I am writing this week’s missive early on Sunday morning, long before Super Bowl XLIX kicks off and I lose myself in a feeding frenzy of pizza, nachos, wings, beer, and the trials and tribulations of my beloved New England Patriots.
I am writing it now because I want to lose myself later – to plug back into the misguided matrix of an outside-in interpretation of experience and enjoy the hell out of a really thick, juicy steak.
And I’m writing about “enjoying the game” because I think one of the least useful conclusions people reach when they begin to see for themselves that we can only ever experience our own thinking, not our circumstances, is that they need to give up on the game of life in favor of some kind of detached, enlightened existence.
My first big insight into the inside-out nature of the human experience came on another Super Bowl weekend early in 2008. I saw beyond a shadow of a doubt that our well-being is innate – as basic and fundamental a part of our nature as breath and sleep. Despite years of struggle with depression and hundreds of books read (and a few written) about how best to cope, I realized then and there that I could never be truly defeated by life, no matter how bad my circumstances might seem or how low my thoughts might temporarily take me.
The Patriots were playing in the Super Bowl that weekend too, against the New York Giants with an undefeated season on the line. I was finishing up my first intensive in La Conner, Washington, excited to be watching the game alongside a Who’s Who of the 3 Principles world – George and Linda Pransky, Dicken Bettinger, Keith Blevens and Sandy Krot, amongst others. Children and grandchildren were running amok; world renowned therapists and thought-leaders were debating the relative merits of Tom Brady vs. Joe Montana. I was happier than a pig in muck.
But then the game took a turn for the bizarre – with less than two minutes on the clock, Eli Manning escaped a sack and an unknown backup wide receiver named David Tyree became famous by catching a ball against his helmet and somehow keeping it there as he was taken to the ground by Patriot’s legend Rodney Harrison.
Four plays later, Manning completed a pass to Plaxico Burress in the end zone, and the dream of an undefeated season was over. I went home to lick my wounds and contemplate whether or not I was allowed to be devastated. After all, I now “knew” that it was just my thinking that I was feeling, not some pre-determined reaction to my team losing the big game.
Still unsure of how I was supposed to react, I went back in to the offices of Pransky and Associates for the final day of my intensive on Monday morning and breathed a sigh of relief. The New England fans on the staff looked as miserable as I was pretending not to feel. What was clear to me in that moment was not that we somehow “didn’t really get” the nature of the thought-feeling connection. It was that understanding where our experience of life comes from doesn’t stop us from having those experiences.
Our understanding simply acts as a kind of “bubble wrap for the soul”. We still feel whatever it is that we’re feeling, as deeply (or even more deeply) as ever. It’s just that at some fundamental level, we know that what’s real inside us can never be damaged by those feelings or experiences, no matter how damaging they may feel in the moment.
Unexpectedly, this embodied understanding has awakened both a capacity and willingness to feel what I’m feeling and experience what I’m experiencing far beyond what I would have dared risk before. It’s allowed me to enjoy the game(s) of life to the full, stepping out beyond the self-imposed numbness and shield of rational logic and cognitive understanding that I thought were keeping me safe but were essentially keeping me stuck.
To better understand this, step outside for a few moments this evening and watch the sunset. Chances are that no matter how clearly you realize that the sun isn’t really setting – it only looks like it is because of how our planet is moving in relation to it – you’ll still be touched by the beauty of the colors in the sky.
In the same way, understanding that “winning” and “losing” are thought-created constructs doesn’t have to take the fun out of the game. It just means that after experiencing the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, you can all go out for ice cream and enjoy watching the sun “set” in the western sky…
|With all my love (and go Pats!),