You get along with some people and you cannot get along with others. As we age and get to know more and more people, the structures of our society mean it is impossible to avoid the people we don’t like. Our bosses hire them to work with us. Our friends marry them, some change into them, and some even have them as children. But somehow the more enlightened among us don’t seem to care too much. They prefer positive experiences, but they seem fine either way—they can enjoy a person’s company or not enjoy it, and somehow those things are equal. This is how they do that:
Do you know the Infinite Monkey Theorem? It’s essentially this: if a monkey randomly hits keys on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time he will eventually—albeit inadvertently—type Shakespeare’s greatest works. Your innate knowledge that this is true is why you’re willing to buy lottery tickets. There are literally billions of possible combinations that can be created from only 50 lottery numbers, but you are willing to pay for a ticket because you believe in the idea that your single combination—your Hamlet of numbers—can and will be formed from those billions of possibilities. So billions of stories can be written with only 26 letters, and billions of individuals can be created from only a few different kinds of experiences.
Okay, so let’s say God or Nature is our Monkey. And let’s say the keys of the typewriter are types of experiences. Every moment is a key experience. Your ego is formed by you combining those experiences into your story. Your alphabet of experience includes: things you expect versus things that you realize in-the-moment; things you think are right or things you think are wrong; things you either accept or reject, and you judge things to be either beneficial or detrimental to your being.
With each letter being an individual experience, words are then combinations of experiences, and those combinations get strung together in our consciousness to form the narratives that lead to the various chapters of our lives. Eventually all of those experiences can be lined up in our consciousness to form our life story. So when people ask you about your life, you list those experiences. Makes sense so far?
So if we say people are unfolding stories, then they are each made up of combinations of experiences just like every book is made up of different combinations of the same group of letters. Understanding that, it’s not so hard to appreciate that the order and nature of those experiences would lead to different results just as the order and nature of the words create a different story.
If you repeatedly experienced surprises that were not only detrimental, but on top of that you felt were wrong because you didn’t deserve them, then you could see some bitterness being written into your story. Likewise, if you experienced long random strings of beneficial surprises that matched your judgment of what you felt you deserved, then you might feel grateful, or lucky, or blessed. So what everyone describes as their “life” is really just a collection of the judgments of their experiences. It’s almost like math. If you could see how they got there, everyone would add up. They would all be pysche-logical.
Okay, so if God or Nature is infinite… that means the monkey is not only going to type Hamlet, it means he’ll eventually type everything. So it is with the experiences of life and the creation of individuals. There’s only a few fundamental things that can happen to you: you can expect or realize, you can accept or reject, you can judge an experience good or bad, and you can find it beneficial or detrimental to your being. But every moment will be comprised of a combination of those things, and those individual judgments can happen in any order or combination to form a lifetime.
That leaves us with 10’s of billions of possibilities. Some of these people-stories you really enjoy. Some are funny, or romantic, or insightful. But some are boring and predictable, or stupid, or difficult, or ignorant and maddening. And yet every ego was typed from the same alphabet. They all emerged from the same eight keys, and they were hit in an order that only the monkey will ever understand.
So how does this help enlightened people have more equanimity around challenging people? It’s not that they come to understand the Monkey. They come to understand themselves. They understand their judgments exist only in their consciousness and so they take them less seriously. They argue less with what is. Remember, the monkey’s going to type every combination. A healthy soul accepts that fact and simply meets all of them as equal aspects of the universe as a whole.
Your ego wants to organize the world so that it can judge things as beneficial or deserving. It wants what it expects. That’s what egos do. Egos are verbs. They are the act of judging moments. So what do the wise do? Whenever possible, they remove judgment from their experiences. There is no right or wrong, so there is no deserve or not-deserve. The wise ones know that there are beautiful warm people with wonderful families and yet they’re in a children’s hospital. That’s not because the world gives us what we want or expect. It’s because the world unfolds as it does and we either accept that idea or we waste our lives wishing it would unfold the way we want it to.
The judgment of your life happens within the confines of your own consciousness. That’s why little children learn so fast and are so wise about what to do next. No one ever has to lay out the order they should learn things in. They just learn them in their own order. And that emerges naturally because little children don’t know words so they can’t think the Buddhist Veil of Illusion into existence. They cannot use words to judge experiences because they haven’t begun to believe that they either can do that, nor have they been taught that it would be wise to do so. And in the absence of judgment, anyone has the potential to be your friend. And that’s why the wise can make themselves comfortable anywhere, with anyone.
Be like a child. Have a quiet mind. Get back in touch with the instincts you have as a natural aspect of the universe. You don’t need to think so much. Pea vines can emerge from the ground and find where both the sun is and where something to climb is. They’re smart and they don’t even have a brain to make any judgments with. If a pea vine can be that smart, then you can find your way too. So take a lesson from the peas: forget all of the thinking, go quiet with all of the judgments, and instead just wake up each day and head for the light. It really is that easy.
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.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.