Every now and then I remind you. This is a journey. There is no where you are going. What is important is the going itself. When you start off there isn’t even a you. As a baby you can’t even find yourself in the mirror. Everything is transient. Everything disappears and reappears up until you develop the idea of permanence. Then you know people still exist when they leave a room. You learn to expect.
Next you develop some autonomy. You get that you can manipulate the world so you start to do it. You start reaching for things, and pushing things, and pulling things and generally driving your parents crazy pulling stuff off of other stuff. And then you usually put it in your mouth.
Eventually you figure out the concept of ownership. The idea that you can have something because someone else does not have it. That subtly forms the idea of a separate you, which eventually allows you to finally be able to recognize yourself in that mirror. And with that, in baby steps, your ego begins to form.
Once you know enough words, and especially once you get that all of these things are divided and separated by names, you start to learn the names and in doing so you create even further separation between you and the universe.
As you grow you have some autonomy, but a great deal of life is still in the control of your parents. And while you may not like it, it’s not until you’re in your teens that you begin to consider the idea of testing even that limit. And you do that by just picking the opposite of whatever your parents chose. You think that’s being free, but they in a way dictated that choice to you too by it being an opposite. But that’s where we all start. And then experience shows us why most adults live the way they do.
Of course this morphs into when you really start to drive your parents crazy. In most places, between 18-21 you will be considered an adult. And your knowledge of that legal definition will begin to create issues by about 13 or 14, because you’re in a hurry to get there because it gives you more control. Of course, at that age it never occurs to you that your parents are guiding you with the wisdom of the experience of having already been your age, so you’ll be like the rest of us and maybe 1% of you will be wise enough to actually realize that it makes sense that they might know better than you.
So you’ll build your consequence-calculating frontal cortex during this period by simply making a lot of really bad, uninformed and painful choices. And so expect to hear some “I told you so’s” and know that even when they’re mad about something, what your parents are really mad at is that you made them watch you suffer and that’s hard for them.
Now you’re in your early 20’s and you feel like you’re an adult. Of course, you haven’t really and truly learned that most of things you know aren’t really things—they’re ideas you’ve been taught as a part of capitalism. When you’re young you think people get better jobs because they were smarter or worked harder, but then you learn about nepotism and sex and lies and bonus structures that see people paid better to fail than to succeed and you begin to realize the whole thing is much more smoke-and-mirrors than you ever really realized.
That guy at the computer store wasn’t recommending the best part for your computer—he was recommending the one he got the biggest bonus for selling. And on top of that, at that age you’re also still judging things from a what-I-want superficial perspective, so from about 13 until about 26, peer pressure and a desire to be admired will mean that your friends have more control over what you do than you will.
By late 20’s early 30’s you’re starting to realize that your parents weren’t boring, they had responsibilities. Maybe you have a mortgage now or a baby. And you realize that this stuff doesn’t go away. This stuff sticks with you for decades. Now you now can’t leave your crappy job and suddenly your spouse’s income has become critical to your lifestyle’s survival, so now it’s challenging to end even a bad relationship.
Your 30’s and 40’s are as close to running-the-world as you’re going to get. You’ll be in management positions where you’ll still be making uninformed, youthful choices because you’ll still think your career, business and financial goals are what’s important. And by focusing on those things or being with someone who does, you’ll likely become part of burgeoning divorce rate as you assume there must be a better life with other people. So you start again.
This is where many people begin their Renaissance, except they tend to choose things based on opposites. So in trying to find happiness, they just choose the opposite of what seemed to generate the sadness. Of course, this is just another form of ego-choosing, so it leads to the same unfortunate ends, which in turn leaves you facing the idea that maybe the real problem is you. And by that I don’t mean the spiritual you, I mean the egoic you.
In your 40’s and 50’s your parents or your friend’s parents will all be ageing to the point where your mortality becomes more visible. You’ll begin to realize you have limited time, and that you will be them soon. You realize that you will not achieve your “A” life-plan, or a very few of you will realize that you did—but regardless, there were enormous downsides you didn’t calculate to any life-plan you managed to achieve. And with all of this “failing,” if you’re healthy, you’ll start to look less at the materially successful people and you’ll begin to focus on those people you know who have achieved happiness instead.
In your 50’s and 60’s most of us will face our first chronic illnesses. Pains, aches and sufferings that will never go away. We must be good at resignation and acceptance for this to go well, so it’s good to practice letting go before you get there. This is also where most people’s true spirituality starts. This where they begin to seriously abandon the ego because it is increasingly seen as the source of all of your mental suffering.
If you’re lucky enough to get into your 70’s, 80’s or 90’s you may have chosen to surrender to your lack of control. So you will be surfing more than managing, and that will make you one of the happy and light-hearted people in the old folks home. You’ll be brave and bold and artistic and healthy. You won’t care what other people think at all. But if you went the other way, deeper into ego, then your ideas will have gotten firmer and firmer the more you thought them. That means more and more people will be wrong, and You will die bitter and angry because you never did let go of your crazy expectation that the world was supposed to do what you wanted it to.
This is your journey. We can take some steps sooner or later, but it is a natural progression like a sprout becomes a stalk becomes a flower. Each stage depends on the one before it, so there is no skipping. There is only getting lost and being found. And it is a lifetime of that. So the only defense is to let go and accept that lost and found, in the end, take place in the same universe that has always been your home from the very start. You never couldn’t belong, you never could be anything but divine. So in your peaceful moments, function from the knowledge that every step you take is really just taking you back to where you already are.
Now go enjoy your journey. Like a movie, it’s possible to even enjoy the scary or sad parts if you just keep in mind that one scene does not a movie make. So don’t panic because you’re in one of the tough transitions. That’s what you’ll experience if you’re moving forward.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.
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.