This week I’ve reflected on my blog and thought, “I want to blog about something really important.”
Now I don’t blog because I want to change the world. I like to write because I enjoy thinking about things, and writing things down helps me to keep my thoughts in check. By starting a blog, I thought it might give me a “push” to do something I enjoy. (And it’s done that so far.) If someone else gets something out of reading them, then that’s a bonus.
I thought to myself, “What’s the most important thing I’ve ever learnt?”
Well, the difficultly with words is that they can only describe things that are already known.
If you say, “I saw an elephant”, then that only means something to someone who has already had the experience of seeing an elephant. Let’s say you saw an alien creature and said to someone, “I saw a mypoofoo”. That would be meaningless because nobody else has ever had the experience you’re trying to describe. To share your experience of seeing a mypoofoo, you’d have to describe the experience with analogies – “It’s like such-and-such, but different in these ways…”
For me, the most important thing I’ve learnt about life, so far, is not a thing. It’s an experience. And I’m guessing you haven’t experienced it, which makes it hard for me to describe.
I say that because not many people have bipolar and have felt the blissfulness I experienced when I was psychotic. I can’t say I want to experience a psychotic episode again, but that experience has stayed with me and, in my opinion, influences my life for the better.
Here are some things that try to convey what I’ve learnt from my life experiences…
1. “Perception = Reality”
Perhaps the experience of being “you” is all in your head? That is, without a brain, would you have any self-awareness? Would you experience a reality?
Based on my scientific knowledge, all our senses convert energy to electrical impulses that our brains interpret. In other words, it is our brains’ interpretation of nerve impulses from our senses that defines our “reality”.
Philosophically, you could say that changing your thoughts changes your reality. And this has been said by many people in the past.
But not as many people have said that the words “your thoughts” imply a separation between “you” and “thoughts” – as if thoughts are owned by “you”.
What I’m saying is that perhaps we are those thoughts. Could we be the experience?
Just like water can’t wet itself, perhaps you can’t control your reality by controlling your thoughts because you are your thoughts?
Now, maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m overlooking the “soul”. Perhaps the soul was “alive” before my body existed, and perhaps my soul will go on living after my body is “dead”.
The thing is, it doesn’t really matter whether your thoughts are right or wrong – it’s the impact of your thoughts that determines your reality.
2. “Would you rather be right or happy?”
For much of my life, I placed a great importance on being right.
I wanted the “right” career for me. I wanted to know the “truth” about the universe and to know who I really am. And I wanted to know the “right” religion to follow.
I won’t say much about religion, but I will say this: I used to think, “Out of all the religions in the world, including atheism and agnosticism, only one can be right, which means that most are wrong, and so there will be a lot of disappointed people one day. I don’t want to be one of those people, so I’ll stay on the fence.”
I was missing the point. I was scared of being wrong.
Being right serves no purpose in itself. Being right is only a goal if you think being right will make you happy.
But I realised that I can be happy anyway.
So now I don’t ask myself, “Is this the right way of thinking?”
Instead, I ask myself, “Does this way of thinking make me happy?”
And by doing that, I’ve learnt that it focuses my mind on getting what I want.
3. “Accept what you can’t control.”
I cannot comprehend the universe and that’s ok because I’m not in control of it!
The only thing you can ever hope to control is your thoughts and actions. And if you can’t control your thoughts and actions, then accept that too!
And this, when you think about it, is impossible to do. Because if you can’t control your thoughts, then you can’t make yourself accept something. I’ve already spoken about this, but I think it is important.
I’m sure you already know that when you want to sleep, trying to “make” yourself go to sleep doesn’t work. Sleep happens.
When you want to stop worrying about something, trying to “make” yourself stop worrying doesn’t work. Worrying happens.
When you feel like you don’t have control of your mind, trying to control your thoughts doesn’t work. Thoughts happen.
When you want to stop feeling a particular emotion, trying to “make” yourself feel something else doesn’t work. Feelings happen.
You don’t control life. Life happens. You are life.
The weird thing I’ve experienced is that by letting go of control, somehow I’ve felt not only more freedom but I’ve also felt more control. As I tried to explain earlier, unless we’ve had a common experience, it’s impossible for me to adequately describe that to you.
And, of course, trying to let go of something in order to gain something doesn’t work. Letting go happens when it’s ready. And it doesn’t last forever.
4. “Whatever you are doing right now, do it whole-heartedly.”
Buddhists have known this for a long time. Focus on the moment because the only moment we ever experience is the ever-lasting moment we call “now”.
There is no past or future, in a way, because we never experience them. We only experience “now”. We can’t change the past and we can’t do anything in the future. We can only do things “now”. And thinking about the past or the future is a “now” experience.
So my “now” experience will be an unhappy one if I am thinking about the unhappy moments of my past or the possible unhappy moments of my future.
But I’ve noticed that my “now” experience is generally a happy one when I’m totally focussed on something.
In other words, when I’m consumed by the current moment (which means that I’m not even aware that I’m totally focussed), I’m more likely to be happy.
But, again, you can’t force yourself to focus on the current moment. If you’re thinking about focussing, then you’re not focussing on what you’re doing. You’re hoping the next moment will be better than the one you are currently experiencing, so you are chasing your tail.
So I try to choose to do things that I know I can “get in the zone” with. I think that’s why pastimes are very important – activities that we effortlessly pass the time doing. They are not a waste of time because they provide pleasurable experiences. For many, it’s playing sport. For some, it’s meditation. For others, it’s reading and writing blogs!
Even if what you’re doing now is not pleasurable, like grieving for some kind of loss in your life, I think that if you do it whole-heartedly, it somehow enhances your life experience. If nothing else, it can make you appreciate the opposite feelings that will come your way again one day.
It’s when we try to not experience things or wish that things (that we cannot change) were different that we experience unbearable frustration and anger. But, if you’re feeling unbearable frustration and anger, let it be so in that moment. It’s all part of life. Just know you won’t feel like that forever.
5. “The recipe for misery is to use the word SHOULD.”
When I think, “This shouldn’t have happened”, feelings of frustration and despair arise. It is easy for me to either blame myself or feel betrayed by the world, as if the world owes me something. But, if I accept that whatever happened is beyond anyone’s control now, it focuses my attention on what I can do to make me feel better.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you’re glad things happened the way they did, but it means letting go of your current frustration of not being able to change the past.
Even if the present moment is painful, the thought that “I shouldn’t be feeling this way” makes me feel worse. However, if I believe there is a time for pain and a time for pleasure, then this gives me the freedom to experience the pain. And, importantly, it gives me the hope that I’ll experience pleasure in the future, which makes “now” more bearable.
It is important to remember that the tiniest amount of hope can grow over time.
Likewise, when I think “I should do this” or “I shouldn’t do that”, it invokes unpleasant feelings of not being satisfied with the current moment. If instead I use the word “could” and think through the possible consequences of my choices, it invokes a sense of control. This makes me feel happier in the current moment, and it gives me the best chance of getting what I want in the future.
The recipe for peace is to have no recipe. Just experience whatever “now” brings.
I’ve said a lot of things and I’d like to condense what I’ve said into just one thing. But I don’t know how!
One quote that captures much of what I believe is this:
“Everything will be ok in the end; if it’s not ok, then it’s not the end.”
It might not be true, but it brings hope to the current moment. And since the current moment is all we ever have, it means that you’ll always be believing that everything is ok or will be ok. Unless you want to be “right”, why would you want to believe anything different?
And, if that doesn’t capture the essence of what I’ve said, then perhaps this will…
“If you realise you have enough, you are truly rich.”
And when I think about this, it is really what my late grandmother used to always say. She put it another way, which was “Count your blessings”.
For many people, their religious faith gives them the lenses through which to view the world. For me, I’ve needed some psychotic experiences, some exposure to different religions and a philosophical approach to arrive at a place where I’m comfortable with myself and my place in the world.
But I know that everything changes. So I’ll leave you with one final thought:
LIFE IS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE.
So while you still can learn, your life can get better. In the meantime, let now be enough.
Well, that’s enough from me. I want to hear from you: “What’s the most important thing you’ve ever learnt?”