This is a classic thought experiment.
Don’t mind the creepy old animation, the message is intensely relevant to you right now.
We all begin facing by the cave wall. Some will never look away, some will. Why? Because looking away is actually really hard. Changing your life, perspective, beliefs is a scary thing to do. But you can do it.
Where there is a bit of fear, discomfort, doubt, impatience, all that, you know you have found a little wall in your life. Turn away from it, slowly, steadily, surrounded by positive people who can guide you out into the light. The outside is bright as hell, but your eyes will come up to speed quickly.
You’re a pretty tough and smart little creature. You can do it.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is one of the most formative books that I’ve ever read. It is brilliant yet accessible, timeless, inspiring, comforting, it’s overflowing with all of the wisdom and utility that philosophy can offer. And you can listen to the whole thing on YouTube anytime you want. You should do that immediately.
You have a fear. It’s held close and tight, well out of view. What is it? It could be something completely natural and wholly common, like snakes, jury duty, injury, fire, or pain. Everyone fears the potentially venomous biting things in life. No one believes that they have what it takes to survive the toughest tests in life and still bounce back. It’s so hard, and it’s scary as hell to know that you will hurt plenty, and lose quite a lot along the way.
Don’t fret, don’t let it sour the mood. Remember instead that life is a drama that requires these tough moments. It’s the key to the whole show. You need it, trust me, or else you can have no punchline or satisfaction afterward. You don’t have to go around it. You cannot avoid it. And you don’t have to stay here any longer. The best way forward, as Robert Frost would say, is straight through. You have to deal with your shit in this life. Work straight through your fear. Do not run, you can’t run from this. It’s too sticky and durable, like Kevlar toilet paper that will always be under your foot no matter how fast you move, like a heavy shadow at your back.
Reach out and touch what you’re afraid of. Go on. Just start slowly. Think about what would go down in a clinical setting. The snake of choice would be right over there in the corner of the room. You would start by getting the nerve together to walk through the door, then a few more steps to the table, to sit in the chair, you inch forward until you are within reach. You stick out your heavy gloved hand and touch it. Your fear. Your dread. And in that instant you will realize that this “thing” you fear is anything but a murderous viper-beast. The thing is really no big deal.
There are those natural, common things that we all recognize. But there are also fears that feel way more personal and unique. They are “our” faults, shortcomings, errors that we mumble underneath to ourselves.”I’m not capable, smart, tough, or creative enough for this.” In your mind, the blooper reel plays on repeat, and all you notice in the world around you are the highlights. Let me say, snakes are kind and goddamn cuddly compared with this sort of venomous perspective. You have to remove it from your life. You have to move away from it right now because you will get numb. You’ll accept it. You will eventually become it. The fear will rule you forever.
Reach out and touch it just the same. Start by getting in the same room with your “snake.” You aren’t clever, creative, durable, fast, handsome, smooth, funny enough? Prove it. Stick out your hand and see if you get bitten. Go on, do it! But just be advised, you’ll get bit every so often. Accept that some level of pain and risk is baked into this drama. You must have it. You wouldn’t want to live in a world without it. But, the bite is never all that bad. Despite the fuss, you move on. You remain undeterred. You did not die, as it turns out, nor did your world instantly implode.
If you can get that far, you might finally believe that all fears are the natural and wholly uncommon type. Every primate that has been blessed/cursed with this divine mind. The difference is a matter of voluntary action – Some will make a habit out of facing their fears and giving altitude to their perspective, and some won’t.
I don’t want to downplay the pain. Unlike fear, pain is always around in some form or another. Like a tide rolling in and out, pain gives way to joy, it’s the fundamental pump that drives everything in the cosmos. Build, then tear down. Get born, then pass away. Crush the ice cream, spoil your dinner, then spend the remainder of the evening pinching at your muffin-top. One moment gives rise to the next. But that doesn’t mean that all types of pain are fundamental. We can and should avoid it when we can.
So, what’s the biggest pain of all? What could be causing the suffering, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and all that most of the time? I think it comes from a heaviness that accumulates with time. Like little barnacles on a ship your heart can get heavy with expectations, the fears, the wounds, critique, failure, desperation, hope, excitement, you name it. It gets really hard to carry that all around. The pumping stops. You lay the heart down eventually. “This is where I am, and what I am. This is what I do.” But that’s not true.
Your heart will only get heavier and heavier, and harder and harder to lift. The flow of life will go on, of course it will, and you will be pulled in the current. You will want to go, you’ll know the calling, but your heart will remain anchored. It will stretch, it will ache. That’ll never change, please know that. At best you will go totally numb. You’ll just forget what you love. Don’t ever let that happen. Heavy or light, pick it up. Hold it high for all to see. Drift along with the current of life. Remain present. Don’t be driven by external expectations, ever, never. Just let the next thing you do also be the most important thing you could do. You are divine, so don’t waste a fucking moment of your time. Let the pain accumulate with the drift, but keep it wiped clean. See the shiny polished finish underneath, a clearer view of what matters most.
See for yourself that there’s really nothing to fear. The hurt can be bad, the resource scarce, the pain very real and very heavy, but you are not powerless. You can still act, you can still reach. You are still capable of picking you heart up and carrying it wherever you want, really. So, what’s stopping you?
Tonight, stories from the three books that changed my life and point of view forever.
1. The meaning of it all, by Richard Feryman
2. Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain
3. On Writing, by Stephen King
I hope you enjoy the tale,