Chapter II Continued
The Way We Look at Life Determines Our Experience
Such a simple insight presents each
of us with an opportunity to make momentous changes
in our lives. The only limits are the ones we create!
We can ask a new kind of question:
not simply inquiring into "what is" but
inquiring into what we want and what grasp of the
universe would nurture and support a choice to be
happier, more loving, more peaceful and more secure.
Can we move away from the contemporary cauldron of
pessimism to find a more useful and inspiring point
of view? Rather than wait for a pie-in-the-sky apocalyptic
event, we can take charge of our own evolution by
changing our world view now.
The current cultural paradigm - the
frame of reference from which we view the events unfolding
locally and in our global village - suggests a scourge
upon the land, with brother fighting brother, new
diseases sweeping like plagues through generations
of people, poverty and famine snarling at the doorsteps
of human dignity, and a general ecological malaise
hanging like a frightening veil over the planet's
Current events, as depicted by the
news media, bombard our consciousness with one catastrophe
after another, reinforcing a "victim" mentality.
Reporters and newscasters endlessly parade, for our
literary or visual consumption, the bodies of those
killed, maimed or noticeably diminished by war, disease,
violent crime, economic recession, poor parenting,
drug or alcohol addiction, sexual abuse, food poisoning,
train wrecks, air crashes, automobile collisions,
tornadoes, hurricanes., floods and the like. Although
we remain attentive, we numb ourselves, trying to
put some distance between us and the brutality of
those onslaughts. In the evening, we wonder how we
made it through the day in one piece or, worse yet,
how we will survive the unseen catastrophes of tomorrow.
We could decide, flat out, to stop
watching and listening to the news ... and to stop
reading it, too. We have made an addiction out of
being "informed," as if knowledge of disasters
could somehow contribute to our sense of well-being
and serenity. Our lives will never be enriched by
the gloomy pronouncements of unhappy people, fearing
and judging all that they see. They follow fire engines
racing toward billowing black clouds of smoke and
ignore the smiling youngster helping an elderly woman
carry her grocery bags. One dramatic traffic accident
on a major highway sends reporters scurrying, while
the stories of four hundred thousand other vehicles
that made it home safely go unnoticed. Newscasters
replay over and over again a fatal plane crash captured
on videotape but rarely depict the tenderness of a
mother nurturing her newborn infant.
Simple acts of love, safe arrivals,
peaceful exchanges between neighboring countries and
people helping each other, are noteworthy events.
The media bias toward sensationalism and violence
presents a selective, distorted and, in the final
analysis, inaccurate portrait of the state of affairs
on this planet. No balance here. We feed our minds
such bleak imagery, then feel lost, depressed and
impotent without ever acknowledging fully the devastating
impact these presentations have on our world view
and our state of mind.
Why not inspire ourselves rather
than scare ourselves? We choose our focuses of attention
from the vast menu of life's experiences. Wanting
to be happy and more loving on a sustained basis directs
us to seek peaceful roads less traveled. Though we
might not determine all the events around us, we are
omnipotent in determining our reaction to them. Some
of us will live on the earth's crust searching for
horror; others will lift the stones and see beauty
beneath. Our embrace of life will be determined not
by what is "out there," but by how we ingest
what is "out there." Our view becomes almighty.
What we have been taught about ourselves
and the universe around us conspires to have us believe
that living requires awesome energy and great struggle.
"No pain, no gain," we are told. "Life
is a constant struggle." "You have to take
the bad with the good." "You never really
get what you want." "You're unlovable."
"Something is wrong with you " (although
it's never quite identified, you know it's there).
"There is no justice." "No one cares."
"Look over your shoulder and beware!"
These become communal mantras, shared
with others and elevated to the status of treasured
folklore. They color our vision and send us searching
for the experience (rejection, attack, indifference)
that we anticipate. Usually we find it! Our vision
blossoms into a self-fulfilling prophesy, which each
new experience tends to verify and reinforce. I never
met a man who lived forever. I also never met a man
who believed he could live forever. We become our
beliefs. We get stuck in our heads.
Suppose we set aside the rigid concepts
we might have learned about how the universe works.
If we can now begin to entertain the possibility of
many world pictures, then we might want to experiment
by putting aside a logical, linear view of existence
with fixed points and "hard facts" and consider
a metaphor which reveals the ever-changing nature
of the known universe.
We swim in a river of life. We can
never put our foot into the river in the same place
twice. In every second, in every millisecond, the
water beneath us changes. Likewise, in every second,
in every millisecond, the foot that we place into
the river fills with new blood. Instead of celebrating
the motion, we try to hold on to the roots and stumps
at the bottom of the river, as if letting go and flowing
with it would be dangerous. In effect, we try to freeze-frame
life in still photographs. But the river is not fixed
like the photograph and neither are we.
Ninety-eight percent of the atoms
of our bodies are replaced in the course of a year.
Our skeleton, which appears so fundamentally stable
and solid, undergoes an almost complete transition
every three months. Our skin regenerates within four
weeks, our stomach lining within four days and the
portion of our stomach lining which interfaces with
food reconstructs itself every four or five minutes.
Thousands, even millions, of neurons in our brain
can fire in a second; each firing creates original
and distinct chemistry as well as the possibility
for new and different configurations of interconnecting
signals. As billions of cells in our bodies keep changing,
billions of stars and galaxies keep shifting in an
ever-expanding space. Even the mountains and rocks
under our feet shift in a never-ending dance through
time. Life celebrates itself through motion and change.
Although we can certainly see continuity
- seasons come and go, trees grow taller and people
get older - we can acknowledge that each unfolding
moment, nevertheless, presents a world different from
that of the last moment. We could say that we and
the world are born anew in every second and our description
would be accurate scientifically. Therein lies an
amazing opportunity for change. We can stop acting
as if our opinions and perspectives have been carved
in granite and begin to become more fluid, more open
and more changeable, even inconsistent. We are in
the river. We are the river!
Every stroke we make, every thought
or action we produce, helps create the experience
of this moment and the next. And the beliefs we fabricate
along the way shape our thoughts and actions. Sounds
rather arbitrary, some might say. It is! Quite simply,
we try to move toward what we believe will be good
for us and away from what we believe will be bad for
us - operating always within the context of our beliefs.
Even our hierarchies of greater "goods"
and greater "bads" consist only of more
beliefs. We hold our beliefs sincerely and defend
our positions with standards of ethics or "cold,
hard facts." We treat much of what we know and
believe as irrefutable. We talk in absolutes. Once
our beliefs are in place, we use all kinds of evidence
to support them, quite unaware that we have created
the evidence for the sole purpose of supporting whatever
position we favor. In essence, we have become very
skilled at "making it up."
2 Continued »»