By: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2016 (edited 2018)
Discovering ourselves is a lifetime process, requiring purposely digging a little deeper, and challenging comforting beliefs. Self-enlightenment can fuel heroic changes in our course of development.
Life beckons action in opposing directions, with no obvious path. Although we desire a clear demarcation between right and wrong, illuminating the positive and negative outcomes that accompanies choices, reality often defies these desires. Black and white thinking grossly over-simplifies our complex world. The simple metaphor of the fork in the road doesn’t aptly describe most choices; rather than right or wrong, our options usually fall within the multiple shades of grey. Using dogma alleviates the mental strain of complex choice. The set mental heuristics frees energy for more important work—but the short-cuts also blind us from new applicable information. History has painfully replayed the dreadful consequences of societies that unquestioningly follow generally accepted dogma. Beliefs must be periodically challenged.
Our lazy mind wants automatic answers, cursing careful examinations, and functioning from habit. Constructive living requires more, stepping beyond the automatic and skeptically examining beliefs before committing to action. Simple responses following unbendable rules, rejecting any enlightened deviations from popular thought. But we are afraid to stray.
Creativity emerges from experimenting with the many shades of grey.
We, much like plants and animals, find comfort in simplicity. An unchanging environment provides security. Structure and strict rules relieve anxiety. However, we live in a hectic world. Our environment continually changes—flooding with abundance one day, while suffering from drought the next. Grudgingly we only change when necessity forces it upon us. Even after changing, in the face of hurt, we eventually slip, returning to the comfortable, enjoying the predictable habitual behaviors of the past—even the behaviors partially responsible for the original hurt. Like a dog to his vomit, we medicate our weary souls, dull our senses, and relive painful pasts. We follow trajectories set in motion because giving way to momentum is simple and spontaneous.
To avoid guilt, we engage in superficial efforts of change. With a steady diet of noble vagueness and memorized jargon, we cover the crumbling walls of human frailties with a thin coat of paint. Instead of tackling the difficult habits of behavior, we prefer self-justification, concealing and deflecting interpretations.
Actions—the doing—begin in the imaginative corners of the mind. We need hope. We need positive thoughts. Sometimes the freshness of optimism sets change in motion. But positivity is not the end goal; our goal should be changing the circumstances of our life. When learning to ride a bike, balancing is important, but to move we also must peddle, consequently making balancing easier. Positive thoughts and self-confidence grow in conjunction. We need to peddle. No matter how positive the interpretation, when behaviors are destructive, growth is inhibited. Positivity is a tool—a tool that must be used in conjunction with work.
"With a steady diet of noble vagueness and memorized jargon, we cover the crumbling walls of human frailties with a thin coat of paint."
Acknowledging the proclivities of a self-deceptive mind disheartens the gleeful fool who always must be right; but knowledge is never disastrous. Habitual thinking is not unchangeable. We can recognize suspect thoughts and challenge them. We can adjust the stubborn patterns. We can respond better to disrupting triggers. We can skeptically challenge beliefs, replacing them, when appropriate, with complex answers.
The grand promises of untold riches and uninterrupted happiness will temp our fragile wills, drawing our attention to unproven theories of simpleness. We will occasionally fall to the sweet lure of a paradise where dreams effortlessly explode into reality. Most of these claims lie flat, distracting us from the necessary sweat needed for improvement. Product designers, marketers, and even well-being authors cater to our desires, not reality. Simple ideas that titillate the senses rapidly spread. History repeatedly shows that popularity of an idea doesn’t correlate with its effectiveness. When the slim tan model testifies we can gain the body of our dreams in five minutes a day, we are tempted to add one more charge to our Vise. Simpleness appeals to consumers more than traditional weight-loss and muscle toning plans that require hard work and a controlled diet.
We must courageously challenge some accepted ideas. Challenging treasured beliefs is difficult, especially when we have invested energy in those beliefs. Political loyalty provides the perfect example. How often during election season does a political pundit reverse support; no matter how discrediting emergent evidence appears. Opposing evidence, instead of persuading change, usually promotes more ardent support and boisterous defense. Accusations of misconduct are rejected before even heard. Witnesses discredited without due process. We simply don’t want to think, evaluate and reverse directions. So stubbornly we hold to old ideas and look stupid.
Accurate self-appraisals give way to promote security, leaving vast areas unexplored, our hurtful behaviors and sensitive reactions are protected with a thin covering of justification and denial. We never will emerge completely enlightened, free from human limitations, but through conscientiously listening to others and quiet self-reflection, we achieve some enlightenment—many issues conveniently ignored come to the light. Through periodic and purposeful glimpses into the canyons of our soul, we see the small deformities—the rough edges. With these gained insights, the real work begins.
Improvements come slowly, in small imperceptible steps, not immediately evident, but the changes do occur and begin to take hold. Over time the small glimpses into self morph into investigatory stares. The reality of our being begins to materialize into something more visible and tangible. Putty to manipulate and form. This expanded self-understanding invites change that is easily seen and appreciated when viewed from the larger perspective of years—instead of days. We see the growth and the accompanying blessings. Through self-enlightenment, we held hands with experience, made tough choices, sought continuous personal insights and changed the bland trajectories of our lives.