Click here for part 1.
Would you like window or aisle seat?
It would be an important step on this exploration to look at where these preferences come from. As we’ve covered it in the piece on free will, what you call as ‘you’, your body and mind, are really just an accumulation of food and a bunch of impressions you had over the years. These impressions, where you grew up, how was your parents’ marriage, where you went to school, your first job, your (first) marriage, etcetera have all created a bundle of likes, dislikes, preferences, fears and desires in you. To make it a short story, you essentially view the world through these. These events, which formed your personality, have superimposed themselves on the very way you experience your life. It’s as if someone drew a blue butterfly on your binocular lens. Whichever direction you look this damn butterfly is just there overlapping the sights you see. That’s psychology 101. I think even Freud wouldn’t find anything at fault here.
Once you have categorised the world into things you like and don’t like, you have just tainted the very experience of your life because you have brought your personality into the match. Now you’ll inevitably run towards the things you like and avoid the things you don’t like. You will not be able to help living your life unconsciously. You’ll have needs about how things should or shouldn’t be. All in the name of being okay inside. You need life to match this blueprint only so that you can feel okay. I’m not even talking about feeling loving or joyful inside. You either feel terrible (there is a scale) depending on how bad things have gone or feel okay, or just a little bit of love and happiness, if things have gone as you have expected them to be. That is rather limited, would’t you say?
The operating word is expected. Now that you have a way you want things to be you have automatically laid a whole bunch of expectations over how life should be: your spouse should always understand you, your children always obey you, your colleagues always deliver things on time, the weather should always be the way you want it, your favourite team should always win.
The problem with expectations is that they can either be met or unmet. If they’re unmet it’s a full blown crisis in your experience. If they’re met you’ve averted a full blown crisis. If they have been surpassed, perhaps a once-a-year kinda event, you’ll be happy but it won’t last long because the next set of expectations come. Can you see that this never ends? It is impossible to find joy when you have already planned out how things should be. You’ve effectively declared war on life and you’ll not relent until she gives you what you want.
You’re not alone
If it was only one person on the planet having such expectations it wouldn’t be a terrible thing. I mean it’s still a limited life but have it your way. Make believe there were nearly 8bn of us living on this planet. Imagine if all of us had a way on how things ought to be. Can you see what devastation it would bring? Can you see how many wars would be declared? We’re all fighting over the same thing. Can you see that 99% (or more) of the people are living their life the same way? Can you see that it is not sustainable? I’m not talking ESG sustainable. I’m talking life-sustainable.
Living life this way is very hard. You constantly have to be out there, take the bull by the horn, make things happen, you’ve to kick ass and take names, you’ve to blitzscale to the moon. All the buzzwords. It is very exhausting. And you wonder why are there so many people mentally sick. I’m not talking real illnesses, I’m talking minor stuff. And worse yet people identify with their suffering. That’s the worst thing you could do. Look at this pandemic. For a certain segment of the population, who have been fortunate enough to work from home and have all their necessities met by others, this would have been the most wonderful time to spend with their spouses or partners. What did they do instead? They went and got divorced or ended up in therapy.
Life’s advisory board
Everybody is telling life how she should be. I should get married, have a child, get a new job, my wife should love me as I am, my son should go to university, it should not rain tomorrow. It goes on and on. She has an advisory board of almost 8bn people all wanting her to be a particular way. Does doing this make you happy? Does wishing and hoping that one day things might be different fulfil you? I don’t know you but my guess it doesn’t. There is a very good reason the way this moment is the way it is and it has nothing to do with your preferences. It has a very long history behind it.
Imagine you’re in a relationship, your favourite flowers are peonies and you only ever want white peonies. For whatever reason you just can’t get enough of them. You leave subtle hints for your partner about peonies but he is still not buying them for you. Then you go on the attack a bit more and next time you pass by a flower shop you point to the peonies and remark just how beautiful they are. Still no peonies. What’s wrong this guy? Next, you nudge further by telling him how so and so’s husband bought her an entire bouquet of peonies. Yet despite all your efforts there are still no peonies. Now you’re angry and telling him in no gentle words that you next Tuesday you want to have peonies on the vase on the kitchen table or else. Finally, peonies happen. But then you go closer and see something that shocks you to your core. Did he…? No, he didn’t…! How could he…? He got the wrong colours. OMG! Your favourite is white but he got you red ones. Now you’re furious and you think if he really truly loved you he’d have known it. Now imagine the poor sap husband. He finally got her what he thought she wanted and after a moment of joy she is unhappy again.
In effect, that’s what you’re doing to life by telling her your preferences. You’re hounding her day in and day out about what you want to happen. And once again despite all your efforts you’re still not getting what you want. And you wonder why 99% of 8bn of us is not okay?
Let’s pretend you love all kinds of flowers. You might have a preference for peonies because of the way they looked or something else but you couldn’t care less if you had them or not. You don’t hound your husband and you were just joyful by your own nature even if you didn’t get one. When you walk past a flower shop you’re gushing about the flowers. You go out and buy your own flowers. You spread them all over the house. You just love them all. When your husband gets you some flowers, even if they might be something simple he found by the road, you’re just in love with them and him. You take care of them. I guarantee you you’ll be getting flowers for the rest of your life. And you’ll be getting flowers unexpectedly. Then on your tenth anniversary your husband flies you to Holland for the annual flower show as a surprise. You’re now in total ecstasy.
Becoming sensitive to life
Can you see that living life the first way makes you insensitive? You don’t experience life, you experience your opinions about it. To put it differently, you’re mind sensitive. You do and feel whatever it tells you. One minute you’re okay, the next you’re agitated because of what someone told you. One minute you’re happy, the next you’re sad because of what happened last week. Imagine if your arm was doing the same thing, if it was going up and down, up and down all by itself. You’d probably be calling a doctor. But because everyone is so lost in their minds you don’t seek help. You call this…normal.
Don’t try this at home (or try it if you’re brave…). Next time you’re in a conversation with someone, right when they’re in the middle of talking to you, just turn around and walk away. Don’t look back, don’t say anything just walk away. I wish you’d see their eyes and facial reaction. They’ll freak. You’ll soon hear them: “Excuse me, hey, I was talking to you! Why are you walking away in the middle of our conversation?! Hello, I’m talking to you!!” For the next hour they’ll be talking about you behind your back about just how rude you were walking away like that. You’d also freak if someone walked away while you were talking to them. Let’s admit it though, you’re not really interested in the vast majority of what people have to say you’re just being polite by staying there.
To be honest, I’m not even interested in what my mind has to say most of the time.
Now, this might be considered rude socially but do you see how attached we are to our minds (thoughts, emotions and feelings). When we are in the middle of expressing what’s on our mind and the person we were talking to walks away it’s like an explosion inside, right? How dare they do that? I was talking to them. Most of the things we say have very little existential consequence, it just the game of the psyche. Nothing wrong with it. I’m not suggesting you do this all the time, you’ll soon be without friends, I’m just simply citing it as an example of how much importance we dedicate to our psyche generally.
But I don’t fault you. Heck, I had no clue that this is what’s going on. There are no classes on this in school, most grandparents, parents and people in general have no idea either. Perhaps if you had a wayward uncle who was into some illicit “esoteric” stuff in the 1970s you might have some sense of reality but otherwise very unlikely. For me, I needed an experience with cancer to experience something open up. For some, it was what they call a near-death experience. It took them almost permanently to leave their body to wake up! Isn’t that extreme? For some others, perhaps a divorce or some other difficult periods in their life. The truth is very few people stumble into this joyfully. Normally something has to go wrong for us to wake up. Normally something has to jolt us out of our current way of living, really the current states of our minds, to make a shift. I don’t want that to happen to you.
Truth is ‘difficult times’ are inevitable, you know, someone or something will eventually crash your party one day. If it hasn’t happened yet just wait for it. Something will go wrong when you least expect it. The point is not to avoid the gatecrash but to be ready for it and to handle it to the best of your abilities. You want to become an expert-partycrash-handler so that whatever situation life presents you with you’ll always do your best. When you can handle difficult situations in an expert way you can go deeper and deeper into more difficult situations and bring solutions. You don’t have a way things should be you’re just doing the most appropriate thing in a given situation. You can be a light in dark places.
Part 3 coming soon.