Twenty years ago, I appeared on a television show in the UK called “The Big Breakfast”. My job was to hypnotize the host, Zoe Ball, into overcoming her fear of flying so that she could get into a small airplane with a 75 year old nun who was doing her first ever skydive for charity. After the segment, a photographer from one of the tabloids asked to take a picture of me hypnotizing Zoe in a stance reminiscent of a Victorian poster for “Mesmerism”.
When I declined, the paper left me out of their story and I got to remain in relative anonymity for another decade or so. I still have a sort of “push me – pull you” relationship with being in the public eye. On the one hand, it allows me to reach people with my work that otherwise might never come across it; on the other, it makes the messenger at times appear to be more important than the message.
What it all reminded me of was a conversation I had with a friend where he shared his favorite question with me, one he had first heard from a famous British psychotherapist many years earlier:
If you were invisible, how would you live your life differently?
When he first asked me, I couldn’t really understand the question – other than finally fulfilling a few adolescent fantasies, I didn’t imagine that very much would change. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the point. If I was really invisible, I wouldn’t spend any more time worrying about how I looked or what people would think of me. I wouldn’t try to do the things a “good person” would do (after all, who would notice?), but I wouldn’t suddenly become a “bad person” either. I would just allow my natural curiosity about other people and the world to begin to guide me.
Think about it for yourself – if you were invisible and no one could see you no matter what you did, what would you choose to do? Would you become a spy? Would you spend more of your time “people watching”, knowing that no one would ever think you were a creep or accuse you of staring? Would you be an invisible helper or an invisible hindrance?
Now, take it a step further – imagine that as well as being invisible, you have no name and no identity. How would you live your life differently if nothing that you did could ever be traced back to “you”? Would you still want to write that book if you couldn’t put your name on the cover? How much of your life is about being of service to others and how much is about advancing the cause of your own self-image?
There’s no guilt, shame, or blame on offer here – I’m the opposite of a role model for an invisible life. But if you allow yourself to get into this “thought experiment” without getting too caught up in judging yourself for your answers, you may become fascinated by how much of how you currently live your life is for show and how much is lived as an expression of inner wisdom, authentic service, and creative contribution.
For me, the image that kept coming up was of the invisible angels in the German fantasy film Der Himmel Uber Berlin, released in English as Wings of Desire. In the movie, there are angels all around us whose unseen touch puts a happy memory, hopeful thought or simple good feeling into our hearts at the moment we need them most. What I realized is that if I were invisible, I would like to be like one of those angels, using my presence to spread possibility, understanding and hope around the world, one person at a time. What I then realized is that I didn’t have to wait until I became invisible to begin.
While bits of my life unfold in the public eye, I don’t have to take selfies (real or imagined) the rest of the time. I can be where I am and do what I do without one eye out for how it looks to others or how it contributes to my “personal legend”. I can be conscious of the spiritual Self at the heart of who I am without being overly self-conscious about how I’m coming across. And like a person whose other senses are heightened when they lose their sight, my feeling for life deepens when I lose interest in how it looks.
With all my love,