One Saturday morning I took myself on a hike on the Hollywood mountains. I had never gone hiking by myself before. That morning, for some strange reason, I had the urge to do so. I parked my car, changed my shoes, and walked up the mountain. The decision was so out of character that it felt like somebody else had taken control of my body.
As I climbed up the hill, I felt the need to analyze my recent past and make some sense out of it. I began to contemplate the many roles I had played in the preceding three years.
I started out as the vice president of a college fraternity – lonely, overweight, closeted, and drowning in a hopeless unrequited crush. Six months later I had come out to hundreds of people in under 12 weeks, hoping to end the mental and physical damage I had inflicted on myself during my closeted days. Six months later I was an unemployed and unhealthily thin 20-something in Manhattan, ruthlessly searching for a job and a soul-mate who would fix my inner turmoil (and getting lost in a sea of hookups). Two months later I was a composed, enthusiastic, and passionate university call center manager, mentoring young college students on hard work, ambition, and philanthropy. Less than a year after I was trapped in one of those famous cubicles in a Downtown LA office building, sinking my eyes into an excel spreadsheet every day as I tackled a boring job and the life-saving paycheck it provided me.
I had been through five major life changes spanning two cities on opposite coasts in about 16 months, and I was no closer to finding a situation that could bring me some kind of mental peace.
When I hiked down the mountain and returned to my car it was nowhere to be seen. I felt like hyperventilating, but I did everything I could to suppress the gathering meltdown. I soon realized that the car was actually just a few dozen feet from where I left it: crashed into the gate of a mansion, with obvious signs of a break in. While dozens of thoughts ran in and out of my head (“Who did this?!”, “Maybe my future boyfriend lives in that house”, “This will ruin my whole week”, and “I hate taking the bus”). I filed an insurance claim, asked for a tow truck, and notified the homeowner of the mishap. To my surprise, he was remarkably composed.
“Don’t worry, I believe you. I’m a lawyer and I handle car insurance claims, so let me know if they give you any trouble.”
The homeowner’s words stank of serendipity. They were all I needed to convince myself that there was something wonderfully mysterious going on. I tried my best to let the universe show me what this mess was all about. It was a lesson I had learned during my tumultuous time in New York:
“This is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Everything that happens to me, whether it feels good or not, is the best thing that has ever happened to me”
The next day I was reunited with an old fraternity brother. After going through the legal implications of my incident the conversation soon lead to life and spirituality. I was staring at the books on his shelf, and he recommended “End your Story, Begin your Life” by Jim Dreaver. The pattern of serendipity was clear and undeniable, so I started reading it almost immediately.
A few days later I was asked to meet the insurance adjuster at the site of the incident. The conversation quickly turned personal, and I soon found out about his true passion: motorcycle racing. He spoke about the metal plaques all over his bones and joints – or as he called them “trophies” (which he had received cheating death dozens of times over the years). When I asked him how facing death could possibly his hobby, he answered:
“Well, think about it. We’re all gonna die anyway”.
I was immediately struck by the simplicity and immense depth of his statement. Why be afraid of anything if we’re all going to die anyway? It was clear that I was being asked to learn an important lesson by the Universe. The next question immediately came to my mind:
“How do you let go of your fear when you’re in the moment? When the emotion overtakes you even when you know in the abstract that you’re going to ‘die anyway’?”
“Just repeat ‘here now’ over and over and over again in your head. Don’t let yourself think of anything else, pay attention to your surroundings, and just keep your head in that loop: ‘here now, here now, here now, here now, here now’.”
I left with a sense that I was carrying an important life hack in my pocket, but I didn’t understand its power until a couple of nights later. I went to spend labor day weekend with my friend Vishal at his beach shanty. We didn’t do much for 72 hours, he mixed music and I read Jim’s book. On the first night, we went out for drinks, and I saw a beautiful Australian boy seemingly flirting with a girl while sipping on his Jack and coke. No gay guy in his right mind would have thought to pursue this “lost cause” (after all, he was hitting on a girl). Of all gay guys on the planet, I would have been the last one to pursue this. I’m not a shy person, but I wasted so many years crushing on straight guys I got deeply burnt. I would never approach anyone unless I was 100% confident that he was capable of reciprocating.
That night was different, however, for the insurance man’s life hack was still on my mind. I decided to go against my first instinct and test it out. I just drowned out my thoughts and repeated:
“Here now, here now, here now, here now, here now”
And so it happened: for a split second we locked eyes. After struggling with my fear and self-doubt, I turned up the volume on my looping thoughts.
“Here now, here now, here now, here now, here now”
That’s when a powerful energy took control over my body. I was no longer in charge of what was happening. A confident person winked and smiled with a very clear message to project. The Australian could not have been more taken aback. He quickly looked away and disappeared out of sight within seconds. Call me crazy, but I felt immensely proud of my own defeat. I didn’t care that the wink led me nowhere. At the end of the day, I pushed myself to do something I would normally be terrified of doing. The lesson began to take shape:
“I am not “scared of this” or “scared of that”. I don’t “fear” certain things and “like” certain others. I am not “confident” when I know a guy is gay and “scared” when I don’t. All I have is thoughts, and I wrongfully believed that they were coming from within me. That voice in my head – it’s not me. I can choose to listen to it, or go against it if I want.”
Suddenly I felt a tap my shoulder. The guy was back! He introduced himself, and we started talking with the kind of body language that projects full interest on both parties. To my utter shock, that conversation led me exactly where I wanted it to just a few hours later.
The way the universe works is truly remarkable. Here was a guy who needed to be winked at in order to explore something he had been wishing for (and was deeply terrified of). He happened to run into me on the night I learned to confront my own fears of approaching a guy without knowing (or caring) if he was capable of being interested in me. My own self-development encouraged his.
The next morning Vishal and I were exchanging words about the earth, the universe, and the meaning of life. Out of nowhere (serendipity) he suggested LSD. Although I had not done it in over a year (and I had bowed never to do it again), it seemed right. The fear popped up from deep inside, with it͛s corresponding story:
“I bowed never to do it again! It͛s too spur of the moment! What if I have a ‘bad trip’ and ruin this incredible spiritual weekend!”
I ignored the voice and went with it. Although I had major doubts on the ensuing 45 minute drive to purchase the supplies (art and otherwise), I tried as hard as I could to ignore them. On a quick stop at our friend’s place on our way back, I noticed a poster on his wall. The message was perfectly linked to the lesson I was pondering that weekend:
“Self-improvement is masturbation. Self-destruction is the answer”
It was all starting to become clear (again, it was too serendipitous to ignore). The self is the ultimate story. Your association with your name, your constructed identity, your past, and your thoughts is a dangerous prison. Once upon a time, I thought I was straight, dependent on nicotine to feel normal, and forever condemned to be overweight. Two years later, I thought I was a slim gay non-smoker who was shy when approaching guys and had a perpetual need of finding a relationship in order to be happy.
Those two versions of myself could not be more different, and yet I inhabited both at different points in my life. The voices changed, but I was still there, forcing myself to listen to whatever they told me about who I was, what my challenges were, what I was afraid of, and what I needed in order to be happy.
I believed them when they told me that I was going through “tough times” and had to wait a few more months before actual happiness began.
I believed them when they said I was lacking certain talents that could lead me to all those adventures I was aching to experience.
My identity was much more than those voices, but it somehow remained within the constraints that they set. It was bound by those rules, in a prison that was easily breakable.
The voices made me hate some, love others, get into arguments, dislike certain tasks, and “present myself” in a certain way. They spoke when my boss was stressed out (“She is mad at me for making that one mistake two weeks ago”), when my friends succeeded in their endeavors (“Yeah, he’s lucky now, but at what cost”), when I stared into the mirror (“I’m not fat, but I’m still too overweight to get the kind of guy I want”), and when I woke up in the morning (“it’s going to be a stressful day”).
They made me believe that I was searching for enlightenment.
They fooled me into thinking that I was a wise, mature, and intelligent young man with a bright future and an important mission in life.
Anytime I discovered something new and wonderful about enlightenment, they started yapping away (“That is why you are special. You know that which others don’t”). These voices are otherwise known as the “ego”, and they do not constitute the entirety of your identity, essence, or state of mind. They don’t even represent uniform opinions or statements over time. They swing violently depending on your brain chemistry and millions of self-programmed triggers based on outside stimuli. Everything they say is NOT TRUE, OR REAL, OR ACCURATE.
Enlightenment is not a process of constructing new and better stories (I’m a mature, generous, understanding, and patient man). It’s actually a process of liberating yourself from all stories, and learning to be fully present without a creating a story about your circumstances. When you detach yourself from your inner monologue, you realize its assessments about what’s going on in your life are not always correct. You’re able to question yourself more, move beyond the prison of your thoughts, and perhaps, without really eliminating the negative ones, you become more independent of them.
You’re able to see the reality that lies beyond them. This isn’t an enlightenment that saves you from problems, fear, or pain. But it is one that allows you to stop being their slave.
The poster and Jim’s book reached an incredible climax throughout the rest of that barely eventful afternoon.
I prepared a playlist of music from my childhood and began to listen to it while staring into a blank canvas, ready to produce a memorable painting, already way into my trip. Little by little, I started to paint. The voices began to play their games:
“This is going to be an incredible painting. Everyone will love it. It will hang on my wall and be admired for decades.”
I drowned them out be repeating “here now, here now, here now” inside my head. Eventually, my head fell silent. The music took over, and I had no plan, structure, or vision for what I was doing. My hand was moving on its own. The voices returned:
“This ‘quiet your mind’ technique is going to ruin my brain. I’m going to break my mind and all of my insecurities will break free. I’m going to break down crying because I’m unhappy.”
This time, I didn’t try to drown them out. I simply said: “SHHHHH!”, and continued to paint. I literally asked my mind to be quiet, and it followed my orders. As soon as I learned to control and quiet the inner voices, they morphed into images. I traveled through my memories, insecurities, high points, and low ones. I would jump from depression to bliss and back within seconds. I made sure to remain detached throughout the journey, never believing the images to represent how I truly felt (it was like watching a movie), or what was actually going on in my mind. My emotions were detached from my thoughts.
Sometimes, the voices returned:
“This is not right”
But it was no longer necessary to verbalize my detachment. I simply brought my finger to my mouth (mimicking the international sign of silence) and the voices stopped.
After remaining quiet for longer periods of time, the music lifted me up to a state of happiness I had honestly never experienced before. I had never felt more love for life, the earth, the people around me, or the body my consciousness inhabits. Finally the voices and images faded into oblivion, and a different and much deeper voice began to take over. Its lessons cannot be verbalized, for it does not speak with human language.
When this “deep voice” speaks, no questions, theories, concepts, or rules are necessary. It allows you to act the way you’re supposed to act, say what you’re supposed to say, and live in permanent gratitude for life and the way it functions, the way it gave you what you needed, all the time knowing that your struggles would help you understand yourself, the gifts you must bring into the world, and the ways in which you’re the happiest, and must prioritize for the rest of your brief, beautiful little life.
It helps you realize that you are not you, your name, or your concept of your place in the world. You are consciousness able to appreciate, able to multiply, and able to enjoy every second for what it is, not how it makes you feel. All need for fear and worry is gone, and though life’s problems never truly disappear, that silent “voice” knows exactly how to tackle them. It knows how to use them, how you can get something good out of them, what you need to do in order to transform them into your greatest blessings. You will understand when you start to listen to this voice yourself.
Suddenly, the bliss stopped. I had to direct myself to the bathroom for a quick bodily function (of the second kind). I did it silently, as I was still tuned into the voice that is not verbal. Eventually I finished, flushed, and the bliss ended. The toilet was clogging and the nightmare had begun.
“GOD DAMN IT! Why did this have to happen now! It’s going to clog. It’s going to overflow. The bathroom will be full of shit, and I’ll have to clean it up! FUCK! This is going to ruin my entire trip and my epiphany about the silent mind. WHYYYY?! WHYYYY?!”
I lived in that world for a while. The voice made the story real in my head – I was cleaning shit off the floor, explaining the situation to Vishal, calling the plumber, paying $600 to repair the apartment, managing it all while under the influence of LSD, wallowing in a pity festival and cursing the universe for forcing me to live through such tragedies.
I lived through all of those moments, even though they never happened. They could not have been or felt more real, all because I had forgotten my lesson and had fallen back into depending on my “voices” and their stories about the things I’m going through.
There is a very direct link between these voices and the reality we beleive we are living in. When we don’t know to cut that link…we suffer way more than we should, or even need to.
And so it hit me: all I had to do was bring my finger back to my mouth and shut it up. My mind was silent once again. I came back into the real world. The toilet was still clogged, but it was not overflowing. I had not gone into a bad trip. The apocalypse was nowhere in sight. I grabbed the plunger and plunged away. The voice continued (always verbalizing my fear):
“This is not working”
“It’s going to overflow”
“My trip is ruined. My brain is ruined. My new epiphany is ruined. This proves you can’t just shut up your mind and live in bliss forever”
Smart as the ego voice is, it morphed into images once again. I began to have flashbacks, and relived all of my clogged toilet memories: summer camp, Marriott Hotel, that time at Grandma’s where it actually did overflow. I experienced the images again and again, but I never let them overtake me. I never let them affect me on an emotional level (or tell me anything about who I supposedly am or what those past scars supposedly mean). Most of all, I never let them distort the perception of what was actually happening here and now.
At least twenty minutes later (it was quite the struggle), the toilet gave in, and the clog was fixed. My mind was still silent, but I knew I had just stumbled into a major life lesson. Who would have thought? A clogged toilet helped me understand the concept better than any book!
Before I celebrated my victory, the voice that is not verbal spoke. Here is my best attempt at translating it:
“Fear is when the ego verbalizes your past experiences. Like a folder in your computer, it is full of files. These files are memories of past emotions designed to rule your actions in the present. Your brain creates those files expecting the present to be the same as all similar past experiences.
This is how our brains are designed, and that is exactly what they do. They use fear to keep us from touching fire, approaching lions, or sleeping outside during thunder storms. Being rejected triggers power emotions of unworthiness, and you have taught yourself to avoid rejection. You’ve been rejected by straight guys. You’ve lived through the horrors of a clog making your toilet overflow. You were criticized for your strange paintings in kindergarden. The ego is wired to see all these experiences as life threatening, and uses fear to keep you from engaging in them.
The problem is that few experiences are life threatening, and in the richness of life, two of the same can have wildly different results (the first clogged toilet may overflow, but the second and third may be conquered just fine). Every experience is unique, and should not be judged by what you have lived before, what you think you should be living now, or what you would like to live in the future.
When you don’t realize that these “voices in your head” are not connected with reality, you believe their assumptions about the “dangers” in front of you, and embrace a stress that does not need to exist.
The voices turn the present into something that it’s not. When you ignore them, you can approach the present free of misconceptions, theories, assumptions, premonitions and judgments. That is the essence of true freedom. In fact, now you’re overanalyzing it, verbalizing it, and creating a new file so the ego must be back. It’s time to shut up.
Perhaps those experiences I remember as painful could have been lived in a different way had I not been so attached to my voices. Perhaps my past experiences could have taken on different meanings. Perhaps it’s not too late to make that happen. I can move into my future life free from the lens of my own stories. I can also look back and release my memories from those stories, replacing them with far more constructive connections.
In the end, there is no “good” and there is no “bad”, those concepts do not exist in the real world. Bad is a B, followed by an A, followed by a D (nothing but letters grouped in order to trigger associations in your mind). None of those letters mean anything, or exist in the material world. When I join the letters together they become something – bringing up certain memories in my brain with definitions I was taught to build throughout my life.
One day, long ago, I learned that bad is any moment when reality does not meet my expectations. I learned that “bad” triggers “sad”, which triggers “mad”. I was taught the meaning of the combination of those letters, and the feelings that should come up when living through the experiences I was taught should trigger them. I was also taught that this “learned” behavior is permanent, inert, and a part of who I am.
I never realized that those letters, the words that they construct, and the feelings that they trigger, are nothing but products of the human mind. I actually have complete power over those connections. If I don’t agree with their current design, I can always work to change it.
Can you imagine what I would be capable of if I dared to take full responsibility over them? I have a lot more freedom than I was taught I had. You do too.
Good is also a word. It was programmed into me the same way “bad” was, and follows the exact same process. If I really want to change my approach to life, I have to let go of the fear of letting go of my definitions, and begin to see the world with unprogrammed, unbiased eyes…
Andrew Gabelic is the CEO & Founder of Teledipity, a free pocket life coach with an eerie ability to send you the right self-improvement content at the right time (based on your personality and life stage). Check out what it says about you!