For four years, I’ve volunteered as a sort of online sherpa for folks asking the single most important question we can ever ask ourselves. This question is very much related to my current 30 day project of finding passion and purpose, but it’s a precursor and it’s time I gave you that backstory.
What I do is to work hand in hand with people as they take a look at who and what they are. And I never provide answers, just pointers in the form of questions they go off and work with until they find their own answers. The answers have to come from themselves. It can’t be any other way. When found, they report a very fundamental life change.
In 2011, I accidentally stumbled on this type of inquiry while looking for an escape from the anxiety, worry, and pain that was with me daily as I navigated through the medical maze that was my husband’s care. As you may have read in other posts, we’d been through several significant health challenges over the course of our time together. Diabetes had led him to three years of blindness, three strokes, at least two incidences of needing to be brought back from near death through CPR, and at the time I began to search for a way to cope with all of this, we faced kidney disease and their inevitable failure. I was mentally exhausted from years of trying to remain positive through what seemed like a new blow that punched us in the gut every few years. And I could not even imagine how he felt.
What I realized is that I was very quickly running out of resilience and if I didn’t figure out how to cope with what was to come next… dialysis… the long wait for a donor kidney which might not come… I wasn’t sure what mental state I’d have left. I was beyond worry for him, and terrified for myself.
I can’t tell you what I googled to get there, but I came upon Byron Katie‘s videos on YouTube. People in spiritual circles will recognize the name, but at the time I had absolutely no idea about spirituality, enlightenment, or just plain waking up. And truthfully, I still don’t. I just know that I’d found a very practical way to take any problem and look at it from a perspective I’d never conceived of. Suddenly, my world expanded in ways I’m still processing and marveling over. Yes, it was that significant.
From those videos, I followed the comments and began to understand that there was an entirely different view of the world I’d never been exposed to and neither had any of my friends or family. How did this happen? How was it that no one I knew had any idea that we’re not trapped in our circumstance, only in our view of it?
I kept exploring.
What I learned four years ago is now becoming increasingly commonplace. It used to fall under the realm of spirituality, but that’s a category too limiting because it’s also recognized by neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, and even common sense. I found that the knowledge belongs to no one, which to me was perfect because that meant that it was free. There was no possible club to join and nothing to sign up for. If anything, it gave me complete independence from old and worn rules, paradigms, and ways of thinking and for the first time, I could rely on myself to understand how to navigate the world
Sounds too good to be true, right? It’s not. And it’s simple. It’s also catching on.
By now you probably want me to stop telling you about it and just get to the point. So I will. What I learned was how to separate reality from thought about reality. If that sounds simple, it’s because it is. Understanding that sentence on an intellectual level is easy, but the actual experience of it is what people like mystic Eckhart Tolle, media mogul Oprah, the Dalai Llama, and neuroscientist Sam Harris carries on about. Some of these folks make it seem special and difficult, but it’s not. It’s the most uncommon common sense there is.
Ok, so what’s this have to do with “just looking”? Everything. What I practice is looking instead of thinking, especially when I find myself in a difficult situation filled with worry and anxiety. Because we’ve been trained to process everything through the narration that goes on in our heads, and that narrator is an overlay on what’s actually happening. What’s actually happening is a lot less frightening and awful than what this narrator understands.
The narrator is absolutely incessant. It’s imaginary. And as a prognosticator, it’s almost always wrong.
To separate the events of life from my thoughts about them brings a measure of freedom that’s like yanking a chain metal veil from over my head. The world that’s exposed after that is more clear, balanced, and rational. I can cope with setbacks and hardships with a lot more grace. If that seems like too much of miracle, it’s not. It’s also work in progress.
There have been several aspects to this way of seeing things:
Looking for rather than thinking about the self. This lead to the understanding that not only am I not the center of the world, but life flows a whole lot easier when that’s an understanding that is lived. To examine and find out your own truth about the nature of the self brings a whole lot more ease and even joy.
Looking for rather than thinking about others. This lead to more compassion and tolerance. Once I understood how self centered thinking had shaped my view of others, I could relax and not blow up at the guy who cut me off in traffic or the coworker who cc’d the boss on an email meant to call me out.
Looking at rather than thinking about how the world works. This lead to a better understanding of human dynamics. Politics, wars, crime… name it and I now have a new and additional perspective on it.
The tool is the same in all three cases, and when liberally applied, changes the view of everything.
Day 19-21 will come on Monday: Real world examples of what it means to look rather than think about the world, and how all of this ties into ACTUALLY finding passion. And purpose. And bliss.