I fell in love with this comic by Reza Farazmand of poorlydrawnlines.com a few years back. Thanks, Reza!
It’s a great question to ask instead of always feeling like we already know what is happening. Rather than experiencing “what’s happening” and trying to compare it to our past in order to feel like “we know”, this question can invite us to view any current moment from a “beginner’s mind”, or “Shoshin” in Japanese Zen Buddhism. It is described as an empty mind and a ready mind. This means a mind free of preconceptions as to how to approach certain experiences.
From this free and expanded perspective, we avail ourselves to new possibilities in the ways we think, speak, and take action. We’re not limited by our conditioned perspective, which is heavily influenced by our past experiences and stories about those experiences. Many of us affix these stories to our sense of self, and that shapes what we perceive to be possible and not possible as we move through the world.
I call this “the path of limitations”. We are “limited” by our deeply embedded experiences and the stories we concoct about what has happened and who we now are as a result of those experiences. We get boxed into our own narrative.
Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi famously said, “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few.”
Yet how often do we move through the world, exerting ourselves from an “expert” perspective, claiming certitude about our particular vantage point relative to what’s happening?
This is particularly true in a business context, where the primary “action logic” of many leaders is to influence through one’s sense of their own expertise (or sense of right-ness), as Bill Torbert and David Rooke note in this HBR article called Seven Transformations of Leadership.
So perhaps a more appropriate and effective question would be, “what’s my relationship with what’s happening”?
In this context, something happens, and we very quickly make an assessment about what’s happening by labeling it as “good” or “bad”. We assess what’s happening as “pleasant” or “unpleasant”. And perhaps one of the most powerful assessments we make about what’s happening is, “is this happening to me, or is this happening for me?” All of these assessments form our relationship with what’s happening, thus our story about what’s happening, and continues along the continuum shaping our story about who we are in the context of what’s happening.
So what the hell is really happening?
Many teachers have offered that what’s happening is neutral. It’s just what’s happening. It is the unfolding of many things, most of which are invisible to us, out of our conscious awareness, and out of our control. They are not the result of our typical “cause and effect” way of experiencing the world, as we like to believe. We do this as a means to avoiding uncertainty, one of the more dreaded states for many in the human experience.
This is the area where our minds box ourselves in and we become trapped. We create unnecessary suffering for ourselves and for others by creating our own meaning out of what’s happening and believing our meaning making of the occurrence to be true.
Dr. David Hawkins, most noted for his book Power vs. Force, writes, “Perceptual fields are limited by the attractor pattern with which they are associated. This means that the capacity to recognize significant factors in a given situation is limited by the context that arises from the level of consciousness of the observer. The motive of the viewer automatically determines what is seen; causality is, therefore, ascribed to factors that are, in fact, a function of the biases of the observer and are not at all instrumental in the situation itself.”
Hawkins is making the case that our relationship with what’s happening, based on our motives and our level of consciousness, is what makes the meaning out of what’s happening… it is not actually what is happening.
I also stumbled upon a story penned by Jim Dreaver in 2005 about a lecture offered by Indian-born mystic Jiddu Krishnamurti. Dreaver recounts that Krishnamurti rhetorically asked a gathering of a couple thousand people in Ojai, CA, “Do you want to know what my secret is?”
After a brief silence, he softly said, “You see, I don’t mind what happens.”
Dreaver shares that Krishnamurti continued, “When you live with this awareness, this sensitivity, life has an astonishing way of taking care of you. Then there is no problem of security, of what people say or do not say, and that is the beauty of life.”
A Course in Miracles (ACIM) makes this case right from the beginning in the first five lessons of this highly regarded body of work.
Lesson 1: “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.”
Lesson 2: “I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”
Lesson 3: “I do not understand anything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].”
Lesson 4: “These thoughts do not mean anything. They are like the things I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].”
Lesson 5: “I am never upset for the reason I think.”
ACIM encourages us to practice these perspectives regularly as a means to “heal” our minds from our illusory narratives about what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what it means about who I am and what’s possible.
James Allen was a British philosophical writer known for his inspirational books and poetry and as a pioneer of the self-help movement. His best known work, As a Man Thinketh, has been mass-produced since its publication in 1903.
Allen offers, “Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace. By the right choice and true application of thought, man ascends to the Devine Perfection; by the abuse and wrong application of thought, he descends below the level of the beast. Between these two extremes are all the grades of character, and man is their maker and master.”
Based on my own experiences, these teachings seem to be true. There is what’s happening, and there is my story about what’s happening.
It’s our story about what’s happening that most frequently gets in our way, prolonging and intensifying our suffering, and predetermining what we believe to be possible or not, as we run these scripts over and over again in our minds.
I have come to call these stories my “MINDFLIX”.
Why do we spend so much time binge watching NETFLIX?
For many of us, it is to escape our mind’s own incessant streaming of our own stories about what’s happening in our lives.
We have no influence on the narratives that we watch on NETFLIX and they do not impact our sense of self. However, our self-created MINDFLIX run our lives. Until we are able to acknowledge this, we’ll continue to believe that our MINDFLIX are reality, when that is seldom (if ever) the case.
As we become more aware that we are the creators of our own reality, as played out in the drama of our own MINDFLIX, we can begin to act as agents on behalf of ourselves to relieve our unnecessary suffering by letting go of our attachments to the meaning we have given to the events of our lives, and subsequently, to our own sense of self.
When you get home tonight, rather than turning on Netflix, try tuning in to “MY MINDFLIX” and see what literally has you and your attention.
Assess the degree to which this storyline, the leading actor and supporting characters, are starring in the reality you would consciously choose to create. Or are you, the viewer of my Mindflix, somehow “at the effect of” this blockbuster that’s got you hooked?
Note, are my Mindflix leading me down a path of limitations or down a path of possibilities?
The good news is, that our stories and our relationships about what’s happening are plastic. We have the ability to change them in ways that allow us to move through life and it’s inevitable challenges with greater ease and with more kindness and compassion for others and ourselves.
If we want to change our lives and the way we experience the world around us, the quickest way to do that, is to change our story about, and our relationship with, what the hell is happening, and remain open to the miraculous nature of it All.
Yours in Loving Practice,