There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
This powerful parable that David used highlights how difficult some of the most obvious realities are to see, never mind talk or think about. Some aspects of our experience are so intrinsic, so subtly omnipresent, that to question these aspects demands that we question the very fabric of our experience. This is very difficult of course. But this is where we have an opportunity to apply our intelligence, education and imagination. In order to interpret our experience differently though, we have to first come to terms with the fact that what we see, what we are certain of, may actually not be the absolute reality or truth. This is fundamental if we are to break free from the prisons of illusion that we construct for ourselves.
If one's conditioned, egocentric, automatic responses and thoughts are to blame for the discomfort and unhappiness, how do we then break free and change the way we see the world if these things are just that, automatic.
This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education -- least in my own case -- is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.
And this is where awareness and mindfulness steps up to help save the day. Before I can change anything, I need to be aware of these "over intellectualized, abstract arguments" taking place inside of my head along with the knowledge and awareness that they can, and maybe should, be different. This is definitely sounding like mindfulness so far. What I really appreciate from this speech is how David then takes this mindful approach one step further and stresses using the incredible mental capacity we have in a very intentional manner to assess our experience in new ways. In ways that develop understanding and empathy as our intellectual capacity to understand what is going on around us supersedes the ways in which we naturally interpret our experience by a long way.
The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and
personally unfair this is.
Excuse the numerous quotes, but he really did say it all so well.
The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.
Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.
So where is all of this going. Awareness of our conditioned and automatic mental responses is the critical first step of liberating ourselves from the discomfort that they so often induce. This has been covered by mindfulness over and over again. But what we can then do with the mental space we provide for ourselves when we separate from these thoughts is where huge amounts of untapped potential to understand and empathize lie. We can use our presence to remove our ego from the equation and intentionally place someone else at the center of 'the universe', proactively taking mindful awareness to the next level to use our understanding, intelligence and imagination to try and see things differently. To try and see that I may not actually have it so bad after all.
But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
He really does share such a powerful message. Something that I myself have been fortunate enough to have used in my own progress in the past without even knowing it simply because of how effectively it shattered my automatic way of thinking about things. This was really just an overview and his style is so captivating so I urge you to read the full transcript of what he said on the day over here.
This is such a powerful technique and I hope I can inspire some of you enough to give it a bash, it works. Empathy is a very tricky thing to develop and we really do need to use all we can to do so, it is fundamental to a beautiful experience. The only other option is selfish loneliness.
Have a beautiful week and I know you will be provided with many opportunities to practice this, so keep you eyes peeled and be ready!
This is water,