The outside-in illusion is a persuasive one, I tell you.
I’m working on my second book. Earlier this week I sat on the floor of my office—Cat Stevens blaring through Spotify—with 44 pages spread in front of me, each one representing a different chapter, quote, or story I plan to include. I spent an hour of pure bliss organizing, arranging, and numbering them, having brand new ideas about additional pieces I wanted to include, and making placeholders for those to-be-written pieces.
I was extraordinarily content during that hour and I walked away with the skeleton of what I know is going to be a way better book than my last one.
It would be easy to conclude that my bliss came from the fact that I finished my floor party with an almost-there book I’m already proud of. But that’s not it.
It would be so natural to think: Man, I need to do this more often.
Or: Creating something meaningful is important to my happiness.
Or: Writing books is my purpose/soul’s work/what I’m meant to be doing.
But I know better. Writing, collating, organizing, creating, teaching, Cat Stevens, and my office floor have nothing to do with it. They look so beautiful because of the feeling I had within me; that feeling I was so tempted to attribute to those activities.
The actual source of my contentment was a clear mind. (That also happens to be what paved the way for those new ideas.)
A clear mind does feel like bliss. And a clear mind is possible anywhere, doing anything. You’ve experienced it mowing the lawn, cooking dinner, and driving to work.
I was taught to talk to clients about when they are happiest and then help them add more of those activities or circumstances to their lives. Based very firmly in the illusion that happiness comes from what you’re doing.
And it’s not that you won’t feel better creating your art or watching movies or whatever you like to do. You probably will, if your mind clears. Then you’ll promptly look outside of yourself to see what cleared your mind so wonderfully.
I’m convinced that this is the basis for most addiction and compulsion, too. Your drug of choice gives you a break from your habitual thinking. The addiction is actually to a clear mind, not the thing you mistakenly associate with giving you the feeling of a clear mind.
You’re giving all the credit to a bunch of activities and stuff, but universal energy cleared your mind, the project or movie didn’t. The papers or highlighters or Cat Stevens didn’t do it for me.
There’s nothing foolish about doing more of what you love to do, I just want you to understand the behind-the-scenes details a little better. Because if I believed it was the book or the floor or the collating, I’d feel pretty bad when writer’s block crept up.
Yesterday, when I woke up wanting nothing at all to do with spreading this knowledge to the world—when I watched the neighbor girl get into her car dressed for her job at Applebee’s and felt envious of her less cerebral, more physically active, more social career and wanted to trade places with her—it didn’t matter.
That temporary blip didn’t lead to a crisis because I knew that the only thing that had changed was my ever changing level of consciousness and the extent to which I took my thoughts seriously.
If I believed my carpet party was responsible for that feeling I had, I’d feel pretty bad when I didn’t have a free hour to roll around in my book. You would too, when you couldn’t create your art or watch your movies.
When we understand how it really works, it doesn’t have to be that way for either of us.