Years ago I had a client who’s relative lack of success was a mystery to me. He was smart, good with people, and had all the relevant education and qualifications in his chosen field of study to set himself up for a long career. But somehow no matter how many times we spoke, he made about as much progress as a runner on a treadmill, clocking up the hours without actually getting anywhere.
What finally resolved the mystery and allowed him to move forward was a simple time analysis, where I asked him to track his activities in 15 minute intervals over the course of the week. To my shock, he was spending as many as 10 hours a day “thinking about my biggest problem”.
What was even more shocking, however, was that when I pointed this out to him he shook his head sadly.
“I know,” he said, a bit guiltily. “I should be putting in another 2 – 3 hours a day thinking about it if I ever really want to solve it, but I just don’t have the time.”
I pointed out to him that:
Spending hours trying to think your way out of your problems is like walking east looking for a sunset – no matter how smart you are and no matter how hard you’re willing to work, it’s never going to happen that way.
To explain this further, I shared my own story with him.
When I was 41 years old, I had an epiphany while listening to a video lecture by an enlightened Scottish welder named Syd Banks. Syd said that “Every human being is sitting in the middle of mental health – they just don’t know it.” For some reason my mind went completely quiet and I saw the simple truth of that. Like everyone else, I was born happy, and it was obvious to me that despite at least 30 years battling depression and 7 years struggling with suicidal ideation, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with me.
To say that seeing that threw me is a massive understatement. I didn’t know what to do with myself, not least because I was about to undertake a book tour promoting my latest writings on how even if you were “naturally” depressed or anxious there were things you could do to have a pretty great life anyways.
I found myself with epic amounts of free time in what I had thought was going to be one of the busiest periods of my life, and I had no idea how to fill them. In the end, I spent more time with my wife and kids, read everything I could about Syd Banks and “the Three Principles of Mind, Consciousness, and Thought” that he wrote about, and beat every level of Angry Birds with three stars.
While I mostly enjoyed the slower pace of life this epiphany gifted me, I was also puzzled. Bear in mind, I was still embarked on a six-month book tour with a full coaching practice and weekly teaching commitments around the world. So where was all this free time coming from?
In order to make sense of that, let’s try an analogy:
Imagine you were raised in an ancient culture which believed that in order for the sun to successfully rise and set each day, it was necessary for you, the strongest, fastest person in the village to go out to the farthest reaches of the countryside on horseback at dawn, awaiting the sunrise. As soon as the first light appeared in the East, you threw invisible lariats as far and high as you could, each lariat made by hand by the medicine man of your village from a golden light too fine for the human eye to see. Once you caught the sun in their snare, you took off on horseback and began pulling the sun through the sky,
This activity would continue until midday, at which point you would need to cut the golden lariats free and instead hoist a 30 foot tall scarecrow and ride on behind the sun, now chasing it the rest of the way across the sky until it left your people in peace for the night.
Each day the sun successfully rose and set would be a victory for both you and your people, and while the work might be exhausting and at times backbreaking, your sense of accomplishment each time you basked in the sun over the fields at midday and chased it out of the sky at night let you sleep restfully, despite any worries you might have about having to do it again the next day lest the sun never again rose to its dizzying heights or never left the sky, forcing either endless days or endless nights.
Then one day, a wise shaman from a neighboring village arrived and announced that there was a deeper intelligence at work in the universe, and that the sun would surely rise and set without any effort on your part. Most people laughed at the shaman and a few suggested burning her at the stake, but somehow you, in your heart of hearts, recognized the truth in what she was saying.
The next morning, despite the voice in your head screaming at you to get out of your bed and go to work, you lay awake instead in your bedroll and waited to see what would happen. To your surprise, delight, and horror, the sun completed its journey through the sky without any help or interference from you.
Surprise, because instead of your inner recognition of the truth of the shaman’s words, there was still a part of you that needed to see it with your own eyes to truly believe it. Delight, because to bask in the glorious light of the sun without any responsibilities for its success or failure is a truly delightful way to spend one’s time. Horror, because it occurs to you how much time you’ve wasted trying to make something happen that was always already happening whether you knew it or not.
While the village elders simply replaced you with another rider and gave thanks to the gods that despite your taking a day off, their village was blessed with a full day of sunlight nonetheless, you sought out the shaman to give thanks.
When you find her, you look into her eyes and find yourself without words, as though the very sun you spent your life pulling through the sky resides within her as well. She looks at you knowingly and shares these words of wisdom:
“Like the sun, the light of life is always within you. There is nothing you can do to hasten its rise and nothing you can do to chase it away.”
You look deeply into her face and finally see that the light in her eyes is merely a reflection of the light emanating from your own. You embrace and return to your life, calmer, wiser, and with more free time than you know what to do with…
Have fun, learn heaps, happy exploring, and enjoy your free time!
With all my love,