“[…] If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ […]”
– Rudyard Kipling, If
I have tried to explain these ideas several times, now…
[I should, perhaps, consider the possibility that I am simply not very good at getting ideas across, I always sound a little mad when I get into it all.]
Every time in my life that I thought I was out of options – every time I was trapped in a career, trapped in a relationship, trapped in a vicious cycle – something eventually contrived to show me that I was wrong…
Somehow, as a part of our mysterious internal decision-making processes, we close off doors in ourselves until there are only a few options left.
This makes sense: it’s hard to choose between many possibilities at the best of times, even harder when we’re feeling stressed and under pressure, so we make the choice manageable… we cut it down to size.
…and maybe we simply don’t question these closed doors in our internal architecture, later, when we’re hunting for a way out.
The thing is, we convince ourselves so completely that we are out of options, that we start considering the most outrageous possibilities (I would provide you with an anecdote, but there are really no personal examples I could give you that won’t out me as the closet sociopath I probably am.)
So a part of me does understand how people can do these terrible things to themselves, they simply saw no other way. They had closed off all the doors marked “ask for help,” or “walk away,” or “change,” and all they have left is a long corridor of one-way doors labeled “what’s the point?”
And I suspect that everyone you meet, every day, owns at least one of these corridors. I think we are all carrying what we think is a string of single-choice decisions, like a heavy chain around our neck.
The terrible thing about this is: It is almost never true. There is almost always another way, but we are so invested in our own labyrinth that we can’t see it anymore, and it usually takes another person to say “well, what about that door?” for us to open our eyes and breathe again.
The world is sometimes scary, but it’s not as scary as you think.
“A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.”
– Carlos Castaneda, the Teachings of Don Juan
This idea has a very important corollary.
If there is always another option, then there are really no wrong decisions, provided you do what feels right. Castaneda purported a lot of crazy ideas, but I think his “path with a heart” nails a very important concept.
Here’s the thing:
The atoms that make up our body come from distant parts of the universe. These atoms have existed for billions of years, and will exist for billions more after the entire human race has returned to dust.
This brief sabbatical that they spend, making up the particles of your body, will be the shortest of moments in their interminable life.
You, on the other hand; if you’re lucky (and barring any accident), you will get about a hundred years in which to experience this little corner of the universe… and even a thousand years wouldn’t be enough.
Our lives are so, so short, and the universe is huge and crazy and wild, and we get so very little time in which to take it all in before we become stardust again… what reason could you possibly have not to hunt down all the things that make you happy?
Life isn’t a rat race, it’s a scavenger hunt.
In your head is a list of all the things that will blow your mind, and you simply have to find as many of them as you can. Just stick them in that bag, there.
The one labelled “everything that I am.”
It’s cool, you can keep it, it’s yours.