My dog and I used to visit people in Seniors Homes. That experience taught me that there were two ways to age. One way your mind stays open and life gets progressively more interesting and even the prospect of death carries with it some fascination and curiosity. The other way is to get bitter and progressively angrier that the world does not conform to your expectations.
At the Home the latter group often included strict, religiously devout people who were often angry that they had lead a “good life” and yet they found themselves in a room dying alongside someone who they deemed irresponsible. Someone who had spent their life partying and having fun. The angry person had subconsciously thought there would be an Earthly reward for not having fun, as though the bitter time spent re-hashing other people’s “sins” was somehow making them more holy.
Aging is a natural wisdom-generator if you look at it the right way. If you’re paying attention as you move through the world you’ll gain compassion simply by recognizing that literally everyone struggles. But our eyes must be open for us to be able to recognize those struggles. When we’re younger we believe everything we’re told, so we’ll even go with ideas like Santa or the Easter Bunny. But as we age we learn those things are stories told for our entertainment. What we don’t realize is that most of the other things we’re seeing are also stories told for our entertainment.
Even if we’re in that open-minded group that’s going to grow and change, we still go from being kids to being teenagers—the least free creatures on Earth. In Junior High other people dictate your hair, your clothes, what music you like, who your friends are, and most importantly your self esteem. At those ages you’re just looking to be accepted by all of these kids you’re assuming have their act together. Yeah, that’s what they have together alright. Their act.
In reality all kinds of things are happening. The bullies are being beaten at home, the cool girls have alcoholic or drug addicted moms who either neglect them or stage-mom them, the partiers already have their own addictions they’ll pretend don’t scare them, and many of the outcasts will use pretend-they-don’t-care-callousness to preemptively protect themselves from being rejected. Eventually we age and learn about these hidden truths too, and another layer of social lies are removed and we become more compassionate.
Of course the unaware group that will grow angry is actually thinking that people really are living up to the life they’re purporting to have, so things are getting increasingly unpleasant, unhappy and stressful for them as they struggle with the comparisons to their own existence, which they make worse by rehashing their least favourite parts. And what exactly is it that they would hope to keep up with anyway?
I know a couple who’s lauded in their school for being very generous and dedicated, and yet the husband molested all three daughters and the wife stayed with him anyway. I also know a minister and his wife who beat their sons, and then gave sermons on Sundays, all the time hating the fact that they knew there were younger couples at their church stressing themselves trying to be like them. What everyone should be doing is not looking to others to see how to act well. We don’t need other people to tell us if our shoes fit. We know the difference—we just have to take responsibility for that knowledge and act. That’s what the story of the Good Samaritan is about—that we ignore what we’re told to do, and respond to the world with our natural sense of compassion. Every single major religious prophet preached love and compassion.
We don’t need other people telling us how to dress or act or talk, whether that’s a hip hop artist who’s been paid by a corporation to include a product in a song, a celebrity pushing skin cream on TV, someone standing on a pulpit suggesting we live up to behaviour standards they themselves cannot, or even if it’s our own “friends” who are making our lives harder because they don’t like our choices regarding what music we like or people we date.
It is only fear of not belonging that gives these people their power over us. But if we accept and know that we are a part of everything and that no human being can revoke our deep, spiritual connection to the world, then we are free. Free to keep our minds open to whatever idea feels good to us.
Trust yourself. You don’t need the borders built by your society. I know you, like all of us, have had your struggles. But you are fundamentally a fine person with much to offer and nothing to apologize for. Exercise that freedom in the best way possible—live your life fully, fruitfully, and happily. It’s not hard to do. You just have to think thoughts that allow you to feel your strength, rather than thoughts that hide it from you.
Now go be awesome. It’s been in you right from the start
Here’s a link to an excellent radio show/podcast on this very subject:
Following a childhood accident should have left him dead, Scott McPherson spent his life meditating on thought, consciousness, reality and the self. Seeing the emotional damage done by ego-based overthinking he began dedicating a part of his life to guiding students toward more peaceful and rewarding lives. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, Canada.