It started in high school. I began accumulating books about what to do. Five Things You Can Do to Get into The Right College; Three Steps to a Great Complexion; Four Techniques to Build Confidence; Ten Secrets of Women Who Reached the Top — that sort of thing. From succeeding in school, to picking the right mate, to choosing a career, to enhancing my appearance, to getting ahead at work, to keeping on schedule, to preparing quick healthy meals, to rearing intelligent children — I raced through life ducking a constant hailstorm of process advice. Do this. No, do that. No that’s not the right idea any more. Try this. No…
For years, I was befuddled. It seemed like I had a head full of solid advice about any life situation I could imagine, but when the chips were down, when I needed to face up to something right away, I couldn’t remember the advice exactly, or it didn’t work out as I thought it would. I was always teetering on the edge of not knowing what to do and looking for more and better advice. I thought wisdom was something wiser people than I must have. I thought the best way to navigate life successfully was to seek out really smart experts and do what they said to do. I was a little resentful when I practiced one technique or another for a while, only to read an article or hear on the news that some new idea had supplanted that technique, and now it was useless. (Coffee is good for you; no, coffee is bad for you – only drink Decaf; no two cups a day are OK; no all coffee, even Decaf, is a risk factor for stroke; no women can avoid depression with four cups a day…)
In mid-life, after years of stress and anxiety, I saw that believing that other people know how to live my life better than I do was a huge cosmic joke I was playing on myself! I immediately wanted to give that enormous pile of how-to books away, and then I had to laugh at myself for that, too. I trashed them. Why would I perpetuate the silliness by passing them on to others? Why wouldn’t I, instead, pass on what I had seen that set me free from all the expert advice to find my own wisdom and common sense, and feel confident that I would know what to do when I needed to know it.
Simply speaking, I recognized that I was the thinker of my own thoughts, using the tremendous power we all have to create my own experience of life. For years, I had been using my own gift of thinking for myself to make up a lot of insecure ideas about whether I knew what I was doing, whether I was capable of making the right decisions, whether I was smart enough to handle this or that. When I cleared my head of all the clutter of self-doubts and memorized ideas and just looked fresh, in each moment, at what was in front of me, I would get my own insights about what to do. I could trust them if they occurred to me, in the moment, in a calm state of mind and a good feeling. When I felt tense and insecure, it was best not to trust my thinking and look, instead, to quiet my thinking and calm down, then revisit the “problem” in a different state of mind.
Simple? Well, yes. Exceedingly simple. We have the power to make up our life moment to moment and we see what we’ve made up as compelling and real. We use that power more or less wisely in more or less secure states of mind. Easy? Well, yes and no. Not as an intellectual exercise. But exceedingly easy when it’s just plain obvious and you know it in your very core. I’m making it up and seeing it as real. I can make up anything. If I just turn my back on thinking that emerges from worry and tension and distress, I’ll quiet down naturally. Then I’ll have better quality thoughts.
What brought it to life for me was not just hearing about it from others, as if it were some more good advice, but really seeing it for myself, experiencing an insight that there was a deeper logic at work than I had ever realized. The “others” who guided me towards that steadfastly, relentlessly refused to give advice, ever. But they consistently created an experience of safety, calm and quietude, and demonstrated faith that I was no different from anyone else — anyone could see their own way to their own answers. They showed no interest in knowing the details of my insecure thinking, politely suggesting there was no point thinking or talking any more about what was confusing to me. My mind would settle down and I’d allow the frenzied dervishes of thinking to whirl on by, and then get new, clear ideas for myself. It was thrilling to experience that. And my mentors were quick to let me know it had nothing to do with them. They were only pointing out something I already had, something I already knew, something that was the same for me as it was for them and everyone else in the world. We are the thinkers of our thoughts. Nothing but our own minds can put thoughts into our head. We live from the inside-out. We all create thoughts and experience in exactly the same way, but we all use that creative process differently.
As one of the best of all mentors, the late Sydney Banks, put it in The Missing Link, “The solutions to outwardly complex problems created by misguided thoughts will not arise from complicated analytical theory, but will emerge as an insight, wrapped in a blanket of simplicity.”