The Elevator of Understanding (#742)

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Imagine for a moment that there is a glass elevator through which you can view the world. Understandably, things would look differently to you depending on how high up you are in the elevator at any given time.

What might look like total chaos when viewed from the ground floor would begin to reveal pattern and order when viewed from even a few levels higher; go high enough up the elevator and what seemed so huge and important to you at the bottom would now seem as tiny and impersonal as a bunch of ants running around on a giant ant hill.

While there are many such “elevators” in our lives, perhaps the one that impacts our experience most profoundly is what I call the “elevator of understanding”.  The simple rule of thumb for this elevator is this:


The less situations in which you recognize thought as the creator of your experience, the more frightening life appears; the more situations in which you recognize thought as the creator of your experience, the less frightening life appears.

Or to put it even more simply:The less a thought looks like a thought, the more we are inclined to simply accept it as “reality” and act accordingly.


Ground Floor – “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my”

At the bottom of the elevator would be someone who cannot see any difference between thoughts and reality.  People stuck at this level often end up on the streets or in mental institutions, as it is understandably impossible to function in society when there are monsters and voices everywhere telling you what to do and where to go.

Second Floor – “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice”

A bit further up the elevator might be someone who has never recognized the difference between having a thought and having to act on that thought.  People stuck at this level sometimes find themselves in prisons, as they have not yet recognized the difference between having a “criminal thought” and committing a “criminal act”.  (To this day, some of the most powerful breakthroughs I’ve seen have come when people who have been in and out of prison or gangs begin to recognize the role of thought in their lives – check out this amazing video to learn more.)

Now, chances are that if you are reading this tip, you have a greater degree of understanding of the role of thought in creating your experience than either of the two preceding examples.  So it might seem surprising to you that someone could actually believe there are aliens controlling their mind, or that if someone behaves in a way you don’t like that “means” you have to hit them or beat them or kill them.

But as we move up the elevator, you may find yourself beginning to say “but wait a minute – that’s not my thinking – that’s real!”  I ask only for you to stay open to the possibility that even the most solid and intractable seeming problem in your life might, when viewed from higher up the elevator of understanding, appear as curious to you as the thought of a child drawing a picture of a monster and then running out of the room screaming in terror.

Third Floor – “People who think like me are good; people who don’t think like me are bad”

If you spend any time listening to talk radio, chances are you’ve come across people who genuinely believe that anyone with different social, political, or religious beliefs to them is at best an idiot and at worst deliberately spreading evil in the world.  But this personal enmity makes very little sense when viewed from the next level…

Fourth Floor – “People who think like me are right; people who don’t think like me are wrong”

Leonard Orr once said “Whatever the thinker thinks, the prover proves.”  So to try and make a rational case for our point of view by gathering “evidence” for the reality of our thinking won’t help us, because our own perceptual filters only allow us to see what it is that we’re already looking for.  And any debate or argument on a topic inevitably reinforces the pre-existing biases you came in with, so you are more sure than ever that what you thought when you began the argument is even more true than it was beforehand.

(Perhaps the most invisible version of this thought is “Everyone sees the world in their own unique way”, because it is so often followed up with a silent “…and anyone who can’t see that is an idiot or just plain wrong!” 🙂

Fifth Floor – “The world is what you think it is”

The Hawaiian shaman and supercoach Serge Kahili King describes the principle of thought in this beautifully simple phrase.  Instead of trying to explain why we think what we think about the world by looking for evidence in the world or in our upbringing, we recognize that the nature of thought is creative.

The reason that what we think seems so real to us is not some flaw in us or even in the world – it’s because that’s just how thought works.

    • We do not experience money; we experience our thinking about money
    • We do not experience our children or parents or spouses; we experience our thinking about our children, parents, and spouses
    • We do not experience the world; we experience our thinking about the world


This level of understanding opens up the possibility of making dramatic changes in your world and transforming your relationships with others.  And the more clearly you understand the principle of thought, the more you are able to assist others and the less frightening a place the world around you becomes.

Sixth Floor – “It’s all thought”

While mystics throughout the ages all seem to agree that the formless world of spirit is  reality and the world of form is just illusion, any Zen master worth their salt will hit you in the head with a stick or drop a large rock on your foot the second you start claiming that you “really do know that it’s all just thought”.  But if you’re lucky enough to get to visit the sixth floor, even for a moment, chances are you’ll experience the bliss of nirvana and “the peace which passeth all understanding”.  In those moments, lives change.

This is the level of the miraculous -of transformations that defy rational explanation and insights that re-define the world in which we live.  And while I certainly don’t live on the sixth floor, even knowing it exists is often enough to give me hope when I bump up against something that seems so solid and hurts so much that I hear myself say “sure, I get that all that other stuff was just thought, but this is not my thinking – this is real!”

Have fun, learn heaps, and enjoy the ride…

With love,

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