As I’ve previously mentioned, some of the implications from the idea that self is an illusion can be kind of unpleasant. I highly recommend that you go back and re-read You’re Amazing a couple of times until you just feel great about yourself before reading today’s article. You may want to go back and re-read it again afterwards.
Personal growth and introspection work best when you come from a state of unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness. These things are essential if you want to face unpleasant and unflattering implications. Our goal here is not to get you to feel bad, just the opposite in fact; but, humbling truths can be bitter medicine and “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
You can ignore my advice if you want; but, I hope you choose to trust me on this, go re-read You’re Amazing. I’ll wait…
So, we’ve covered the idea that self is kind of an illusion because we all have potential. Let’s take things a little step further, shall we? If self is kind of an illusion, then you are not what you think you are. Those thoughts are useful, usually; but, they’re not really real.
Let’s take a simple example, does the fact that I occasionally break wind make me a farter? Do my farts define me? Sure, it’s something that happens sometimes, it’s a part of me; but, I’m a whole lot more than that. Every definition faces the same fundamental issue.
Let’s take another example: I’m not a hypnotherapist.
Hypnosis is something I do. It’s an action. It’s a skill that I have developed. It doesn’t really define me. I could go do something else if I felt like it. Maybe one day I will. I could get bored with therapy. I could get tired of hearing about other people’s problems. As satisfying as I currently find this work, I don’t know if that will continue indefinitely. I could find some other way to make money if I felt like it.
It’s really useful to be able to say, “I’m a hypnotherapist.” It gives people a lot of useful information about my skills. It makes conversations flow more smoothly. But, I’m glad that I can see through that label. I’m glad that I can remember that there are other possibilities and potentials, even if I’m not currently interested in pursuing them.
The idea that self is an illusion is all about simply remembering the truth and getting the behavioral flexibility that comes with it. It doesn’t mean you have to change, it just means that you can change if you want and that it’s not really a big deal. It means you’re not stuck. So, yes, the truth will change you; but, it doesn’t necessarily have to change what you’re doing now.
This is about liberation from illusion. It’s a good thing. It’s all pretty obvious when it’s spelled out.
Now, on to the fun stuff…
If self is truly an illusion, what does it mean? It means that no matter what you have done, you’re not really a jerk. You’re not an asshole. You’re not a loser. These labels are meaningless.
Anyone (including and especially you) who has ever called you a loser was mistaken. They had been sucked into an illusion, a thinking error. They made the mistake of overgeneralizing. They may have seen you do something that hurt them. It’s possible. But, they thought wrongly. There’s no shame in this, people make mistakes.
(What? You don’t want people to make mistakes? Their mistakes hurt you sometimes? Your own mistakes hurt you sometimes? You know what? You’re right. Let’s put an end to mistakes. No one is ever allowed to make another mistake, on pain of death. I’ll go get the Sword of Righteous Judgment and we’ll put an end to all mistakes. I’ll start with me and the mistaken idea that it’s possible to put an end to human error…
Ow… The Sword of Righteous Judgment is sharp and hurts my innards.)
Just take a few moments and think about that… You’re not, nor have you ever been, a loser. You may have thought you were. You may have believed it. You may have felt like it was true. You may have seen quite a few failures that convinced you it was true; but, ultimately, it’s an illusion.
On the other hand, you’re not a winner either. You’re not really anything. You just are. No amount of success makes success inevitable. It may feel good for you to think of yourself as a winner; but, it’s just as much an illusion. You can win and you can lose. These things just happen, they don’t define you. You can try your hardest and fail; and, sometimes, you can half-ass things and succeed. These things are all meaningless. They don’t say anything true about you, about your capabilities, about your potential. They don’t say anything true about who you are. And, if you see them and say or think they mean something, you’ve forgotten the truth (at least temporarily.)
But, meaning is something we create. Meaning exists in the mind, not in physical reality. (Except, of course, as chemical signals in the brain. So, I guess they do exist in physical reality…)
There is also a down side here.
If you’re not a jerk, an asshole or a loser; neither is anyone else.
To label anyone is to get sucked into an illusion and focus on something that’s not real; and, (Surprise!), people don’t like to be labeled as jerks. They will fight back. They will resist. If you judge, they’ll most likely think that you’re a jerk! And, they’ve kind of got a point.
No, they’re still wrong.
It’s still an illusion.
But, let’s not pretend that if you judge, criticize and condemn others that they are somehow not supposed to respond to it. If you phrase things in a hurtful way, don’t be surprised when people are hurt by it. Don’t be surprised when they don’t like it and don’t like being around you.
Still, there is value here, if you choose to see it. If you don’t accept the attempts of others to define you (and resist your own minds attempts to do the same) it makes it much easier to be objective. You may not be a jerk; but, are you acting like a jerk? Fortunately, action is something that you can change. New habits and behaviors can be learned.
And, the same is true when others are acting like jerks. They may be acting like jerks. I’m certainly not saying that they aren’t. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t notice that behavior and respond to it in some way. The may have a habit of acting like jerks; but, our habits do not define us because we can modify them. And, when you don’t let your mind trick you into defining yourself by them, you can be more objective.
It’s much easier to get people (including yourself) to accept, “Wow. That hurt. That was kind of a dick move. I’d really rather if you were a little more considerate. I’d enjoy being around you more if you were more considerate. I’d really like to enjoy being around you.
You’ve got a lot of great traits and we have a lot of fun. Could you make it a little easier for me to enjoy being around you?” than it is to get them to accept, “Stop being such an asshole!”
(That said, even if you do everything right and phrase things in a more palatable way, not everybody is going to accept it. Oops. I guess they made another mistake. Ah well… They’ll probably figure it out later. They may just need some more bumps and bruises before they realize how silly they’ve been.
What? You think it’s your fault they didn’t listen? You feel bad that you couldn’t get through to them? You’re right. You’re clearly responsible for other people’s mistakes. You should develop mind control abilities. Yup.
Oh, you think that when other people choose not to listen to you it isn’t really your fault? I don’t know about that. It’s not like people can be stubborn. It’s not like people resist change instinctually. Nah. It’s definitely your fault. You should definitely feel ashamed.
Go on! Feel ashamed now! Do it! No, don’t laugh at the idea that it’s ridiculous to feel ashamed when people don’t listen to you! Don’t do it! Don’t find it hilarious, now. Don’t let go of that old pain, this instant. You need it, right?)
You just need to remember that everybody makes mistakes and that life is inherently a learning process. Just recognize that it’s easier to help people see the truth when you forgive them for their mistakes first. And, forgiveness is not hard, it’s just about seeing and accepting the reality that we’re all human, we all make mistakes and it really doesn’t mean anything.
All you have to do is remember. You’ve remembered things before, right? You’ve remembered your judgments? You’ve remembered your preconceptions? You’ve remembered your desires? How about your pain? Have you ever remembered something that hurt you? It’s easy to remember things!
So, now, you can remember that you’re human and so is everybody else. You can remember that your mistakes mean nothing and neither do anyone else’s. You can remember that, right? It’s not too complicated, is it? It is? Darn.
Let’s take a moment to practice this. Let’s see if you can imagine how your life will be different with this understanding of what forgiveness is. Imagine that you’ve just made a mistake and you just don’t care. You know that your mistake doesn’t define you. You know that it’s just a learning experience. You know that you’re a human being and that your value doesn’t depend on being perfect at everything.
Nice, isn’t it? No? You’d rather hold grudges against others and yourself? You’d rather forget about forgiveness?
Your right, it’s just too hard to forgive people. Forgiveness is difficult, right? Forgiveness is the same as giving people permission to walk all over you. It can’t possibly empower you to get through to them. Nah… It’s not as simple as just remembering the truth. Nope. That can’t be it. It’s too easy.
You’re right, of course you are. There’s no way that you can remember that life is a learning process and that everybody makes mistakes. You can’t see someone yelling at you as “just making a mistake.” It has to mean that they’re a bad person, right? It has to mean that they’re a jerk. It couldn’t mean that no one took the time to teach them a better way, could it? (Or, that someone tried and did a piss-poor job of bypassing resistance.) It couldn’t mean that they’re in pain and, in that moment, forgot how important forgiveness and acceptance are. Nope. They’re just jerks.
And, when you lose your temper, it couldn’t just be the same thing, could it? You’re right, you’re a jerk. You’re a monster. You’re unlovable. You’re not worthy of forgiveness. What? That’s silly? You’re a human being who just made a mistake? It’s OK? It’s not the end of the world?
Nah, I don’t buy it. You’re going to have to convince me. Human beings are terrible, right? People can’t change. You can’t change. You’re too weak. Change is too hard. You’re stuck. You can’t overcome your problems. You’re just the way you are.
Do you really believe any of that? Or do you believe that it’s just an illusion? You have potential? You? Your potential is more real than who you are now or anything you’ve done? Your successes and failures don’t define you? Your mistakes don’t define you? They don’t define anyone? They don’t mean anything? You really think that your mistakes don’t mean anything, now? You really believe that? And, if it’s true for you, it must be true for others, right?
Well, darn. I guess there’s no reasoning with you. I so wanted to make you feel bad… Curse you and your growing capacity for forgiveness!
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