This is one of the most urgent problems for civilized man. He has created civilization to give himself security. Security for what? For boredom? His chief problem seems to be that most human beings need a certain amount of challenge, of external stimulus, to stop them from sinking into the blank stare and blank consciousness of the idiot.”
Colin Wilson – New Pathways in Psychology.
My adventure with counseling started 17years ago. It was with a local suicide-watch group. I didn’t last too long. It was a miserable business and I was untrained and pregnant with my first child. Bad timing. The heart was willing, but the brain was weak.
Enter 2020. Three kids and 4 jobs later, I get the blessing of time to go back to the old passion of counseling. I discover new pathways to get trained and qualified in a field that was tucked away deep in my heart. In this year of the pandemic, if you have food on the table, a roof over your head and time, how much enforced leisure could one endure? The lockdown has indeed shone a light in some forgotten crevices.
So here I am today, after challenging myself to study again (after almost 30 years!)and sit for an exam of 220 questions on counselling and psychotherapy. Without sinking into the blank stare and blank consciousness of the idiot, I feel blessed to have been motivated enough to leave the comfort zone and embark on a new journey.
When more than half the life is over, how does one mentally get to a place to sit for a closed-book exam of 220 questions?
While doing some self-study on psychology and listening to a few excellent videos, I contemplated about many subjects that used to fly over my head earlier, but now seem to have descended with a bit of weight right on top of my head and started building some nests. For example, what makes some of us wallow in misery about being stuck at home during this pandemic, and for some of us to get started on new adventures using the extremely limited avenues open during this time. And then some others throw themselves into selfless and charitable acts – giving time and money to help the people who simply cannot afford not to work during this time but are forced to stay home. Visionaries, idealists, wallowers and philanthropists. Indeed, we are all in this together. Then my thoughts shifted quite a bit to idealism and vision. Idealism took center-stage on my horizon as it was so much in my face during this year. What was happening in the US during this election year was difficult to ignore. Looking through social media, I observed how many of us are suddenly standing up for ideals.
And so a thought process began.
Where are we going with idealism? It is great to be idealistic, but what does one do once you have an ideal on some issue? You can try to change everybody else according to your ideals. You can work in projects to achieve these ideals. But how successful is it? I haven’t seen much success. Its been my observation in 2020 and during previous years when I closely listened to very idealistic politicians in our own country. They were 100% unsuccessful. The most idealistic party lost all their seats in parliament.
I started contrasting the idealist to the visionary. A proverb from the Bible says: “Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint..”
What makes it easy for us to pick an ideal over vision? An ideal is not founded on or inspired by morality. If you think about it, you will see how easy it has been for some of us to pick up ideals this year. And in some countries, idealism has generated violent behavior. Close to home, we seem to be hiding behind our chosen ideals as a way of convincing ourselves that we are on the path of something good. But idealism is not vision.
Let’s take an example. I recently got into a cab and started chatting with the driver, a young man whose father was a priest. The family is living in the home the church has provided. The young man is in his late 20’s and happy to be the owner of a car and living quite a carefree life uber-ing around Colombo. I asked him if he had any plans for the future, and he told me that he is considering going to theological college. ‘Why?’ I ask. He thinks its the best job for him. His dad is well respected. He knows the subject and the job offers a secure life. I ask him – so you are passionate about saving souls? Needless to say, there was no answer, only an uncomfortable laugh. The ideal job, but without vision or passion.
In the scale of ideals, the above example is right at the bottom. Nevertheless, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we will see how this applies to our own lives. Most of us are unconsciously putting our idealistic foot forward. My ideals were directed at my children. How they should live, behave, dress, speak, study, etc. The next rung of the idealism ladder was trying to convince everyone about the ‘Truth.’ After that, it was about being self-sufficient. The list goes on. Many ideals, but no moving forward. No real purpose. Just feeling good that I have ideals and feeling quite virtuous.
And then I changed my thoughts from ideals to vision. This is when we stop trying to change the world and change ourselves instead. A tough one. No more virtue-signaling allowed. So now the thinking is directed mostly at myself. What is my vision for my life? How am I living now – how do I want to live in 5 years’ time? How have I chosen to build my relationships? What plans are afoot to achieve my goals? Do I have any goals? Oh boy, this is where you really feel lost. What on earth have I been doing all this time?
Without a vision, we are like a sailboat without sails. Drifting, casting off restraints. I have learned in my studies, that our continued behavior-patterns strengthen the relevant neural pathways that help us to keep on at that particular pattern. It becomes easier and easier. We create habits and run on auto-pilot. We build ideals, and forget vision. A vision is too hard and cumbersome. Why? Because a vision is a wholesome positive outcome for life – not only your life, but through your vision, others are enriched as well. It takes love for the good and right, to dream of a vision. As the boat is slowly pushed into the waters, it takes courage and conviction to stay the course. Both courage and conviction are sustained only because the vision is rooted in goodness, growth and a love to serve. Serve oneself and others.
Sometimes we look at visionaries, see them prosper and believe it’s all about money. It is not. I believe that as human beings (the only being that is able to exercise choice to make our lives the way we want) we have a constant need to expand. We earn Rs.1000 a day but it will not suffice for long. We earn Rs.5000 a day, and yet it will give us happiness only for a time. Is it about money? Not at all. Money is a tool that we use to expand. Not just economically, but we expand in every possible way. We cannot be contained in a specific set of comforts. It suffocates us. We discovered fire, we discovered energy, we discovered the earth is round, and then we discovered the moon and circle around planets. Always expanding. Money is just a tool to help us expand our vision. There is no limit to what we can do, how much we can expand, if we change from ideals to visions. Ground ourselves in what is right and what is good and what is of service to mankind. How do I make this work in my own world? Under the set of circumstances that have been dealt to me?
For the person who wants out of the plastic world of idealism and virtue-signaling, there is a simple way of re-programming your brain to achieve better things. Our hands, feet, mouth, eyes, are in our control. In the same way, our brain is also in our control. We are the master of our bodies. Not the other way around. It is now time to become the master of our mind. If the life lived so far has not served you or anyone else, and you find no meaning or purpose, you have already taken the most important step toward change. Realization. You realize something is not right. Maybe you are an activist – for climate, for equal rights, for freedom. Yet you could be the one who will be lost without your activism. Ideals have taken over vision. You have realized it.
Do you want to change? Then stop looking at others with your ideals, instead look at yourself with a vision. Act as if you have a great vision. A vision is not contained inside your current circumstance. Act and speak expansively. Read and learn as much as you can about your interests. Your brain will follow very quickly. The neural pathways will start to strengthen in the new direction of your thoughts and actions. You will raise your awareness about your vision. As you pretend and day-dream, you will act. As you act, your mind and your thoughts will fall in line. Your thoughts expand. You will see clearly what you need to do. Clarity comes only after you start to act. Contrary to popular belief, will-power is not what you need to get going. It is action. Act, and you will build will-power to carry on because vision has the strength of wholesomeness embedded in it. And we have an innate desire to be wholesome, fulfilled and actualized.
Build up relationships that support you sincerely. Parents, siblings and friends who will be your cheer-leaders. Social media friends are not going to cut it. In fact, it will actually help you to keep your goals to yourself. It is a bonus if you have a support system of a few people who will push you in the direction you want to go.
This process has been my experience. When I realized I did not have a purpose or meaning, the first thing that came into my head was, I needed religion. So following this realization, I dived into religion and for two years, I studied scriptures. I wanted to find out everything about my religion. Who started it? Who practiced it? Why so many different practices and denominations? Why were some people killed in it’s name? What is the Book? Who wrote it? And then, once I was satisfied with the answers, I started looking at what the opposition was saying about it? How enlightening that simple exercise was! While studying about my religion I learned something very important – to look at many perspectives. Why do people oppose the commonly held view? Find out the reasons for interesting perspectives. As I transitioned from studying religion to studying philosophy and psychology, my clarity of vision became greatly improved. I see where I am going. I see purpose and meaning. I see how I will expand in my thinking and how I will serve myself and others. Clarity comes with expansion of thought. But some in religious circles are opposed to this idea. I am saddened to see many talented young people who never realize their potential because of religious beliefs.
When Jesus said ‘…and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it,’ did he mean that we ought to think in a narrow way? Should we restrict ourselves to what we believe we understand from a written scripture? I don’t think so. I believe he was talking about the ”way” being grounded in goodness. Jesus was an expansive man, not narrowed down by scripture at all. In fact, he was angry at those who lived that way – he constantly found fault with those who put religious burdens upon the people. He did not condone the very learned teachers’ strict enforcement of biblical laws on the people. Jesus saw not the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law. But some of us today fall into the same pit as those religious teachers. We wrap our head around scripture and don’t come up for air. We live in our own world of idealistic-narrowness, feeling good about our convictions brought about by belief. Pitying those on the outside for they have only burning flames to look forward to in eternity.
See if you can understand a different perspective here: A true vision for life is narrow because it is good and right. You need restraint to stick to such a path and it is hard work. Only a few will walk in it and follow-through. Although vision is available to all, many will choose the wide road of idealism. That feels so much better, virtuous, and you need not do a thing.