Each of us has our idea of success — our moments driven by it, our minds addicted to it. It may be a vague idea or an articulated one, but once we get there, we’ll have made it. Then I’ll have irrefutable evidence that I’m actually special!
For a project like this, I have dreams of having a huge readership, of writing a bestseller, of giving a viral TED Talk, etc. But if we’re honest — if I’m honest — under all the dreams is a question, a question we are always asking: Am I worthy? Am I significant? Do I matter? Am I a success?
A king and his vizier knew the grain in their kingdom was tainted and would cause insanity. They had a small amount of untainted grain for themselves but reasoned that if they remained “normal” while everyone else went crazy, they’d be regarded as crazy. So they decided to eat the tainted grain but to mark their foreheads to remind themselves that they were crazy.
(Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Jewish mystic)
The key to achieving sanity is first recognizing we are crazy. If we cannot see through the screen of self-doubt today, if we cannot see our worthiness now, why would we recognize it then? Our striving for then is driven by our doubting habit now. This habit is our craziness, a delusion to which our reflexive response is to tell a story about how some kind of social success will bring us solace.
It won’t. The habit energy of our self-doubt will never be pacified because some Cinderella story our minds generate to escape it becomes reality. Like the bird with a dirty tail flying from tree to tree to escape the smell, we cannot escape a fire that burns on our back by running.
Habit is a good word here, because habit refers to a behavior we are accustomed to engage in. If we recognize something is a behavior, an action we are taking or even just passively allowing, we begin to have the opportunity to choose.
I’ve said before that thoughts are the smoke to the body’s fire. Our fantasies about our need for great achievements arise from lower order feelings and sensations that need to be felt, that need to be allowed into consciousness gradually in order to slowly resolve. We fear we are unworthy and it burns, so we flee to the thought world.
The resolution of the things we flee from comes only through turning flee into feel. I like to call this the resolution of no resolution — as we dip our feet into the unwanted, as we surrender our attempts to push it away, it gradually loses its hold on us or even resolves. With each sensation that arises, arises also the possibility of equanimity if we can lean in lovingly and allow it to just be.
The Water is All Around Us
The truth is we are like a thirsty person surrounded by water who has forgotten how to drink. I have two beautiful children who love when I play with them. (We have loads of fun together — I’m not sure who’s more of a kid!) But often my mind is running off to do all the things that will make me finally important to loads and loads of other people.
Sometimes I think if I saw myself for even one moment from their eyes, my self-doubt would vanish in a flash. I think about how I looked at my own parents, how significant they were to me growing up, how I craved to be seen and celebrated. I’ll look at my children and reflect on how they must see me in the same way. I’m the most important thing in the world to them, who else could I possibly be so important for? Who’s estimation is really worth more than theirs? When I can see it, my little daughter leaning against me offers all the being seen I really need.
If you listen, the world is telling you all the time how you matter. An urgent client email may be an undesirable disruption to your well-planned day, but it also an unspoken message saying: Your advice matters to me. I trust you. Please can you help me with this thing that is important to me?
We do not need to be overly romantic about having your day undermined by someone’s lack of thoughtfulness, but we can choose what it is we hear. We can feel the distress behind someone’s request and lean in to help them with beautiful intention. With the tiniest of internal rotations, there is deep meaning available to us all the time.
Our doubting, thirsty minds are waiting to be quenched. Drink, drink, the water is all around us.