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What If You Weren't?

So I went to the party as an experiment, not in pretending to be confident, but rather in seeing what would happen if I stopped lending credence to my "I'm shy" theory. I had such a great time that my wife had to drag me away from the party (pretty much a first for us), and a whole host of new experiences became available to me.
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French fries on a fork isolated on white
French fries on a fork isolated on white

My friend and colleague Aaron Turner once described our grounding in the inside-out understanding of life as a measure of how much of our experience looked like it was made of thought, as opposed to being made up of either "thought + external factors" or external factors alone. For example, if you get a "Final Demand" bill from a credit card company and feel stressed, are you simply feeling your thinking in the moment, feeling your thinking about a very real problem, or is it the credit card bill that's actually creating your stress?

The game here (at least as I play it) isn't to pretend that just because you know the right answer must be "a" -- I'm living in the feeling of my thinking, not the feeling of my circumstances -- that your honest answer is also "a." That kind of conceptual argument tends to leave us lost in stress while thinking we shouldn't be and/or pisses off our friends and clients when we try to tell them "it's just a thought, you know".

Instead, we can acknowledge that for now, it doesn't look that way to us, stay patient and curious, and see where else in our lives we can actually see the thought/feeling connection and the made up nature of our personal reality for ourselves.

I'm going to share three quick stories of seeing the principles of Mind, Consciousness, and Thought in action in my own life, both to illustrate this point and in hopes that you will recall similar experiences (or embark on similar experiments) in your own life...

1. Fried food's bad for you, right?

Years before I began to see that the mind works more like a projector than a camera, I had an experience that seemed truly bizarre to me. I was editing (somewhat ironically, as it turns out) a manuscript on weight loss, and in my distracted state I ate an entire plate of deep fried scampi and chips. When I headed out of the restaurant, manuscript in hand, I could feel the oil oozing out of my pores and my stomach was noticeably distended.

In the midst of berating myself for ignoring every eating principle in the book and regretting my gluttony because deep fried food is terrible for you, a quiet thought snuck in:

What if deep fried food was good for you?

Now understand, I didn't believe for a moment that it was true - I just thought it would be interesting to see how much of my horrible post-prandial experience was a result of the food and how much was a result of my ideas about the food. To my genuine shock, within a minute of imagining that I lived in an alternate universe where things were deep fried to make them healthy, the bloating was gone, my skin felt dry and clear, and I was just a little bit more in awe of the power of the mind.

2. "I hate conflict."

A psychic once told me that one day I would be at the forefront of a controversial new development in the psychology/self-help movement that would one day change the world. I laughed at the notion and dismissed the psychic as well-meaning but misguided. The idea that I would ever be involved in something controversial, let alone at the front of the pack leading the charge, seemed ridiculous to me. After all, I hate conflict.

Yet to my surprise, that's exactly where I find myself now. Not because I've fallen in love with conflict, but because conflict now just seems like a description of what happens when two opposing viewpoints come into contact with one another and not a euphemism for "This means war!"

So as my life has progressed, my grounding - what appears to me to exist only as a product of Thought and not a permanent and pervasive part of reality - has deepened. My emotional well-being no longer appears to be the result of my diet. My personality traits no longer seem set in stone. And the way I perceive life seems far more fluid, transient, and subject to change at a moment's notice than ever before.

3. The Grammys Party

People often giggle when they hear that I think of myself as shy, but until a few years ago, I would do pretty much anything to avoid social situations with more than a few close friends or family around me. In fact, when my first book came out in London, I told the publishers that I would do any interview they scheduled for me anywhere in the world to help promote the book, but I wouldn't show up to my own book launch party if they chose to throw it.

So when a friend invited my wife and I to his annual Grammys Party a year or two after I'd stumbled across this understanding, my heart sank. I knew I'd be going, but I also knew I'd rather poke matchsticks under my fingernails - because I'm shy. Then a new thought snuck into my consciousness:

What if you weren't?

This thought somehow took hold, and I realized that my self-described shyness was only true some of the time. It was just that at some point in my life I'd decided (unwittingly) that I was shy, so whenever I did get caught up in my insecure thinking around other people that was "proof" of my shyness, and whenever I was at home in myself and un-self conscious that was a weird anomaly to ignore or explain away.

So I went to the party as an experiment, not in pretending to be confident, but rather in seeing what would happen if I stopped lending credence to my "I'm shy" theory. I had such a great time that my wife had to drag me away from the party (pretty much a first for us), and a whole host of new experiences became available to me.

What about for you?

  • Does it seem impossible for you to change until after something else changes on the outside?
  • Do you think you need to change your personality to function more effectively in the "reality" of a dog eat dog world?
  • Do you think you're really shy, or insecure, or not creative, or just "not the kind of person who...?"

What if you were wrong? What if you didn't? What if you weren't?

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,
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For more by Michael Neill, click here.