The World Isn't Out To Fuck You, Specifically
Getting Real About Reality
What do you think? Do your thoughts shape and determine your reality?
Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and The Power of the Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murray — two famous books that I love — both say so. These books (and their authors) may have their faults, but I think they’re on to something. As a longtime student of Buddhist and Yogic philosophies, though, I’ve come to a further understanding:
We are not our thoughts. We are something much deeper than even that.
Our thoughts are more of a product or side effect of our very human-ness, and we have a lot more control over them than we think we do. That’s good news — if you buy into this sort of stuff. It means that our thoughts determine our reality, AND we can determine what to do with our thoughts.
A lot of people have problems with Napoleon Hill, Joseph Murray, proponents of PMA (positive mental attitude) or Law of Attraction practitioners (such as Democratic presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson). I can’t really blame them. On paper, the outlook they all share seems a bit naive at best; idiotic at worst: If you want to be rich, all you need to do is think about being rich? If you want to be happy, all you need to do is think about being happy?
Well… kind of.
Now, I’m not pitching some “think really hard and everything will be perfect” bullshit philosophy, oh no! This not all part of some mind game. Starting from our thoughts, we must then do the work, acting upon them and bringing them forth into reality. But we shouldn’t overlook the internal aspects. Our thoughts lay the foundation upon which our words and actions can be built.
Whatever you happen to be seeking — money, family, adventure, toys, music, movies, tacos, sex, partying, yoga, meditation — it all boils down to one thing: you want to be happy. Some things will bring you happiness, some won’t. Some will sometimes bring you happiness, and other times bring you pain. Things are complicated; feelings are complicated; life is complicated. But what’s at the root of what we all want, by and large, isn’t very complicated at all. We want happiness.
Now, if I were to tell you that happiness is all in your mind, you would probably tell me I’m full of shit. And you’d be right, at least a little! It’s damned hard to be happy when you’re working a job you hate, struggling to pay your bills, going through a nasty breakup, or have got a newfound rash on your tender bits. It’s even harder to be happy if you’re walking around afraid you or your loved ones might be injured, deported, or murdered. At the same time, it’s easier to be happy when you’re eating an awesome taco, hanging with your friends at a baseball game, watching your favorite band, or fucking your partner sideways. Your wedding day? Probably pretty happy. The death of a loved one? Probably pretty unhappy. There’s no denying the external factors that influence our happiness. I’m not trying to do that.
What I AM trying to say is that the internal factors (state of mind, general mood) are just as important than the external ones (events, interactions etc). This is for two main reasons.
First: did you ever notice how the exact same experience will yield a very different experience depending on your attitude? For example, say you’re sitting in a multimillion-dollar mansion having a beer. If you are internally happy, this experience might be amazing. However, if internally you’re vexed and miserable, then no amount of beer, money, tacos, or sex will ever make your mansion-lounging time satisfying and happy. Fair enough?
The second reason our internal work is so important is that it lays out the foundation for our external reality. Back to the Law of Attraction, or PMA, or whatever you want to call it. Now, there’s a flavor of God/Religion/”Universal Oneness” in these texts that you might not vibe with, and that’s totally fine. I’m NOT asking you or anyone to believe that the entire Universe is one big loving thing, and that it’s conspiring to make you rich and famous and happy. (Even if part of me really does subscribe to something that feels a lot like that). All I’m asking is for you to consider what might happen if you embraced the practical side of this type of positive thinking.
If you are expecting things to go badly, you will constantly be looking for events that prove your hypothesis. You may even start subconsciously creating events that match your expectations. The same goes for when you’re always expecting things to go well; you will be finding and creating situations that back up your expectations of happiness and success. Ever notice how when you wake up in a shitty mood, the day seems to give you a million other things to feel shitty about? That’s expectation leading to reality. If it can work in the negative direction, it can work in the opposite direction. We’ve just been conditioned not to believe it.
We tend to think that being “overly optimistic” is stupid, or even dangerous. We can look around and see a million reasons not to be happy — yet we rarely consider that we’re focusing on those millions reasons because our mindset, our lens, is fucked to begin with. But what if we change the lens? We can see all the good things all around us, and as a result, interacting with them and creating more good things, more things to be happy about. This is where the external and the internal meet.
By doing our external work we can see that, regardless of what’s going on around us, we have a choice: we can be happy, or not. Maybe not in every scenario, but in way more than we usually think. It’s hard to be happy when you’re in the middle of an actual war, being shot at, yes. But is really that hard to be happy, when all that’s really going on is that you’re a little tired and the barista messed up your coffee order?
It’s all perspective, and it begins on the internal level.
And the payoff is real. As we get better at being happy under more circumstances than not, we free up a lot of time and energy to focus on what we actually want to focus on. I’m in a band, so let’s just take music as an example. If I had the mindset that I needed a lot of money to be happy, I probably would have never gone for a music career. But, since I realized that I can be happy with less, and that playing music brings me great joy… why wouldn’t I go for it? And since I’m really in it for the sheer joy it brings me, I think I’ve naturally become better at playing, writing, performing, and so on. In the end, I’m even make some money, doing what I love. The external landscape matches the internal.
Likewise, a word of caution here: a confused internal landscape will lead to a confused external landscape. If you want a bunch of money, but you think all rich people are evil, chances are you will get stuck. If you believe that you could never make money playing music, you will perceive evidence to support that all around you, and you will create that reality for yourself. A big part of our internal work involves knowing and defining what we actually value. Once we know what we want, we can adopt an optimistic attitude about it, see the world in a light that supports our mission, and create situations that lead us forward.
Still skeptical about all this? Again, I wouldn’t blame you. But if there’s even a slight chance that this optimistic, believe in yourself and the world around you mentality might work… well, what’s the worst that could happen? Nothing?
“Nothing” is just about guaranteed if you stick with a more negative outlook. With an optimistic one, anything could still happen, any time, so you can press on, satisfied, knowing that you’re doing your best (fuck the rest).
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Also be sure to check out my new book The Death of You: A Book For Anyone Who Might Not Live Forever out September 17th 2019 via Wisdom Publications!
AND if you wanna hang out in real life, I’ll be on tour with my band Teenage Bottlerocket, come say hi!
High fives and deep bowing all around,