We live in a world of unknowns--and I'm not just talking politics and hurricanes. Existentially, we are trapped in an illusory world filled with masquerades, suffering, and death lurking behind every step we take. Most actions we take are--in one way or another--a way to avoid confronting our deepest fears. And that's one reason we love progress.
Achievement and growth--two things that we worship in our society--rule the way that we think about ourselves, others, and the world. The most successful people in western culture tend to love progress. The evolution of thoughts, refinement of technology, and hoarding of financial resources are a few things that successful people monitor to facilitate their ascent to temporary and fleeting greatness.
Even science is guilty. Science--a beautiful method of inquiry--is often employed dogmatically as a philosophy--a system of belief that organizes and filters experience. And it's not value free. Without going further down the rabbit hole than is necessary, it's worth pointing out that the diligent scientist is no different from the successful CEO, in that they both attempt to reduce the complex phenomena observed in daily life into things that they can quantify, measure, and control.
The most successful people are obsessed with this reductive process because the ability to quantify and measure gives them the power to predict and control. Let me give you an example. As someone suffering from this same disease, I enjoy being productive. I can tell you down to the minute how I spend my time each day. I measure and plan each second--when to eat my four meals, when to work, when to get up and stretch, when to go to the bathroom, when to write my dissertation, when to spend time with my family, when to call my friends, and when to sleep to start it all over again.
I have my schedule and time management down to a science, which allows me to predict what each day will look like and control where I spend my energy. These habits make me successful, but they also prevent me from experiencing deeper levels of happiness and fulfillment. And that's what I'm here to point out.
This mindset of constantly reducing life to categories is incredible for productivity and success. The most successful people are the ones who master this mindset early and practice it for years. Unfortunately, the recipe for success contains its opposite element--unhappiness and suffering. We quickly forget that not everything in life is quantifiable. In fact, the best things in life are experiences that cannot be measured.
The ineffable moments--those that are beyond words and even mental comprehension--are the most beautiful and have the biggest impact on who we really are. When we constantly strive for perfection--something unattainable--we forget what's truly important. We tend to focus so much on action, doing, creating, and building that we stop being. Somehow the effortless experience of being present in the moment--free from thoughts, desires, and mental activity--becomes uncomfortable and difficult to access. And that's not only unhealthy, overly rigid, and at odds with the natural world--it's a trap.
This trap is a mind game. Nothing more than our minds building a fictitious world in which we are not only the narrator, but the central character--the victim, the hero, and the conqueror. When you step outside of this trap, if even for a brief time, you quickly realize the truth: that we build staircases on flat ground.
We construct stairs because they are concrete--exact and precise increments that we can measure, predict, and control. When you're climbing a staircase, you're either going up or you're stepping down. Black and white. Nice and simple. Linear. Progression or regression. Our minds fantasize about discovering something that certain, but the truth is that life is not so precise.
When unforeseen events occur--they shake us at the core. The way we react to these events, no matter how small they are, is determined by our mindset. When we practice reducing life into mental constructs and striving for optimal productivity, we often respond to problems in inflexible and unhelpful ways--lacking empathy and compassion.
This inner turmoil we push onto others is simply the product of imposing arbitrary concepts onto a dynamic, subjective, and relative reality that doesn't fit inside of our neat little boxes. We create our own suffering and then share it with the world, which is easy to do when the life you build in your mind conflicts with the reality in which you live.
Forgetting what's really important in life and losing sense of one's values happens quickly in this mental game of success and material achievements. And when you forget that everything you earn will be taken from you--in one way or another--you're stuck playing a game you can't win. Paradoxically, the only way out of this game is to realize that you're playing it in the first place--and then do something about it.