It was a long, odd week, and I very much needed the three-hour walk in 5 degree temps this morning to clear my head of it all. Friend Stacey might say that it was a week where certain alignment of heavenly bodies led to spiritual discomfort for us all. I'm admittedly a bit skeptical of the horoscopic diagnosis, but I have to admit that everybody seemed at a higher pitch of prickly edginess than usual this week.
At work, I noticed that lots of people were elevating the smallest provocation to disastrous proportions, and this would have offered a fascinating subject for study, if it wasn't for the fact that they seemed to want me to solve each catastrophe.
But it did give me an opportunity to once again observe a very common little human trait. It was present in spades all week long, and yes, there were also times when I caught myself in exactly the same fallacy.
We all have a tendency to think that our perceptions--our thoughts and feelings about a given circumstance--are actually objective facts. It's not so.
"X, he hates me," one worker said to me matter-of-factly this week, speaking of another coworker during a one-on-one session.
"Really?" I said in surprise. "I didn't know that. When did he tell you?"
"He hasn't told me" my worker said. "But he hates me."
"Mmm," I said. "I am surprised. X tells me lots of things, but he hasn't mentioned this yet. Did you hear it from somebody else?"
"No," I was told. "But I know it."
" Did you see it in a memo he wrote?"
"No," came the reply, impatiently. "Can't you take my word for it? It's a fact. He hates me."
I decided to take just a small step. "Well, it appears that you FEEL that X hates you. That's the fact I'm seeing."
My worker looked at me blankly. "What the hell are you talking about?"
How would my worker take the next idea, I wondered. It was worth an experiment, even though I really should have known better. "Your thoughts, your feelings, are inner events," I said. ". They're only true in the world of your mind. They say nothing about the world out there."
I had gone too far, I saw immediately. Introspection isn't for everybody.
Once upon a time, there came a somewhat life-changing moment for me when I suddenly recognized that an enormous amount of emotional baggage I had been wrestling with for much of my life was quite simply NOT REAL. These things were nothing more than mind states, and had no connection to larger, concrete truth whatsoever. A few inches outside my skull, none of the anguish I had been feeling existed at all. This recognition was unbelievably freeing to me. I simply didn't have to lend a lot of weight to anything that had no objective reality. I didn't have to keep feeding energy to such nonsense.
What this implies, ultimately, is that the only world we really know is a world of mind, and so that's where the problem-solving efforts need to dwell. I one had a worker tell me that he had worked for 15 bosses over the years, each one of which who had deliberately intended to set him up for failure. The stunning nature of such a coincidence did not register with him. Somehow, he had stumbled upon descendants of Hitler in 15 consecutive jobs. For 20 years he had bounced from job to job, each time believing that his mildly paranoid feeling was based on a concrete truth "out there" rather than an inner condition.
My wife and I have a friend who has been in relationships four times to selfish men. Each time, she expects to cause changes to her partners; but she has yet to wonder why it is that she seeks out men so skilled at making her miserable. "Men are such shits," she says, "why won't they change?" as we silently change the pronoun. The strange twists of logic used by this friend are too numerous to mention.
These are dramatic examples, but I think on quieter levels we do the same thing almost every day. We react to thoughts and feelings as though they represent laws of physics, as though they are monuments of stone.
I can hear an argument building from some of my friends that are highly skilled in logic, so I'll address it right away.
I'm not trying to argue the case for solipsism--the belief that the mind is what literally creates the physical world. I think solipsism represents a terrible form of human arrogance. But I would argue that most of what causes us to suffer is a subjective, inner event, not a fact of the world.
When we're suffering, it makes no sense to try and change the world. What makes sense is to return home and heal.