Don't Fight It, Feel It!
In the supermarket with my basket of shopping, I was hunting for the checkout with the shortest queue. I found the one for me, and as I approached I saw another shopper approaching rapidly in my peripheral vision. It was clear that they intended to get to the checkout before me. They were adamant that they should be first. They wanted to win and the race was most definitely on.
Except it wasn’t.
I was quite happy to let this other person go in front because it’s not important if I have to wait another five minutes before taking my turn to pay. I can use that time to people watch, to think about nice things, or to plan blog posts about how we are conditioned to see life as a fight. I can even choose to meditate for a few minutes, while I stand in the queue. That extra time that the person who rushed to get there before me had inadvertently gifted me was an unexpected luxury.
What the person who rushed to get in front of me had failed to realise, is that winning doesn’t matter. Being better, first, ahead of, in front of, is irrelevant and pointless, and the rewards are only imaginary. Yet every day a lot of people are fuelled by an important desire to show the world who’s boss, to sock it to ‘em, to do battle, to leave the house with their game face on, choosing a default state of anger and aggression. They’re out to win, but as the Chinese proverb states “he who strike the first blow has already lost the argument.”
It’s a scenario that we see everywhere. In the shops, in traffic, in the office, at school. But this whole concept that we have to push and shove to prove our worth, that we are superior if we can aggressively elbow our way to the front, if we can barge our way into first place, is based on a lie. The notion that we have somehow lost when someone else comes first, that we are lesser people if we aren’t able to get ahead of the others, that our comfort, convenience and material success is somehow relative to that of others, is a flawed notion that the entire system is based upon. That we must, under no circumstances, let someone else do better than us, is a paradoxical and flawed concept.
That we can only be happy if we have the next material object of desire – ideally before anyone else – in order to prove our worth, actually achieves the opposite and undermines the notion of the how wonderful we are as entities. That we are better if we can judge others, lessen them, win the fight against someone else, laugh at someone, point out their flaws, ridicule them, is a backward concept. Worse than a heroin addiction, the buzz soon wears off and leaves us itching for a fix, while inside we’re being eaten away.
We all know people who will offer a complaint to every waiter in every restaurant they visit, as if it’s a mark of status and superiority to do so. We all know someone who will chastise the delivery boy for being late. We know a person who will make someone feel bad so that they might get a discount, or a refund, or an upgrade. We all know those people who relish a fight, as if it somehow advances them, when actually it sets them back. We all know people who think that aggressively putting their needs first is the only way that they can get the quality of life/shopping/meal/service/status that they deserve, when actually the quality of their experience in all those circumstances is diminished and cheapened simply by the manner with which they approach it.
Because really it doesn’t matter if we get to the checkout first, as the stress, lack of dignity and frantic loss of self-respect actually shows us and the world that we’ve actually come last. What we’ve really achieved is to move ourselves a little bit closer to that burst blood vessel, that stroke, that embarrassing incident, that heart attack and that unhappy life. We’ve engaging in a non-existent battle that keeps us beholden to a system that undermines us and keeps us from realising our potential. We’ve aligned our manifesto with a system that profits by creating a genuine sense of lack in our lives, that wants us to think that anger and aggression are virtues, and that status is everything. A system that tries to distract us from being content and acting with kindness, by forcing us to engage only with the ego and the ‘shallow mind’ and to turn our back on anything deeper. A system that tells us the search for balance, empathy, compassion and joy is a weakness and, ultimately, a surrender.
But don’t believe it. The very opposite is true.
There’s a meme floating around the Internet, one of those inspirational quotes. I have no idea who said it first, and I’ve looked for the author to no avail. Perhaps if you know who wrote it please let me know so that I can credit them. But these words ring true with me, and I hope they do with you too: “In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.”
What does this mean to you? To me it means that we don’t need ‘stuff’ to be complete. We don’t need a new phone, or a new pair of jeans, or a new car to be worthy. We don’t need to camp overnight outside the Apple Store to gain that self-respect. These are the surface wants of the ego, the ‘shallow mind’, that believes what the billboards are telling us, that our lives are empty and we are worthless unless we bankrupt ourselves by buying their stuff. And the shallow mind will have us behaving like a child for our entire lives, throwing our toys out of our prams if we can’t have the shiny-shiny right now. What will the other kids think of us if we don’t have the new bike, or the fancy earbuds or all the cool stuff?
Recently, fistfights broke out among adults who had queued for hours so that their children could take part in a teddy bear building workshop. The demand was huge, supplies ran out, and the adults start punching each other. These were adults, kept developmentally stunted by a system that profits from their sense of lack and desire for status. Adults, who felt the need to engage in physical fighting, because there weren’t enough teddy bears. Adults, who were really toddlers. The same adults who race for the cheap stuff the moments the doors open on 'Black Friday.' The same adults who will fight over a parking space ten meters closer to the shops.
We’ve all seen footage of fights breaking out in parliaments in various countries around the world. Elected politicians throwing punches, supposedly the figureheads of democracy, but actually just agents of a system designed to keep us distracted from what's important by imposing a sense of lacking, to keep us feeding our money and our happiness into material goods, until we’re used up and worthless and ready to be thrown into some social housing estate or sheltered accommodation where the rest of society’s unwanted are put to rot with no hope of encouragement, empowerment or self-respect.
We’ve all seen the disgraceful scenes from the British Houses of Parliament. It’s a bawdy club of businessmen (and the occasional woman), who bully and brag and bawl loudly and childishly, as they argue about which of them should get the spoils from the people they are supposed to represent, but who they are actually sucking dry through their other “interests”.
We’ve all seen Donald Trump. Vladimir Putin. Benjamin Netanyahu. Bashar Al-Assad. Nigel Farage. Boris Johnson. Tommy Robinson. Buffoons. Clowns. Bullies. Bigots. Racists. Misogynists. Leeches. Greedy. Ugly. Selfish. Heartless. Rotten. Vile. Insignificant. Self-important. Wasteful. Dated. Tired. Obsolete. Redundant.
This is what the world of the ‘shallow mind’ looks like. This is the civilisation of the ego. This is where there is no social mobility, the people at the bottom know their place, and the people at the top fight over the spoils like hyenas around a carcass left over by the lions that went before them.
But there is another way.
It doesn’t require aggression. It doesn’t need a default status of anger and stress. It is a peaceful way that sidesteps all of this, offers answers that this shallow world cannot, and it promises rewards – emotional, spiritual and material – which are much greater than anything Westfield or Ikea have to offer.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Ikea meatballs. But when we engage the self, or the ‘deep mind’ and seek contentment elsewhere, we suddenly find we have transcended this need to fight, to be first, to be aggressive, and we have tapped into something infinitely more powerful. We no longer need the shiny-shiny for validation. We are no longer convinced by the images of the impossibly attractive young people that tell us we, too, can be this amazing and happy if only we spend our hard-earned cash on some Yeezy sneakers.
Our sneakers don’t define our level of success, and we are no longer a subject of, and controlled by, this shallow world of the ego. Rather we have found a way to transcend the material world and engage with something much more powerful and beautiful and serene. When we find our contentment here, it’s is much longer lasting and rich than the quick fix of retail therapy. We finally see the political clown show for what it is, and get our kicks from beauty instead of outrage, from poetry instead of political rhetoric, and from slowing down instead of speeding up. When we learn to let go like this, it feels like a fresh breath of air, and we know that we can change the world, one person at a time. One thought at a time.
Recently twelve young boys and their football coach found themselves trapped deep in an underground cave, having sought escape from torrential rains in Thailand. While an international rescue effort raced against time to save them from the pitch black darkness of the underground chamber, their coach taught them to meditate. They used this mental technique to cope with their situation, with the claustrophobia and the darkness, with the very real possibility that they may not make it out alive.
The act of meditation enabled them to master their circumstances until such time that their circumstances did or didn’t change. These days when you mention the words “meditation” or “mindfulness” you see half the population’s ears stand to attention, while you hear the eyes of the other half of the population rolling back in their sockets. Meditation? Mindfulness? That wishy washy stuff? Life is serious. Change the record.
But tell me, what was the alternative? No amount of freaking out, of worrying, screaming or crying would have changed their predicament. No amount of scratching at the walls, calling for help, or begging for salvation would have got them out of that cave. So rather than letting the situation control them, they transcended the material world until help came. And in doing so they became the masters of their circumstance – and their circumstance had no power over them.
Every day we allow our circumstances to have power over us. We crave 'stuff' to make us complete. We throw strops when we can’t have what we want. We get angry when our train is delayed, or when nobody lets us out at the junction. We rage when our fast food isn’t fast enough. The boys trapped in that cave had more freedom than we do on any given day of the week.
There is a story about two former prisoners of war who meet up many years after their incarceration. One asks the other, “have you forgiven our captors for the years of torture, for the anguish, for keeping us away from our homes and our loved ones for all that time?”
The second former prisoner replies, “no, I could never forgive them for what they’ve done to me.”
And the first prisoner says, “so they still have you imprisoned, then.”
We too are kept captive in the shallow world of the ego our whole lives by the disabling thoughts of inadequacy and lack that are so insignificant, but which we give so much importance in our existence, and upon which our society runs. Heaven forbid we decide we don’t need the diet products, the make-up, the clothes, the gadgets and we choose instead to rebel against the label ‘consumer’. Would the system collapsed if the whole world decided it no longer wanted to be beholden to the credit companies simply for the latest sparkly phone case?
And then there’s the legend of Major James Nesmeth who, the story goes, was imprisoned for seven years during the Vietnam war, but each day would visualise playing a round of golf. No matter what torture or unpleasant cruelty would be visited upon his physical body, he would find respite in his mental golf course. When he was eventually released from captivity and finally found himself with a golf club in his hand, the story goes that he played a perfect round, thanks to the seven years of daily practice in his head.
In all likelihood, the tale of Major Nesmeth is an urban myth, but these three stories all tell the same message. When we live in the ego, in the shallow mind of the material world, we are trapped, under the control of our circumstances. But when transcend this world and take time to explore a deeper reality, it brings freedom and reward of a different nature. And that reward is a connection to something deeper, more profound and much more powerful.
We can have the nice things, the shiny-shiny, the sparkly phone case. But when our worth becomes defined and controlled by these things, when we are validated only by the things we can buy, or by the status we can gain at someone else's expense, or by the anger we feel every minute of every day as we fight to 'win', then we have become enslaved by this shallow system of the ego. We are simply consumers.
How much nicer would it be to have those shiny things, but realise that a dew drop offers so much more value? That birdsong sounds sweeter than ringtones? That we are better humans because of the encouragement and empathy we show to others, not because of the watch we wear or the car we drive – or how often we are rude to the waiter?
Life can be hard, there’s no denying it. Torturous, unfair, and cruel. But when we engage with it as a fight, a battle for what we are owed and what we deserve, then we are entering it from a perspective of struggle, conflict and lack. The fight cannot happen on our own turf, and so we are already at a disadvantage by having to enter into an unfamiliar arena, with rules that are not our own. And for us to win – unlikely thought that is – someone else needs to lose. But as Matthew Broderick found out at the end of that cultural classic, War Games, the “only winning move is not to play.”
How about we take control and choose to define the reality of our circumstances, instead of allowing our circumstances to define our reality? Like the boys in that cave, how about we raise our awareness to a new level where the impact of the shallow world around us becomes only superficial? We can choose to tackle it on our own terms, reserve that higher ground and that emotional power for ourselves. Rather than a warrior fighting the good fight, we are instead a musician mastering a beautiful composition, or an artist working on their masterpiece. There are no losers, only winners, and everything is beautiful.
When we engage with a circumstance we can either choose to fight it on its terms or master it on ours. If our train breaks down and we are running late for work, we can choose to freak out, get angry and huff and puff, burst a blood vessel and get ourselves closer to a stroke or heart attack and, in the end, achieve nothing. Or we can accept the situation, consider our options and make the most of this extra time out of the office. We could read a book, listen to a podcast, or simply snooze. All three of those activities are infinitely more beneficial than flying into a rage. Or perhaps, like the boys in that cave, we can take the time to go exploring our inner landscape, which can be whatever we want it to be. Perhaps we could play a round of golf.
When we are slighted by another, we can either seek revenge which, as we know, is toxic for all parties (“an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” said the Mesopotamian King, Hammurabi) or we can use it as a stepping stone to raise ourselves high above a reality that does not benefit us and decide to inhabit one that does.
In every negative situation we can either be drawn into a reality that does our highest consciousness a disservice, or we can use it to better ourselves and grow. We can use it to learn and understand, to practice our empathy, to find solutions, alternatives, or to bring light where there was darkness. Or we can engage with the negativity, and let it make us bitter and sour, afflict our whole sense of being with a darkness that grows and gets thicker like a viscous tar.
When we burn the dinner, we can either cry and get upset, which won’t unburn the dinner. Or we can learn to be a better cook and order a pizza. When we feel like we are stuck in a rut, we can either sob and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can appreciate the reality of the situation, and arm ourselves with the information we need to raise ourselves above it. When someone else gets there first we can celebrate their perceived success, and take pleasure from the comfort of not having to rush or stress or engage in an imaginary fight.
But if we choose this fight, and engage with that lower energy, then it will weigh us down and keep us trapped in that cave forever, screaming, deafened to the instructions of the rescuers who are merely feet away. When we join the fight, our world becomes the fight, and fighting will be all that we know. Like one of those Chinese finger traps, the more we do battle, the more trapped we become.
Life is not a fight, but if you choose to believe it is you will forever be engaged in a lower conflict, and you will forever be hungry and lacking and wanting more, ready to fight an imaginary foe. But when you rise up, be better, and come into the sunshine, you become invincible, content and you master your situation. No material circumstances can beat you, no political system can harm you, and no physical sticks and stones can kill you.
Because you know that you are not simply a physical entity, existing in a world of money and status and stuff. You are instead a spiritual entity with a physical body. While you exist here in the shallow world of money and things and television and shopping, you also live in the world of ideas, and concepts, and dreams, and time, and love. And in that world, it doesn’t matter who gets to the checkout first.