Life is a presentation of choices. Wherever you are now exactly represents the sum of your previous decisions, actions and inactions. At any given time the number choices available to us is limited not by our capabilities but by our assumptions and awareness. The greater our awareness the greater the possibilities our lives can entertain. A limited awareness puts limits on the the possibilities and futures we could hope to achieve.
Often we take a course of action and believe we don’t have a choice, when indeed we do. Remove the element of randomness (getting hit by a bus, asteroid, or terminal illness) and everything you are today is the result of a decision you’ve made in the past.
I believe that where we go in life and who we become is falsely attributed to the life situation we arrive at. At funerals family and friends gather to celebrate the lives of the dead. We tell tales of exploits and accomplishments – then the family divides the estate and moves on with life. I want you to think of your closest of friends. You may recognize them by physical features – the car they drive, or the cologne they wear – but you know them by who they are. When you think of the people closest to you, you think of how they are internally – their way of being. You know them by the expression of their character, you can imagine how they would respond in situations, you muse at quirks in their personality and idiosyncrasies found in their humor and speech. We identify people by their features, possessions, status, career, and social associations – but these are merely the people, props, and plotlines of our lives, they are not what’s important; what’s important is our being. What’s important is who we are on the inside. Life is not about becoming smarter, richer, or more powerful – it’s about improving the quality of your character; your way of being. In this context a superior way of being is a happier, more joyful, more loving way of being – with a potency that is experienced by those around you. An inferior way of being is a selfish, arrogant, deluded, unhappy, negative way of being. Superior or inferior there is no hiding to content of your character for long. No matter what defines you externally, you cannot fake your being to other people for long. People you interact with regularly don’t just see who you are, they feel it – they know it.
My friend Amy – one of the sweetest girls I know – waited tables through college. Over a glass of wine she shared one of her experiences as waitress. She vented frustrations with people and difficulties working in the service industry. She had seated two couples for dinner during the busiest hours of the restaurant. The kitchen was backed up and both couples had to wait over an hour for their meals.
“… finally some service around here”
“Is the food coming? This is really ridiculous we’ve had to wait this long”
“Excuse me I asked for my steak medium, this is medium-rare. Take it back and make me a new one, there’s no way I’m going to eat this”
“I hope you don’t expect me to pay for my steak, you’ve ruined my evening this was a terrible meal. I’m never going to come back”
[Leaves no tip]
“Hi, wow you guys really are busy tonight. What’s your name sweetheart?”
“Oh the kitchen is slow today you say? No problems Amy, I guess we’ll just have another glass of wine!”
“Food is fantastic, you’ll have to thank the kitchen staff for us”
“Amy you’ve been a wonderful waitress, thank you for serving us. Enjoy your weekend and goodluck with your last semester!”
[leaves $20 tip]
Amy’s story shows two people experiencing their subjective realities in a very different way – the selfish vs. the selfless. It makes clear that what we experience is not derived from facts of the matter but our interpretation of those facts. It leads to suggest that a higher quality being – a more selfless loving way of being – is not only one of our most noble pursuits in life but an achievement experienced by those all around us. In this sense we see that fulfillment lies in your evolution towards a more loving caring person. Growing up towards maturity and awareness. Departing from a self-centered, arrogant, envious, jealous, petty reality is growing up.
We endlessly compare ourselves to others; a practice that leaves us feeling a gradient of worthlessness or delusional self-importance. Our mechanism of comparison – our ego – is the cause of all relative suffering. Without it we’d lose the ability to compare and we’d no longer comprehend emotions of greed, envy, and pride. In fact our identities, which rely on the relative comparison to others, would dissolve completely.
Free from the mechanism of comparison – free from our egos – feelings of inadequacy could not exist. They could not exist because free from comparison you are inadequate to nothing. By definition, fear of judgment and a need for validation become logical impossibilities.
Improving our quality is dissolving the separateness that exists between ourselves and other people. Free from comparisons we lose identification with the external attributes of our existence. They can’t exist because they can’t be judged. What remains is our present being – and free from our egos interpretations we accept everything that is by default.
These words exist on a page, but the experience of reading them can only exist within your mind. Any significance these words hold can only be determined by you. The reality you see, hear, feel, and touch with your eyes, ears, heart, and hands is not an experience of the body – it is a creation within the mind. It follows that everything you experience cannot exist objectively because it happens within your mind. This is what Einstein meant when he said reality is an illusion. Your interaction with the world is experienced within the mind and filtered through your subjective interpretations; a subjective filter that is comprised of all our beliefs, expectations, understandings, fears, desires, wants and needs. It follows that we are the creators of our own individual realities, weather or not the influences of their construction are conscious or unconscious mechanisms. Ummm… wait, what?
Alright I realize I just went completely off the wall there. Some of this stuff is impossible to wrap your head around, believe me I know. Why don’t we just chill out for a second and look at some photos and quotes from histories geniuses.
Levels of Thought
I’m highly interested in the mechanics of productivity, fulfillment, and success. In high school I was told a metaphor of a sports car and a driver. A jalopy with a nascar driver could outrace a sports car driven by an amateur. High IQ does not ensure, concise, profound or effective thought. A slow individual who’s learned the right lessons will be far more successful than a more intelligent person with a lesser understanding (intelligence ≠ understanding). The metaphor contrasts the power of a car’s engine to the skill of the driver behind the wheel. When you include the route and roads driven and metaphor becomes profound.
Cognition (Vehicle Horsepower)
Your ability to think. You’re ability to understand things intuitively or logically. Your ability to read, do math, interpret a map, and understand a conversation. People with superior cognitive abilities make excellent logicians. Math comes easily to them, they score highly on IQ tests. But that’s not the whole picture. These people may still lead unfulfilled or unproductive lives.
Meta Cognition (Skill of the Driver)
Your ability to think about your own cognition. At this level you take a step back. You evaluate your own comprehension as you read, time is running out on an academic test your ability to judge time and then allocate the remainder is meta cognition. Cognition is the power of the engine, meta cognition is the skill of the driver. People who routinely engage in this kind of thinking make war generals, great managers, engineers and architects.
Meta-Meta Cognition (The Route Driven: Dirt Roads vs. Highways)
This is the process of thinking about your process of thinking. Cognition is the engines horsepower. Meta cognition is the skill of the driver. Meta-meta cognition is the roads you drive on and the route you take.
You must think about the very values through which you live your life by, this is meta-meta cognition. Failing to engage in this kind of thinking is equivalent to driving across the country with your eyes closed. Your decisions actions and inactions are the freeways, roundabouts, and side roads you take along your journey. This is what I mean when I say where you are right now is a result of all your previous decisions, actions and inaction. People make no systematic progress, they backtrack, stagnate and stall. They are on a journey across the country and they have no map. This unconscious behavior is how most people operate throughout their entire lives.
Fortunately we can awaken. We can start to make decisions within a bigger picture. We can navigate out, and progress to a better life situation. You can go wherever you want, you just need to define where that is. It takes courage to face uncertainty. It takes humility to accept personal shortcomings, negligence, irresponsibility, and poor decisions.
What do I really believe?
Beliefs should always be evolving. Try to recognize stagnate beliefs that have remained unchanged for years; assumed understandings you’ve never thought to challenge. When you spot these, perhaps its time to re-evaluate. Humans are vindictive and are often so convinced of their beliefs absolute truth that they fail to entertain alternatives – and often violently oppose them.
Metaphor your belief system to science and its attempts to understand the world. Science is always evolving as new realizations and data explain a deeper understanding of the truth. Humans collective scientific understandings have been broken down and rebuilt so many times that only a fool would assume we have reached a 100% understanding. Think of times when science was not updating; times when it rejected and oppressed contradictory evidence (The Catholic church putting a ‘ban’ on the idea of a heliocentric solar system) Our tendency is to point the finger – we might say, ‘The church repressed human advancement, they killed and robbed people! They are responsible for so much suffering!’ But consider this: Are histories baffling slaughters, genocides, and repressions faults of the ‘evil’ parties involved or do they represent a fault of our entire species and our tendencies in positions of power?
If you constantly seek out new experiences with an open mind then static beliefs are difficult to maintain. Our journeys often give us experiences so powerful that our beliefs shift radically (an epiphany). When you have new experiences and update your world schema you are progressing towards an understanding of truth. When you find yourself violently opposed to people who see things differently consider that you could be wrong. Look at the history of science and you realize we are almost always wrong – we just get a little less wrong with every new piece of evidence (experience)
-Clayton Ross Ferguson