As a kid, I remember going to a fun house tourist attraction that featured a dimly lit mirror maze. In the maze, because of the opposing mirrors, you couldn’t trust your eyes. And because of the way sound bounced off the mirrored walls, you couldn’t trust your ears. Even worse, the endless reflections made it impossible for your mind to create a map of where you had been or how to get out. There was a trick, though, to beating the maze. All you had to do when you entered was reach one hand out and stay in contact with the wall. Because all the walls in the maze were connected - including the one next to the exit - if you felt your way through the maze, you would get out quickly.
Chronic depression happens when we continuously make flawed conclusions from the dark recesses of our minds. Life circumstances, societal norms, and even mass media can cause us to lose sight of what is important in life and what’s true about ourselves. Our minds can easily begin to believe the distorted reflections of our environment. And without stopping to question our thoughts, these distortions appear more and more real. Unaware that this world of delusion is being created in our heads, we start shadowboxing with a head full of lies. And just like an actual mirror maze, once we’re in it, it’s difficult to think ourselves out of depression. To feel our way out, it’s essential to wake up from the mistaken perspective of our negative self-talk.
When encountering depression, remember this: Thinking fuels depression, but feeling cuts off fuel for depression. Letting go of thoughts is what allows your feelings to be accessed. For example, by resigning to negative conclusions, you can think your way into despair, or by stopping to notice what you take for granted, you can feel your way into gratitude. You can think that the world is on your shoulders and all hope is lost, or you can feel the love, guidance, and support of life’s inherent intelligence, which is much bigger than you alone. And when life presents unwanted surprises, you can have fearful thoughts of loss, or you can feel your way into embracing change and its inspiring possibilities.
It’s important to pause here and recognize that far too many chronically depressed souls opt for suicide. Yet nothing is escaped or destroyed with suicide. Who we are is something indestructible, and our soul’s eventual path to happiness is unavoidable. Suicide represents a frustrated pause on that path, not an ending. It’s like tripping the turn-ending “tilt” sensor on an old pinball machine while trying to tilt and shake it to manipulate where the ball goes. Suicide’s metaphorical shaking of life’s machine trips its “tilt” sensor, ending that particular turn. But what happens next, of course, is that a new ball emerges for another turn… and another… and another… unconditionally and unendingly until we reconcile in life what we’ve fruitlessly tried to escape in death. We are not our minds, we are not our bodies, and we are not our problems. We are something far greater, and we’ll keep playing this mysterious, blindfolded game of life until we grow beyond our delusions to discover that truth.
It is not the intention of this entry to discount an individual’s predisposition toward depression. We’re all “wired” in different ways. But don’t be too quick to think that enduring happiness is out of reach because of your genetic “wiring.” Thinking so is believing a lie and shortchanging your full potential. There is nothing in the human experience - physical or mental - that cannot be overridden by spiritual awakening. Who and what you are is truly that powerful. All it takes to access that power is a bit of humility, a sliver of openness, and a dash of optimism. But above all, remind yourself to give life a chance. There’s always something wonderfully unexpected to be discovered in your life. And when you are earnestly open to that possibility, the wonderfully unexpected will find you.
Mark Twain once said, “I have experienced many terrible things in my life, a few of which actually happened.” This beloved, 19th century American writer clearly understood that an unhealthy fixation on the future is the oxygen that worry uses to survive. When I was going through an intense bout of worry in my 20s, I certainly could have used Mr. Twain’s insight. But help came to me back then in a different form. I was given a card that illustrated a beautiful oak tree on a hillside overlooking a stunning sunset. Below the picture were the words, “When the day is over, and you have done your best, wait the results in peace.” Considering my inner atmosphere of stress, absorbing the beauty and wisdom of that card felt like being struck by benevolent lightning. For whatever reason, that card ignited a personal epiphany of how little worry accomplishes and how energetically wasteful it is to engage it.
Many years after receiving that card, I discovered the ancient origin of its profound wisdom. It comes from the classical, 4th century B.C., Chinese philosophical text, the Tao Te Ching. When he wrote this short but mind-bendingly dense historical masterpiece, Lao-Tzu repeatedly made clear that we always have jurisdiction over our efforts, but never over the results of those efforts. In other words, you can’t control what happens in life; you can only control what you give to life. There is deep peace to be found in that realization and in that letting go.
As referenced elsewhere in this book, life unfolds in baffling ways and for mysterious reasons, which often outpace our comprehension - or at least our ability to comprehend all at once. Over the course of our eternal lives, however, we will continue to evolve into a state of being where worry becomes a laughable concept. We are the Universe itself playing with the Universe itself. Our temporary roles in comedies, love stories, dramas, and even horrors all have a place in our evolution… even if we can’t yet perceive or understand that evolution. Worry is a delusion of smallness and an endorsement of false limitation. At some point along each of our endless journeys, we will simply outgrow it.
In the meantime, the greatest weapon you can deploy against worry is to be right here, right now. Or, as the saying goes, “Be where your feet are.” Worry - and the tunnel vision it creates - begins to evaporate when you focus on the present moment. With that renewed focus, the fear of imaginary calamities is screened-out, and creative solutions once hidden by your frenzied worry begin to present themselves. Experiencing this, you’ll finally see that the view from worry is and has always been less than the whole truth.
One last thing about worry: Notice that it’s a feeling rooted in self-concern. Even when you worry about your loved ones, that worried feeling is laced with a fear that you might suffer having to watch them suffer. While the love related to this kind of worry is admirable, the fear driving that worry doesn’t help anyone, least of all yourself. When you drop the “How will this impact me?” state of mind, both you and your outlook get bigger, and worry gets smaller.
Fear is contagious. It is a psychological virus. If you’re watching, you will see when it attempts to infect your mental process. You will also notice when you verbally spread it around to other people, which just reinforces your own fear. Whether you have a fear of poisonous spiders, economic crashes, or giant meteors, this intimidating force can dampen your courage and limit your life experience if you let it. When you have a fear of something happening, you put yourself through a degree of psychological trauma whenever you think about it - even though it hasn’t happened. That subtle form of trauma is the gnawing, background anxiety caused by unconfronted fears. Choosing not to face them means you must avoid and run from them. The choices you make will then be limited by your fears, and it follows that those unconfronted fears will change the very course of your life.
Fear, however, is another of humanity’s greatest gifts. It shows us our own path to happiness. As long as we harbor fears, we embrace a glass ceiling to that happiness. If you deeply probe what sustains your happiness, you may discover a hidden undercurrent of, “Things are great as long as ‘X’ doesn’t happen.” Choosing to eradicate those subconscious fears is one of the greatest adventures you could ever embark upon. If begun, it’s a process that unfolds over a lifetime. To take this endeavor seriously, you must first uncover your fears. Only then can you face them - head-on. This means periodically asking yourself questions like, “What fears is life trying to uncover within me, and will I engage them? What is the worst thing that could happen to me? Could I bravely face that prospect, or am I imprisoned and paralyzed by the mere thought of it?”
All of this sounds very heavy, but this is where life itself encourages us to go. Our opportunity is to evolve beyond our fears to a stage where we enthusiastically engage this type of high-level, internal growth - the kind of growth that expands our capacity to live life and elevates us to an unflappable state of readiness. Paradoxically, confronting our deepest fears is what leads us to a peace of mind we never thought possible. Deciding to constantly target those fears is taking a step every day toward the highest vision of ourselves that each of us holds deep within. It’s a decision to contemplate ourselves as limitless and ask, “Why not?”
Rejection is nothing more than direction. It means we are failing to see the inconsistency between what we want and what is currently best for us. Things we can’t obtain are simply not yet ours to have. Even if we recognize this, personal rejection is often accompanied by fear and pain. This pain can be greatly reduced, though, when we reframe rejection as less of an ending and more of a beginning.
In the shadow of rejection, some have faith in what they call, “God’s Plan”; others interpret their lives as having a “Universal Blueprint”; and still others feel that their soul attracts what’s best for them despite their mind’s complaints. The model we use to frame our life’s course is less important than the realization that, when it comes to rejection, none of us are victims. Much like a lighthouse, rejection is a navigational resource. A lighthouse isn’t going to move out of the way. It’s there to protect us from our own ignorance. Embracing rejection as direction empowers us to find another way forward… and to keep sailing.
There are many highly successful people who all tell the same story about their big break: “I made it big when I stopped trying to make it big… I just started concentrating on what I was doing.” These people are not necessarily more talented, intelligent, or even harder working than others in their fields. They simply discovered the magic of living in the now. We often rush through the now mistaking the next moment as more important. But what we fail to realize is that how we live in the now determines what comes next. If we’re too destination-oriented, we lose focus of the critical issues directly in front of us. An experience I once had taught me this lesson at an early age...
My grandfather used to take me to a fishing camp on Florida’s beautiful Withlacoochee River. One afternoon, we arrived at his favorite fishing hole - an angler’s Shangri-La, far up the river where there was no boat traffic and no sign of civilization. Because we were catching so many fish that day, we tried to ignore the familiar rumble of an approaching afternoon thunderstorm. But unwillingly, we reeled in our last fish and cranked up the engine with just enough time to make it back to camp. What we didn’t notice, though, was that our boat had drifted into a large patch of extremely thick weeds. The propeller was instantly entangled in the mess. As our boat sat paralyzed, the approaching towers of black clouds and their cracks of brilliant lightning got much closer. I became petrified with fear in the face of what I saw as impending doom. But my grandfather very calmly, carefully, and without drama worked with the engine to get us unstuck. Just a little thrust forward… then another small thrust in reverse to clear off the weeds… then another forward… another reverse… forward… reverse… Watching this painstaking procedure as the sky darkened over our heads was driving me crazy. Focused solely on the image in the future of us safely back at camp, I wanted him to just bury the throttle wide-open, and with every last ounce of power that engine could muster, blast us free of the monstrous weed patch. Had he done that, the propeller would have locked up in the weeds, and the engine would have destroyed itself, stranding us for sure. But after a few minutes of his delicate tactic, we were clear. And we successfully raced the storm back to camp.
Later that night, it dawned on me that back in the weed patch, my grandfather wasn’t thinking about getting the boat safely back to camp. He was just thinking about getting it to move 3 feet… and then another 3 feet… and then another 3 feet after that. It was his focus on the now that got us home safely. Following his example, we would all do well to regularly ask ourselves, in the midst of our endeavors (and particularly in times of trial), “What’s my next 3 feet?” … and then just act on that. Those 3 feet may be as simple as fixing dinner, sweeping the floor, or taking out the garbage. The point is that life is lived, solved, and experienced in increments. The more incremental our approach to life is, the more present we can be, and the more progress we will make.
The importance of focusing on the now and its ability to positively shape your life cannot be overstated. The trick is to live fully in the now without losing the inspiration of what’s possible down the road. Embrace where you are as an important step along the way to your destination. When you do this, the journey of each moment becomes your destination. This takes the angst and impatience out of the task at hand, which greatly increases the effectiveness of what you’re doing. And whether you are parenting kids, managing a project, or building a model airplane, you begin to see perfection in the now vs. only seeing perfection in the future.
The Placebo Effect is defined as a measurable change in a patient’s condition based on their belief that they received medical treatment, which was never actually administered. Medical conditions improving from taking fake pills - and patients even developing side effects from warnings on fake pill bottles - is a verifiable and repeatable experiment that has baffled medical scientists for decades. This phenomenon implies that the power of belief taps into something within us which expands our capacities in ways that are not currently understood. It also implies that this mysterious mechanism can work in two ways… positively or negatively.
Considering this, it’s worth examining the beliefs we carry around from day to day about ourselves and about life. Do these beliefs make us feel stronger and more capable? Or do they make us feel weaker and more vulnerable? Our beliefs govern our actions and efforts, and to a large extent, it’s from our actions and efforts that our life unfolds. We all see the path ahead through the filter of our chosen beliefs. If we don’t believe certain things are possible, we won’t see the opportunities hidden in our life circumstances and relationships that could make them possible. Choosing one belief over another is literally choosing one future over another.
This destiny-altering force sounds very dramatic, and there’s no way to prove its validity to anyone other than yourself. However, the constructive force of belief is at work in your life whether you directly perceive it or not. Nuclear physics, for example, has been operating for billions of years. Our discovering it didn’t make it spontaneously begin to work; we simply evolved enough to finally perceive it. When you engage the creative power of belief and begin to observe this power at work in your own life, you’ll undeniably see that, although we’re all human, not a single one of us is “only human.”
Fortune and fame… the perfect friends, partner, family, and life circumstances. Nearly everyone imagines their own unique idea of what they believe would make them happy. What’s not commonly known, however, is that circumstances themselves contain no inherent happiness. If they did, everyone who “has it all” would automatically be happy. But it’s observably clear that many people who appear to have it all aren’t necessarily happy. On most Top 10 lists of potentially annoying clichés, “Happiness is a state of mind” likely takes the top spot for many people. But if we can clearly see and experience that things or even people can’t supply us with an uninterrupted source of happiness, what can?
Here’s a useful rule of thumb: Anything that can take away happiness cannot be a true source of happiness. The reason you can’t cobble together things, people, and circumstances to create happiness is because, in our ever-changing world, happiness isn’t creatable as something static. The force of change that is life will eventually crumble your happy model. Happiness is, however, something that can be discovered. And it’s your perspective that enables you to make that discovery. Ask yourself, “What do I need to have happen or prevent from happening in order for me to be happy?” Having to have these constantly changing conditions met as prerequisites for your happiness flings happiness into the future and indefinitely keeps you on the brink of it… always one condition away. This is like running on a treadmill in front of a beautiful mirage. No matter how fast you run, you’ll never get there. There is, however, a way off the treadmill.
As mentioned earlier, despite what’s going on in your life, you can always find something for which to be grateful. Start there. Eventually, that gratitude will spread to other areas of your outlook on life, and that’s what shifts you into a happier life perspective. How circumstances unfold will frequently be out of your control. But it’s how you decide to see and thereby experience those circumstances that makes all the difference.
This is not an assault on having goals or wanting to improve your life. Achieving your goals and improving your life, however, will be much more efficient and enjoyable if you are happy while you’re doing it. Choosing to be grateful and happy for what little you may have is not a resignation. It sets a tone of appreciation that’s necessary to welcome more into your life. And when more does come your way, you won’t be happy because of it; you’ll notice with wonder that happiness was within you all along. It had just been covered up by what you once thought happiness required.
Lastly, there is a magical shortcut to experiencing happiness. When you are in service to others, you become part of the flow of happiness for others. And what flows through you inevitably flows to you.
Throughout the 5,000 years of Earth’s recorded history, there is one piece of advice that was consistently taught by our species’ greatest philosophers and sages. In 1400 B.C., this advice was inscribed on the walls of Egypt’s Luxor Temple. In 700 B.C., it was etched above the temple entrance to Greece’s Oracle of Delphi. It was infused in the teachings of Socrates and Plato, and it featured prominently in the Hindu texts of ancient India and in the teachings of Confucius from early Imperial China. Then it was echoed again in the writings of William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, and even Benjamin Franklin. This advice, quite simply, is to know yourself. The reason this wisdom refuses to leave humanity alone is that life, with all its perceived complexities, can be boiled down to this one endeavor - an endeavor that is otherwise known as the pursuit of enlightenment.
Pursuing enlightenment isn’t about learning something new; it’s about remembering something you’ve always known but have simply forgotten. It’s not about becoming perfect; it’s about discovering that which is already perfect within. Enlightenment isn’t something you can go out and obtain. It’s something you discover inside by removing your unenlightened (unloving) thoughts and beliefs. The path to enlightenment begins by repeatedly asking yourself one question: “Why do I feel what I feel?” Your honest, humble, and victimless answers to this repeated question will show you when your fear controls you, when your negativity shackles you, when your need for validation from others enslaves you, and when your self-centeredness smothers you. Conversely, during life’s magical moments, answering this question will show you the simplicity of happiness and what little it requires. It will also show you how empowering it is to live your truth unapologetically, how invigorating it is to be courageous, and how true joy comes from being in loving service to others.
Once the pursuit of enlightenment has begun, the real booster rocket on this path is ignited with a single intention: the intention to have love become your response to every stimulus. If you want the freedom enlightenment offers, your work is to let go of any ill will or negativity you may be harboring. True enlightenment has no caveats, such as, I’m always peaceful unless… I never get angry until…. I’m patient, but to a point. Caveats such as these are instant obstacles on this path, but they are also instant opportunities to quite literally “lighten up” and rise above.
So, why go through all this trouble when it’s easier to just be reactive in life? The answer is this: It’s not easier. When you’re reactive, you are at the mercy of circumstance. Enlightenment is an endeavor that works toward a state of mind (or being) which elegantly manages any circumstance life could possibly bring you. It’s about tapping into objectless joy... a joy that exists without cause because it knows a profound secret about life.
Be advised, though: The way of enlightenment is a difficult road that involves countless, uncomfortable encounters. But it’s far more difficult not to pursue enlightenment - watching helplessly as your peace of mind gets tossed around by whatever the plot twist of the day happens to be. The good news is that you’re already enlightened - you just don’t know it yet. The true essence of every soul is enlightenment, but this is rarely realized by the mind. Becoming conscious of your own enlightened essence is bridging the gap between the soul and the mind as they finally find themselves on the same page, singing the same song. When that happens, the mental construct you had of yourself changes, revealing that you are so much more than anything you’ve imagined yourself to be.
Enlightenment is a beautiful, fun, and adventurous journey upon which every soul eventually embarks. In fact, everyone is embarked upon it whether they realize it or not. Day by day, year by year, lifetime by lifetime, more and more of a hidden, internal wisdom is uncovered. Throughout your boundless existence, this magnificent expedition will call on you to be unfathomably bold yet immeasurably humble. It will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but once you fully engage it, you will flow into an effortless harmony with life that is truly astonishing.