Topic 4 – Me, Myself and I
We are all a product of the unique way we organize data coming in from the world around us, a product of our worldview. The world is as the world is, but for each of us, it is instead a product of how we experience it—meaning what thoughts we entertain about it and our emotional response to those thoughts. Read that sentence again. It is key. We have been duped into believing we’re interacting with the world when, in fact, we are interacting with our own thoughts about it. We rarely experience the world just as it is. We create it for ourselves through our thoughts, and our experiences of those thoughts. I don’t know about you, but when I got that, really got that, I felt like one of the lost children of Israel, as if every other creature on earth had been invited to live as a member of the grand family of life, but me. That’s what our worldview does to us. Not that we don’t belong, for we do; not that we’re not intimately a part of everything, for we are, but it doesn’t appear that way to us. Crazy,eh? Mary Oliver captures so poignantly where we find ourselves:
The place I want to get back to
is where in the pinewoods
in the moments between
the darkness and first light the
two deer came walking down the hill
and when they saw me
they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay,
let’s see who she is and why she is
sitting on the ground, like that,
so quiet, as if asleep or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;
and so they came on their slender legs
and gazed upon me not unlike the way
I go out to the dunes and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward
and nuzzled my hand, and what
can my life bring me that could
exceed that brief moment…
We’re on the outside looking in, into our heads that is, while fully equipped to live in a different way, but seemingly not able. Yet, deep down we sense this contradiction, or we wouldn’t tear-up or sit in awe as we read this poem. We want to belong some way, some how.
It doesn’t take much of a jump to begin to understand why we struggle so relating to one another. In the midst of a conversation, work project, or ensuing romance, we have our own experience of it and they theirs. It makes misunderstanding rampant. It makes trust and openness often an act of sheer courage and faith.
I used to watch my border collie each morning as I undid his tie-up, and we walked off to another day of shepherding. Creag was ecstatic about the day’s possibilities, his eyes wide with anticipation, running circles around me for the utter hell of it. I wondered what it would be like to start my day in that state of unadulterated joy. I envied him. My dog was present with the world just as it was, but me, I’d stumble up the drive to the barn rapt in thought: lists of to do’s, worries, plans; nothing that reflected the world just as it was in that moment where Creag was living. And don’t think it was the lists or plans that were the problem. It was me making them my world, when my reality was walking up the drive, surrounded by the day unfolding in a beautiful part of the world.
Can you believe it, all this trouble, trial and suffering the result of a syntax—the manner in which our language is structured—coupled with our early conditioning that teaches us to place our attention primarily among our thoughts in our head rather than in the place where we might be standing with whatever is happening there. This results in the world feeling more like a stranger than a friend. We become wary of it and the creatures that inhabit it. It should be getting clearer now, why we struggle so with the world and have the problems that we do and never seem to be able to completely solve any of them—meaning resolving them such that they do not appear again, i.e. war ends, starvation ceases, love exists without end. Instead, fear becomes a fact of life and the desire to control— our answer to being afraid—asserts itself as our common response, creating a reaction that keeps the wheel turning. Such a context makes our lives rife with tension, worry and belligerence.
To try and change the world from within our syntax is futile. Surely we’ve noticed our singular lack of advance in stopping war, crime, or inhumanity. The syntax is the problem. Working within it to produce real change is the proverbial rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Or more eloquently put by Einstein—you cannot solve a problem at the same level of consciousness that created it. Can we free ourselves then from this conundrum? Indeed we can. Know Thyself is the first step. Topic 5: Squeezing the Infinite into Your Briefcase will help us a bit more to that end.