better.

On Nov 6, 2014 Ale wrote:

That is great! An inconvenience brought you to be healthier and move more, I wish you more good health and good spirits  from this small change in your life!

On Nov 6, 2014 Keshia wrote:

 The element of surprise is such a great thing, I am often in a rush and don't take time to think that delays are sometimes there to protect me.... I am thankful for the delays and for the opportunities I experience. 

On Nov 12, 2014 ahe wrote:


On Aug 1, 2015 Julie wrote:

I just read this amazing piece! So connected!

On Nov 27, 2015 Stephanie Morin wrote:

Until recently I had not known that walking my dog would open me up,to the beauty of nature, quietness and solitude. Living alone and working to make a living are necessary but having to walk your dog daily seemed like a real inconvenience. Until I started to pay attention to all the treasures I received once I forced myself to get out there with my little Trixie. Now I love the quietness, the sounds of nature when we walk on our nature trail and the complete solitude. Now I try to live in the moments when we head outside for a walk and feel blessed for,the I convince of having to walk my dog!

On Nov 27, 2015 Trez wrote:

 That old saying - when a door closes a window opens - sort of reminds me of inconveniences. Sometimes they see like the closing of a door. Not a BIG deal, but irritating at times. I have not had things I consider inconveniences for a long time. I think it is because I have chosen to think about what there is to be grateful for. I have been practicing that strategy for 6 years now - amazing how the approach changes things. I hope I continue to look at life this way. The difficult part is choosing to go with gratitude when it is MORE than an inconvenience. Baby steps, I guess - hopefully I will get there eventually for the bigger issues.

On Nov 29, 2015 Judi Lloyd wrote:

 I am by nature a highly impatient person.  Little things: dropping something on the floor that I have to pick up; forgetting things (although I'm a fanatic note writer!); talking before I think; always being in a hurry with a hugely full daily schedule; etc.; etc. make me extremely angry - with myself!  I would like to slow down a bit to enjoy the moment (perhaps of nothingness???). I can never see myself meditating as my mind is always on something else.  But, these are some things I would truly like to work on!

On Dec 8, 2015 joe wrote:

 it is a relieve when you just sit back at times and await the unexpected...when you do not have to figure out so much on everything. nice article  

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