There is a Jonathan Swift quote I’ve always been fond of: “A man should never be afraid to admit he is wrong for it is, in other words, a way of saying he is wiser today than he was yesterday.” Many of the people who come to see me do so because they feel they are failing. This always seems strange to me because, from my perspective, they’re exhibiting above-average health.
You’re probably pretty good at what you do. Maybe you bake bread. Maybe you’re an electrician, or a marketer, or accountant, or a salesperson. You’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what you do and all of that thought has left you with an understanding that enhances your skills as you work. Notice that while you were learning all of that, you weren’t focusing a lot of attention on the act of being human.
You were busy wondering how to bake well, or how to safely run wire, or accurately add numbers—you weren’t wondering about consciousness or thoughts. So if I come to you for accounting or to have my car repaired because you’ve thought a lot about that, then you shouldn’t feel strange coming to me to discuss your thoughts because, thanks to my accident, that’s what I meditated on since I was five years old.
When someone even decides to talk to me I always see it as a major step in their life. Because even before they’ve met me, their very decision to seek assistance is a sign that they have already recognized that being human is a skill in and of itself. There’s no reason for any of us to think we should be good at being human if we’ve neither trained for or practiced it in a conscious way. So I’m just the training. After that, the rest of your life is your practice. Conscious practice.
I see unconscious, agonized people every day and I’m one on occasion myself. From that egocentric perspective the world is easily made stupid or lazy, so there’s an excuse to be angry. Or it’s mean or lonely, so it makes sense to be sad. The world will be what the world will be. But when we’re in this state we don’t think there’s anything wrong with us, we think there’s something wrong with the world.
When we’re in that state, we’re walking around aimlessly in the dark wondering why things are in our way. We’re hoping to stumble into a better life even though we’re focused on completely the wrong thing (the outside world), rather than on the very basis for our health, which is our interior world. We don’t need other people to move furniture out of the way, we just need to turn the lights on.
When someone shows up on my doorstep I know they’ve already taken a major step toward their own health. They have taken responsibility for it in a conscious way. Once that’s done, all they need is some guidance. We all need that on occasion; as noted I have to do this regularly myself. Without not-path we would have no path to walk.
Just like you can tell me how to bake better bread or how to do my taxes, I can tell you how to manage your consciousness. But until that moment has happened—until we realize that we are responsible for creating our own happiness—we are little more than flags blowing in the wind. But once we recognize our involvement in—and our power and control over—our experience, we immediately sprout wings. And once we learn to use them well, those wings will take us any direction we choose to go.
If you’re lost and confused and tortured and in pain and don’t know what to do; well that makes sense. There is no reason you should know how to manage your psychological experiences if you’ve spent no time studying how. So don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Far from being weak, it’s a sign of strength. It includes the humility required to admit we do not already know. And not knowing is critical. Because it is only when our cup is empty that we can change by adding more.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.