August 25, 2011

It May Be the Truth But It Ain’t Sexy.

The ultimate truth condensed into one online article, according to one man.

I realized a long time ago that most of the unhappiness in my life was in my head. Worrying about things that had happened or might happen, feeling pain about lost loves or future slights. All the sort of stuff that most spiritual teachings talk about as taking me out of the moment, out of the now. To combat this I used action to erode my unhappiness and generally stop worrying. The deal was simple. If I started worrying about how much money I had in my bank account, for example, I could do one of two things. I could either stop whatever I was doing and go and look in my bank account, or I could stop thinking/worrying about it.

It meant I got out of bed a lot at the beginning. My mind loved to wait till I’d found the most comfortable spot in the bed and I was just at the soft edges of sleep before it started to wonder if I’d left the back door open or if I’d enough petrol in the car or if I’d paid the gas bill. The deal was always the same. ‘Stop thinking about it or get up and check.’

After a while my mind gave up. It got sick of tromping out to the car in the cold night to check how much petrol I had or going to the nearest ATM to

Photo: Jackson Carson

check how much was in my bank account, this was after all in the last century, you know, before online banking. In the end it was easier to stop thinking/worrying because I knew I would take action if I didn’t. My old spiritual master Barry Long used to say, “action purifies,” I don’t know if I was more pure but I worried less and I was less unhappy, which was good, right?

That would be the end of the story except the deal didn’t stop there. It expanded. Once I stopped living in my head so much about gas bills and back doors, the deal expanded into current affairs and world issues. If I started worrying about the latest war or starving injustice the deal kicked in.

‘Am I going to do anything about it?’ I’d ask myself.
‘Yes,’ I’d reply, ‘I’m going to think of a way the situation could be resolved.’
‘Yes, but am I going to take any action about it?’ I’d ask again.
‘Well…no.’ I’d reluctantly admit.
‘Then let’s stop thinking about it.’

This caused ructions inside me. “Compassion Capping,” “Suppression of Creativity,” “Enforced Callousness,” These were some of the placards in the internal demonstrations that followed this expansion. And when they didn’t work the old faithful, “People Mightn’t Like Me.” was dragged out but it was all tosh really because I couldn’t escape the fact that I knew I had no intention of taking any action about all this stuff I was thinking about. I was just filling up my head-space with thoughts about it. So dropping all that extra chatter brought me more into…well…wherever I was. Which meant I was really in the moment, really in the “Now.” Good, right?

And that would be the end of the story except the deal didn’t stop there either. It kept expanding to include other people. Whenever I found myself thinking I knew what other people should do it would kick in.

‘Do I live in their bodies?’‘Do I know what the world looks like from their perspective?’ I’d ask myself
‘No, but I can imagine. It’s called being empathic.’ I’d reply.
‘I can call it what I like, but it’s the same as wondering how much is in my bank account, except for one big difference. With other people I have no way of checking. There is no action I can take. I can’t physically see the world from their perspective. I only look out of my eyes, feel through my skin, hear through my ears. I only know my perspective and I have no way of knowing for definite if their perspective is the same as mine. To do that would be an assumption. So firstly, let’s stop assuming that other people are having the same experience I am.’
‘And secondly, if I don’t know what experience other people are having then I definitely don’t know what they should be doing in their lives. So let’s stop thinking about that too.’ 

Photo: Jean Francios Chenier

Knowing this inserted a very large pause in my dealings with people. I truly didn’t know how it was for other people so I stopped talking like I did. My language, once peppered with the third person, began to get more honest. “People, this…” and “We, that…” and “You, the other…” all fell away. As did ultimate truths, because now I knew that the only thing I ultimately knew about was my perspective. All of which was good, right?

Well…not so much. It kind of ruined me as a conversationalist. Being more honest and only talking about what I actually knew about, made me come off sounding a bit…well…self obsessed.

Take this article, for example. I’ve spent the whole time talking about myself. I know I’m doing that out of respect for you, that I don’t presume you’re having the same experience I am or that what’s right for me is right for you, but you may not see it like that.

And as for ultimate truths, well, compare these two statements, “Existence is an illusion.” and “Existence is an illusion, for me.” The second one, while more accurate, sounds pretty lame in comparison. I can see why people don’t use it. It would be hard to gather a crowd around you with that kind of talk.

The other downside is that I became painfully aware how few people communicate like this. Even here at elephantjournal, where the average writer is a little more thoughtful, a little more respectful, everyone is telling me how it is and what I should do about it. And by “it” I mean everything from my sex life, to my health, to what the ultimate truth is. The third person is out in force and used with full certainty.

‘Calm down,’ I think to myself, ‘it’s just a way of speaking. It’s okay to slip into, “you should do this,” and, “you should do that.” It’s cumbersome, and a bit lame, to keep reiterating that this is just their perspective.’

But I can’t buy it. I think it’s very important to keep reiterating that it’s just your perspective. If everyone added the phrase, “or at least that’s the way it looks to me.” to the end of every ultimate truth sentence it would change the world…or at least that’s the way it looks to me.

Photo: Andres Musta

Try it for yourself. Pick your favourite inspirational passage, your most cherished manifesto or truth and add that phrase to the end of every sentence where the author isn’t talking about his or her own perspective.

“It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence”…or at least that’s the way it looks to me. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

“Anyone can deal with victory. Only the mighty can bear defeat”…or at least that’s the way it looks to me. ~ Adolf Hitler

It can be quite an eye-opener. For me, it highlights how much I want to believe in ultimate truths because I come away from the exercise feeling a little deflated. ‘Aw, that was just that guy/gal’s perspective. That means I still have to figure it out for myself.’

Try it on your way of speaking too. Pick a conversation. Whenever you hear yourself talking in the third person or delivering an ultimate truth, add the phrase, “or at least that’s the way it looks to me” at the end. Your conversation may be a little flat but it will introduce a gentleness into it too. A bit of space for the other person’s perspective and their process. Good, right?

While I’m at it I encourage all writers contributing to elephantjournal to include the phrase at the end of every ultimate truth or third person pronouncement you write. Or is what you’re writing something other than just the way it looks to you?

I think if everyone adopted this more honest approach to communication it will eventually lead to world peace… or at least that’s the way it looks to me.

What do you think? How does it look to you?

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