Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
Tao te Ching
Misery is a cruel but faithful lover.
The most popular addiction in the 21st century seems to be not drugs or alcohol but good old fashioned despair. People cling to their misery like a worn but beloved security blanket. They take pills and spend endless hours on therapeutic couches in a vain attempt to kill the beast, but turn around and sneak him treats between the bars at every opportunity. Feed the beast, for if he leaves you, you might truly find yourself alone! cries the Voice. The most creative minds in history kept him as a pet. He makes you special. He is your destiny. Be secretly proud he has chosen you.
Each of us has a Voice we listen to. The Voice is a mélange of all the lessons we learned in childhood, the realities we created to make sense of the world. The Voice is our deepest Truth, and we filter everything we see and hear through its endless advice. The Voice is our perception of the universe.
The bad thing is that the Voice lies. A lot. And the greatest secret is that the Voice belongs entirely to us, and we can change its message at any time.
Most people are so used to this constant companion that we no longer hear the whispers. Or if we do, we believe that this is the expression of intuition, or the gentle guidance of god, or simply axiomatic common sense. It never occurs to us that what goes on in our own minds is within our control. It can be guided. It can be changed.
Another secret: everything goes on in our own minds. All of it. Every dot and tiddle, every thought and feeling, every little thing we experience. It’s all in our heads. Where else could it be?
The world around us may not be within our control, but how we perceive it, taste it, judge it, understand it? That is entirely our domain. You are god of your own understanding. Scary thought, no? If you have that much power, victimhood loses some of its sparkle. If we are merely players, strutting and fretting through our own self-written dialog, “woe is me” starts to look rather banal and flat. It’s safer to believe in the clockwinder, or in destiny. Besides, who wants to play Pollyanna when Ophelia gets so much more applause?
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,” says Marianne Williamson. “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most.”
And so we protect ourselves from this knowledge. Inside us is a series of filters, like glass windows through which we see reality. They are the speakers of the Voice. They are our truths. They are the things we believe about ourselves and the universe. They are our moral compass. Their Voice whispers through them as we walk through our world. The chatter drowns out everything else. We listen and we obey.
We’re so accustomed to these filters that we fail to notice how smudged and dark they have become. These filters were often put in place as childhood survival mechanisms, and we don’t always recognize that what saw us through the darkest hours of our most vulnerable years becomes a hindrance in adulthood. If we could remove these filters and see the world as it is, I believe we would spend most of our lives laughing at the simple beauty and the beautiful simplicity of it all. On the other side of that glass is the silent, voiceless song of joy. No wonder people are terrified. Joyful people are rarely tragic heroes. They’re so… pedestrian. And so we cling, and look through a glass darkly.
“Life is shit!” we cry. “Nothing good ever happens.”
While it would seem intuitively obvious that all of us would want to clear the feces from our eyes, it seems that shit is addictive. Anything that threatens the reality of our filters is quickly rejected as heresy. We press our faces to these cloudy windows, protecting them from harm. If you’ve ever had a friend with a perception problem that was antagonizing them, you’ve probably already seen this phenomenon. No matter how gently you try to lead them to a place of personal power, they fight to stay in their safety zone. When asked to explain their thoughts and feelings, they spout of a series of maxims until they eventually reach a place where there are no more defenses and truth gets shaky. At that point you can count on a well-timed subject shift or the last resort of the specious: “That may be true for YOU, but that doesn’t work for me. We’re all unique, you know.” Then they reach for a vodka tonic or a pill, or put on their sad music or write tragic poetry. Anything that highlights the crystalline beauty of their own melancholy. Feed the beast. Gotta keep him fat and happy.
When in this situation, all I can do is throw up my hands and simply hope that there is a new, tiny crack in their perception, maybe even big enough to let in the light of their own personal power. Besides, who am I to lead anyone through the dark night? I carry my own filters with me. We all do. Until I stand in the full glory of my own godhood I doubt my ability to guide anyone else through the murky forests of false victimhood.
And so I work on the beam in my own eye. I watch for patterns. I use my emotions, not as a thermometer that measures “good” or “bad” in the world, but as a legend indicating how I’ve painted truth. Things that frequently irritate me are a sign screaming “Here there be dragons!” An immediate dislike of another person usually points to something inside myself I don’t want to see. A blue note in the song of the world? Why did I play it so? If I’m not happy, then it’s time to redefine happiness and the path to getting there. As each filter falls, I step around the broken glass, smile at the new colors around me, and keep an eye out for the next shimmering wall. Sounds too simple? The greatest truths usually are.
I’ve tried to share some of this Truth with my daughter. She thinks I’m insane. She’s still in the school that proclaims “we are who we are.” You can’t change your mind like you change your nail polish! “I can’t change my BRAIN!” she yells.
Of course, she’s only 17. I figure I’ve laid a foundation, and the first time she shifts perception on her own, the light bulb might click on. I hope she doesn’t spend too many years locked in her own prison before discovering her fantastic leverage on reality. I know I did.
Archimedes was wrong. The lever that can move the world is smaller than a flash of insight. A moment’s epiphany can kill the beast and silence his Voice.