No need to fix everything!
Lately I’ve talked with several clients who are sure that “fixing” something in their circumstances will bring them happiness. One is determined to find a job in a bigger city, where she thinks it will be “more fun” to live. One is trying to find a new set of room-mates and a new apartment because she thinks she needs to be with people who are nicer to her to be comfortable at home. Another is worried about the danger of living within 100 miles of a major US military installation and wants to move with her children to the wilderness because she thinks that’s the only way to be safe from terror. Another is trying to change schools because he thinks campus life at his college is dumb and boring. You get the idea. If I can just change this or that thing in my life, then I’ll be happy.
It doesn’t work that way. Or, in the words of one of my early mentors in the Three Principles, “No matter where you go or what you do, you take your head with you.”
- People who are searching for happiness from places, things or other people will never find just the right ones; nothing, no matter how wonderful, can create happiness for someone who thinks it will come from circumstances.
- People who are insecure and feel judged will think they are put down no matter how nice others are to them; self-doubt is consistently suspicious of kindness.
- Worriers will always find something to worry about; worry is like playing endless whack-a-mole.
- People who are dissatisfied can’t be satisfied by changing their situation; there’s something wrong no matter where they look.
Trying to fix things outside of ourselves is a fool’s errand. It keeps us really busy, in some cases it runs us ragged, to keep looking, looking, looking for that perfect whatever, that moment when we finally get everything right. all pretty and polished. It’s a lifetime of hard work that is destined to fail because the real source of what looks wrong to us is not “out there” at all. We joke about it (see chart), but even our jokes seem misdirected; tea and movies won’t “fix” anything, either, aside from providing brief distraction from the need to fix. Because, irony of ironies, the “fault” is in our understanding of ourselves, not in the world.
Now I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t make changes in their lives if it makes sense to do so. There are plenty of good reasons to move or to make new friends or to shift from one school to another, and so on. The problem is that none of those good reasons come to light when we’re in a low state of mind. They emerge as insights from wisdom when we are at peace, not when we are invested in “fixing,” but rather in seeing opportunity in change. This may seem like a subtle point, but it isn’t.
When I first was exposed to the Principles, I was just like those clients I described, probably worse. I thought all my stress, anxiety, worry and depression was “caused” by the business I was in and the life I was leading. I dreamed of a Nirvana, somewhere, where I could find peace, but running off to some paradise was an impossibility; I had a family; I had civic obligations; I had business responsibilities. I was a wreck because I thought the only way to fix my life was to change everything, but I couldn’t change anything. So on top of everything else, I was frustrated because I thought I knew what the “fix” was but it was out of my reach. A basket case, indeed. In that state, when I first heard that I could change my life from within without changing a single iota of the external details, I thought it was ridiculous.
But I was a business person and a pragmatist. I knew that when something you’re doing is not producing the result you want, you can’t succeed by closing your mind to alternatives. You’ve got to listen to new ideas, try new directions. You’ve got to look at “best practices,” things that others are doing that are working. The more “Principles people” I met, the more I realized they were not overwhelmed, discouraged or disgruntled in the face of disappointment. Nothing seemed to bother them, and yet a lot of them were facing far greater challenges in life than anything I had. They were all at the front end of something brand new in the world that was generally greeted with negativity, suspicion. rejection, insults and mockery. Yet they happily persevered. They fearlessly took risks and they gracefully accepted the consequences when things didn’t work out. When things did work out, they were grateful, but not prideful. And they had a lot of fun.
It wasn’t really difficult for me to answer this question: Do you want to go on doing what you’re doing, exhausted, sad, crying every morning, blaming your business, losing your youth and vibrant health to the erosion of depression and stress — or do you want to enjoy your life and your work, embrace things the way they are, be unafraid to try things if you have a clearly wise idea, and have a great time? Hmmm. It would be hard to call that a tough one.
What did it take? It was as easy as discovering you’re heading the wrong way on a road and just turning around. As soon as I was willing to admit that there was another way to understand life and started looking in that direction, I felt hopeful and calmed down. I stopped fighting my circumstances and started appreciating internal quietude. I discovered that when I didn’t engage circular thinking from the outset, it faded away. I defaulted to moments of peace of mind and started having insights that were real solutions to so-called problems. I began to see the logic of the Principles at work behind life and find great comfort in the face that every “reality” generated by my thinking was just an illusion of the moment.
All it took was the decision that it was worth looking away from the chaotic thinking that had dominated my waking hours and realizing that when I wasn’t trapped in it, it disappeared from view and grew less and less visible even when I looked in the rear view mirror.
Peace of mind, it turns out, really is one thought away. Not any one particular thought. Just the one thought that works for you when you decide to stop trying to fix all the stuff in your life and look deep instead of far and wide. From a quiet mind, all the answers we need flow effortlessly.