“We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy’s fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure–your perfection–is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
Change: The only universal constant
We want everyone else to change but we refuse. We think we are perfect just the way we are. But that is not always as true as we might believe.
We are the sum of our experiences, good and bad. Often our bad experiences define us far more than our good ones. We enjoy the good ones but rarely learn from them. We hate the bad ones, but their effect on how we think cannot be overlooked. So often much of what we are is the result of our reaction to life, not always life itself.
I challenge you to consider your imperfect life.
Of course it is imperfect, you are living in it. But I challenge you to spend an hour a day deconstructing your perceptions of reality. Who gave them to you? Who taught you to think the way you do?
Was it your mother, father, schoolteachers, your first bully or your hundredth? Was your worldview shaped by a pastor, a priest, or a religious tome you never told anyone you read and believed deep in your heart but never spoke its name aloud?
Truth be told, and this is a hard one. It is rare to find a thinking person who engages in original thought.
Why? Because we have been programmed from birth with the perceptions of all the people who teach us and expand our consciousness. To be mindful of your own thinking is one of the first things modern culture removes from us. Introspection becomes a Dark Art, a form of magic, performed and practiced by academics, mystics, sages, and motivational speakers.
We are taught to not listen to intuition, not to trust our gut, taught to listen to authority because it knows what’s best for you. We are taught to fear risk and hate change. This makes us obedient, pliant and non-complaining. We accept whatever is presented to us, no matter how abhorrent it might really be if you gave it a thought.
That’s the rub. If you gave it a thought. If you did you might notice:
- A hour television show is only 40 minutes long with the rest of the time spent in commercials, meaning you could have up to 40 commercials inflicted on your subconscious during this time.
- If you were to watch the 11 hours most Americans are reputed to, you could end up having 440 commercials using up your mental real estate. Couldn’t you be thinking of something else?
- Your entire life consists of authority figures polarizing your worldview for or against a particular perspective.
This is an invisible thing. You have to look for it to realize how often its done. You have come to accept this perspective and built your mental filters around it. It comes in many names: patriotism, racism, sexism, homophobia, Republican, Democrat, geek, jock, Liberal, Conservative, atheist, believer and so on. Now that I mention it you can probably find your words you use to filter and alter your perspective to suit it.
Let me challenge you to find the only duality that matters.
Life and Death.
You are born and will live until you die. Everything else is both optional and largely irrelevant.
It will not make you or break you to accept any of the labels or dualities thrust upon you by your parents, your schools, your religions, your friends, or your political parties.
So why do we do it?
- Because we don’t know any better.
- Because our parents can’t see the future so they give you what they were given.
- Because society wants us to have a certain perspective to better utilize our services.
- Because the economic model wants us to purchase enough goods to sustain it.
- Because our government wants us to believe whatever it is doing, it is right.
- Because our species wants to survive, by any means necessary.
Because for the most part we spend the bulk of our lives asleep. Not literally, but figuratively. It is easier to go along to get along. It is easier to comply than to resist.
The system knows this. It counts on this. I challenge you to consider the next time you are about to do anything. I challenge you to decide you are going along because you want to, or because you have been conditioned to.
Why even consider this? You are happy the way you are. You think to yourself: “Introspection is only likely to cause me pain if I discover after looking at my life deeply and fully that I’m an asshole. How can that be a good thing to learn? I like my Confederate flag. I love my gas-guzzling SUV. I really do hate those Mexicans. I am certain of it. No one makes me do it. I have always done it.”
But that is exactly why you need to consider it. Are you doing these things because you want to or because that was what you were taught?
- Were you told your Confederate flag was a sign of Southern Pride and has no other meaning than that? Are you aware some people might take offense? Are you aware why?
- Do you know any Mexicans? Have you broken bread with them, talked with them, walked with them, seen any aspect of their lives, know anything about Mexico or its history? Considered any aspect of their lives beside what you learned from the worst pundits on television?
- You don’t believe in climate change. But you do believe in the cost of your food going up. Why is that happening? Because food is not growing like it used to. Farms are not producing due to longer and hotter summers, longer droughts, random flash-flooding, longer storm seasons. You don’t have to believe in climate change. Be aware it may be happening anyway regardless of your belief.
The whole point of this exercise is to challenge what you believe to be true. Perhaps to make you aware your perspective is not the only one. To help you come to understand what we know about the universe is far less than what we don’t.
If you have a problem with that idea, go to your library. Look around at all of the books you haven’t read. Then ask yourself, if each of those books holds a single perspective about the universe from the person who wrote it, how much of the world is it possible for me to know anything about?
If you come to the conclusion, you probably don’t know anything at all, then you have arrived at the right place.
An acceptance of not knowing enough is only the beginning to introspection. It can help you learn new things about the world you took for granted. It can also free you from addictions, bad habits, health challenges brought on by living poorly. Phrases like “food deserts”, “obese yet malnourished”, “digital divide” “economic disparity” can come to have new meaning because you are open to learning about people other than yourself.
On the other hand, you can stay closed to the world, keep your limited perspective and change nothing. If you’re rich, you really don’t have to worry about it. You can pay your way through life, sparing not a thought for anyone who has less than you; less money, less opportunity, less education, an overall lessened quality of life is something they have to deal with, not you.
And you are right. But you are also only half a human being, living half of an unexamined life. Blindingly wandering through life wondering why you have fewer friends, less meaningful relationships, derive less overall happiness from life. This too is the price of an unexamined life.
Why tell you any of this at all? You’ve been getting by all this time without knowing any of it.
Because people will always have expectations of you. And those expectations are built around their preconceived notions, family-derived algorithms of right and wrong, socially-derived algorithms about how to treat you, how to pay you, whether to expose you to toxic materials in their quest for wealth and power. And make no mistake, someone is/has/will be doing this to you in the future.
The only duality you have to contend with is Life and Death. Everything else is a choice. Recognize other people want to make choices for you. Only when you know yourself using introspection, meditation, self-examination, whatever you want to call it, will you be able to recognize the correct response to deal with the situation.
Every event, every day, every moment can be a moment that promotes change in your life. Being aware makes you conscious of those choices and those moments and gives you a chance to consider something you do, before you do it, instead of simply reacting to life using the programming, the conditioning, you haven’t even looked at over the course of your life.
Be aware or not. It’s still your choice. The choice can be yours, or decided for you by someone else.
Be radical. Think about your life before you do something. Being aware of the choice may be more uplifting than you have ever considered.