“I was at my son’s graduation last week and we had to listen to the typical speeches full of naive optimism,” begins Al. Dave is walking at a brisk pace this morning, so Al takes a breath before telling the rest of his little story.
“Everyone always talks about how this generation is going to be different and how they are going to make the world better. Everyone implies that they know what they’re doing and how they’re not going to be like the previous group—or at least, not like the ones that broke the economy. Every generation has the hubris to believe it’s going to be different this time around and all I can think is—‘Seriously? Do you really think you can do any better?’”
“It’s part of growing up, it’s just fear,” says Dave, already looking for some kernel of truth in the matter. “They’re trying to build up the courage to face their uncertainty and the grownups are trying to instill that courage.”
Dave had an answer for everything. He had a unique way of being able to look in on the world from somewhere outside where he was able to make sense of the chaos.
“Well, someone ought to tell the kids the truth,” protests Al.
“Someone ought to tell the grownups the truth!” Dave shoots back.
“You mean, that the one with the most toys doesn’t actually win?”
“Nope, that the world won’t change because it can’t!”
“Gee, maybe you should try a little naive optimism,” Al remarks with his usual sarcasm.
“Right, I’ll remember that when I’m invited to speak at the next graduation.”
Al asks sheepishly, “Seriously, so what you’re saying is everything is already preordained—that it’s no use even trying to change the world?”
Dave looks at Al to confirm his question is sincere. “Every generation and graduating class believes that this time it’s going to be different; that they are about to set out to make the world a better place. They believe they won’t repeat all their predecessors’ stupid mistakes and that they have all the best ideas. What they fail to see is that the world’s problems aren’t an external one, but an internal one. It’s not about creating better urban transportation systems, finding a cure for cancer, or being the first to inhabit Mars. The first reason the world can’t change is because our extroverted nature makes us look the wrong way. The epitome of it is believing that by inhabiting Mars someday, we will be able to escape our problems here on Earth. In many ways, Mars is the perfect metaphor for what’s wrong with us. The fact that people are even considering a red desert planet as an alternative to the beautiful blue marble planet we currently inhabit, just goes to show that we’ve already left the Garden of Eden.”
Dave continues to make his point, “A person believes themselves to be a separate individual with free will. And on the surface, that’s obviously true. Unlike animals, we have an intellect and can make decisions, not just follow our instincts. But on closer inspection we find impersonal forces that are influencing our every emotion and thought and as a result, our actions too. Because we are unaware of these forces we are like objects moving to nature’s every whim. We are like a leaf being blown here and there, while all along believing it’s us that’s doing the blowing.”
“Wow, like alien forces?” Al says.
“Not quite, the forces may be unknown to most, but they aren’t alien. They unconsciously influence us and so are only alien to the extent that we are ignorant of them. We can simplify things by stating that the same powers that create, sustain and mold the world into form are the same impersonal powers that exist within our psychological makeup. These powers within consciousness are like the weather and include the power of clarity (clear skies), action (turbulent skies) and inertia (‘the fog’). The latter two will wreak havoc on the mind if left unattended and unabated.”
This is a topic Dave really likes to talk about, which tends to make him walk faster (to Al’s annoyance).
“Clear skies allow us to see and appreciate beauty, values and the truth. Clear skies don’t have many disadvantages, but if they did it would be the danger of becoming too attached to them. For example, if you develop a Jesus-complex from clear skies you’ve obviously got a problem.”Al nods in agreement, but Dave isn’t really sure if Al understands or not. “Starving artists are those who are so attached to clear skies they’re willing to die for their art. So clear skies are what gives us clarity of mind, letting the light shine through; and for the most part, clear skies are good, but they can still be a hindrance if we become tied to them.
“Turbulent skies are what get us out of bed in the morning and working hard to bring home the bacon. They provide the energy for life to take action. Unfortunately, too much turbulence can also make us feel anxious and/or full of desire. Passion is often associated with turbulent skies. Passion is good for motivation and getting shit done, but not so good if it becomes an obsessive-compulsive disorder and has you staying up all night binge-watching ‘Thrones’ so that you miss work the next day.
“‘The fog’ is what allows us to relax and fall asleep at night. It’s also what keeps us grounded. However, too much of the fog can make you lazy, dense and doubtful. After all that binge-watching—not to mention the bag of chips and ice cream you ate—you would probably feel very much ‘in the fog.’
“Turbulent skies have the power to project and disturb the senses making it hard to discriminate, and the fog has the power to conceal and hide the truth. Throughout the day these terrible twins, who often work in combination, come and go. Whatever we digest through the senses influences these internal forces and sometimes creates a whiplash effect. For example, drinking coffee in the morning to rev up, and then booze at night to come down. This is essentially your career-driven individual whose goal it is to become a millionaire before the age of 30. They go from whirling clouds to the fog without much clarity in between. On the other hand, many spiritual types might spend a good deal of time in the fog believing their enlightenment experience is just within arms reach. Again, too much of either is not a good thing.”
Al asks, “Why can’t we just have clear skies all the time?”
“Because it’s the weather! But unlike the weather, humans can decide whether or not to go along with their current climatic circumstance, ignore it or try to change it. For example, we can choose whether or not to be controlled by our desires (turbulent skies) or fears (the fog). The weather is just a metaphor for the changing conditions of the mind. And as we already know, the mind has a mind of its own. Still it pays to know how your climatic system changes throughout the day, what effects it, and how to manage it.”
“I guess I should dial back on those double espressos,” Al adds.
”But there’s more. As much as we’d like to believe that we have full control of our habits, mostly they have control of us.”
“Cool, like brain parasites with neurological tentacles!”
Al was in his forties with a mortgage, a wife and two kids, but in reality, still had the mind of a twelve-year old. Nevertheless, he was a good neighbor, which Dave appreciated. And in spite of their differences, they both seemed to enjoy each other’s company.
“Let’s say, for example, you grew up in a family that wasn’t poor, but sometimes struggled to buy you a new pair of shoes. All your friends had several pairs of shoes and those shoes were either Adidas or Nikes. Out of envy, you developed a strong desire to have the same shoes. One day, your dream came true and for your birthday your mom let you choose the pair of Adidas you wanted. You loved your new pair of Adidas so much that you cleaned them everyday and even stepped lightly while wearing them so that the soles wouldn’t wear too quickly. As you grew older, you entered the work force and could finally afford any pair of shoes you wanted. Now, you buy a new pair of shoes every month to reward yourself for a job that pains you. You have multiple colors of all your favorite styles. When you meet people, the first thing you notice are their shoes!”
“Shoe brain parasite?” interrupts, Al.
“So using your metaphor, this brain parasite was formed from a desire that began in childhood and has been kept unabated for years by your constant desire for a new pair of shoes. Each time the host—you—buys another pair of shoes you feed the parasite and it gets bigger and stronger. The parasite now has full control of you and in spite of not being able to pay your rent, you are still buying shoes.”
“Ugh, how do I get rid of it?” asks Al.
“You starve it to death. You have no choice! You lost your job, you can’t pay rent and you’re on the brink of financial ruin. At first, it’s tough. You avoid the internet which stalks you with shoe ads at every website you visit, and you stay away from all shopping centers. But eventually, you gain the upper hand and begin to feel a sense of ease as the tension created by the desire that began when you were just a boy begins to subside. The parasite isn’t dead, but at least it has shrunk down to a manageable size.”
“Ok, so what’s your point? That we’re all mad, infested with parasites?” Al had a tendency to always jump to conclusions, especially conspiratorial ones.
“Like those internal weather conditions, some can be good. For example, you might have developed a parasite…I mean…a habit that compels you to have good hygiene or avoid dark alley ways. In both cases, you’ve created a habit that benefits your welfare.”
“This is all very interesting, neighbor, but what does it have to do with not being able to change the world?”
“It’s just another example of the unconscious forces that lie within us and drive us to do actions sometimes against our best judgement. We are all victims to these forces until we become aware of them and make it a point to manage them.” Dave’s voice getting a bit quieter now before revealing the juicy part, “Imagine the whole world being vulnerable to these unconscious forces and you soon begin to understand why we can’t just stop crime, sexual abuse, corruption or existential threats like nuclear proliferation and global warming.”
“Yeah, ignorance bites.”
Dave quickly changes the topic in order to make another point. “You know, you’re right, it’s not uncommon for kids to believe that getting rich is the ultimate goal in life. But as we grow older, some of us learn that the life doesn’t always work out as planned.” He continues, “Let’s say you win the lottery and the payout is a modest 10 million. Nevertheless, you’ve never seen money like that before in your entire life and can hardly believe your good fortune. The first thing you do is stress out about how to manage all that money. You hire a financial advisor but wonder if he’s giving you the right advice. All of a sudden family and old friends you haven’t spoken to for years are calling to congratulate you, but you sense they might have an agenda and you don’t know how to manage your relationships with them any more. You go out and buy a beautiful coastal vacation home and decide to remodel it only to find out that when you’re not there the contractors you hired sit around and smoke dope. To make matters worse, your ‘financial advisor’ forgot to tell you to set aside the taxes owed from your lottery earnings and the IRS is now sending you letters. I’m using this example to make the point that life is a zero-sum game—for every up, there’s a down; for every pleasure, there is a pain; for every loss, a gain; for every praise, blame. We can’t change that, nobody can. There are no free rides here.”
“It’s sort of like that yin and yang symbol with the play of opposites.” In spite of Al’s naïveté, there were some things he understood and had retained.
“That’s duality, bro. What we perceive as beautiful can only appear so against a dull and mundane background. Likewise, what we call ‘bad’ only appears so standing next to ‘good.’ There is no game of life without the play of opposites. So as much as we’d like to have everything pleasant for us all the time, it’s not going to happen. The world won’t oblige.”
Dave had obviously thought much about the world and continued to make his argument for why it could never change. In spite of his somewhat depressing conclusion, he would always say the world is perfect the way it is, as if the world’s apparent disorder were all part of a noble plan.
“Another reason why the world can’t change is because of a funny belief. We believe that happiness is found in objects. On the surface it seems obvious that certain objects make everyone happy, but apply a little logic and you’ll see why this can’t be true. If happiness were in the object then every object that makes you happy would make me happy too. Now, we know that objects aren’t selective and don’t choose who to make happy and who not to. So, that means the happiness must come from us.” Trying to lighten things up a bit, Dave continues, “What else would explain you wanting to get those hideous tattoos all over your arms?”
Al, a bit defensive, “Dude, that was, like, 8 years ago!”
“And where’s the happiness from those tattoos, now?” Dave asks. “There is no happiness, there’s only revulsion as you consider cutting them out with a dull-edged knife! But let’s open the hood and see what’s really going on when you believe happiness is in the object. Before you got those tats you made a desire to have them. You began to see people other than gang members, prisoners and old sailors wearing them. They began to show up on celebrities and on the forearms of all your old college buddies. Hell, even your aunt had one put on one of her butt cheeks—or so they say. It was a style choice and you bought into it, planting a seed in your mind that getting tats might be something you should be interested in. All desires create tension, an itch that needs to be scratched. As your itch developed into full-blown poison ivy you decided to do something about it and finally get the tats. So, up until now in the story there was no happiness, only tension—some mild to severe psychological discomfort as you contemplated the benefits of getting them. So, the day arrives that you finally get your body graffiti and immediately, you feel different. You feel so happy. Why?”
“Because I got the tats?”
“Yes! And all that tension that you had built up went away. You scratched the itch and felt wonderful relief!”
“So?” Al asks, impatiently.
“So, the point is the happiness wasn’t in the object—the tattoos in your case—it was in the letting go of the desire. Tattoos are incapable of giving happiness, they are only ink. Furthermore, any happiness you felt was only temporary; ephemeral. In other words, it didn’t last. It was all just an idea the mind cooked up. Once you got what you wanted, the best part was already over. Surely, you enjoyed your tattoos for some time thereafter, but eventually the novelty wore off and now you just want to get rid of the damn things.”
“The whole thing was just a thought?”
“Yep, and it’s not just you. We go through our lives believing that the joy is in objects and trying to squeeze every last drop of happiness we can out of them. It’s not until we finally get tired of chasing objects that we stop and begin to look inward only to discover that the joy we thought was in objects, is actually in us; that we are the source.”
“So, the whole world is chasing objects based on the belief that they hold the happiness they’re looking for?” Al asks, seeking confirmation.
“Bingo!” This was Dave’s usual response when someone began to see the truth.
“And the world can’t change because…?”
“The world can’t change because of ignorance—the ignorance that objects will make us feel permanently secure and satisfied. We construct our entire life on this idea. It’s like a rug that continuously gets pulled out from under us. We put all our faith in objects that are changing and uncertain, including people and relationships.”
“It’s no wonder we’re all high on pain killers. That explains a lot.” This was actually a valid point. Al was beginning to connect the dots. “So, if we know this, why can’t we just correct ourselves and fix it?”
“Because we’re all hypnotized by bright, shiny objects?…Karma matrix?…Zombies?…Software bug? No one really knows.”
“So, it’s of no use,” Al responds, defeated. “The world will never change and it will never get better.”
“Not as long as God keeps making ignorant people. Remember, ignorance is intelligent, tenacious and hardwired. Most of us are not willing to face the truth, even when shown the logic. It’s simply too scary. This is why we fill our days with distractions trying to squeeze a little more happiness out of objects and experiences. It’s this mixture of fear and hope that keeps us on life’s hamster wheel. I’m assuming most people don’t even know that this is what their life boils down to. Most of us lack the will to gain an understanding.”
“So, it’s hopeless. We’re trapped in this insane asylum.”
“Relax, Al, you and I are not here to save the world, we are here to work on ourselves. The field of experience steers us via our own suffering with the idea that eventually—after a few good spankings—we will seek the right knowledge and finally grow up. Only then can we reap the benefits and take it easy. The world isn’t the problem. It’s our lack of understanding, it’s always our understanding.”