Times are rough. Some of us have lost much of our wealth, and even if we have been fortunate enough to escape the carnage, many of our closest friends and relatives have not. The suffering is real, and we must have compassion for all those who are experiencing pain.
The sense of fear and insecurity gripping our society is clear and unmistakable, but is its cause as obvious as we might assume? After all, what is the link between our bank account and our peace of mind? Why should declining asset values necessarily lead to a decline in the level of our happiness or our sense of security?
I believe that if we take a moment to look inside, we’ll discover the clear and undeniable truth; there is in fact no link between the circumstances of our lives and the way we feel inside. This may sound extreme, but a simple look at our own experience demonstrates that this more than just a nice way of thinking about life; it’s a reality. The way I feel about my circumstances has a way of changing from moment to moment, even when the circumstances themselves don’t change at all. In fact, I can sometimes go from feeling depressed and uneasy to feeling happy and relaxed in a matter of minutes; and that’s without even trying. The shift takes place within me, and it tends to happen on its own.
A few years back, I had an opportunity to learn a profound lesson about the gap between circumstance and experience as I watched a good friend of mine battle the cancer that would ultimately take his life. Shortly before the end of his two year struggle, my friend Roberto told his best friend that he wouldn’t have traded the last two years of his life for anything. When I heard this I was both awestruck and flabbergasted. How someone going through such a horrific ordeal could feel that way was beyond my comprehension, but one thing I knew for sure was that if he said it, he meant it. I can hardly imagine a circumstance worse than that, yet somehow he experienced it as a valuable opportunity.
When our tradition wisely states: “Who is wealthy? One who enjoys his portion” (Avos 4:1) it’s simply telling us what a quick glance at Hollywood or Wall Street will easily verify. People with tons of money can spend as much time worrying about money as those who have none at all. In other words, the experience of wealth, or poverty for that matter, has nothing to do with our bank account.
Which brings me to my point: I’m not telling people to cheer up and live in gratitude, or to view the glass as being half full rather than half empty. Not that these are bad things mind you, but I sincerely believe that I have no business telling other people how to feel. Besides, it’s pointless, since if people knew how to feel good under the circumstances, they’d already be doing it. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, it is not easy to simply change how we think about things so that we can feel better. We’re all doing the best we can, and we must never stand in judgment with regards to how other people handle their struggles.
What I am suggesting is actually much simpler. The next time you’re feeling insecure or fearful or angry, just be open to the possibility that it has nothing to do with the people, places or things in your life. Try to be willing to entertain even the smallest possibility that your experience is coming from within you; it’s what you make up in the moment and nothing more. Be willing to consider that under the very same circumstances, you could be having an entirely different experience of life in the very next moment.
Why. Because the sound of that tiny crack opening is actually nothing less than the creaking of our own personal jail cell door as it begins to swing open; because believe it or not, the key to our freedom lies in our having a little less respect for the way we see things. It’s really quite simple: If we can entertain even the slightest doubt about our thinking and experience, we’ve left open the possibility that it can change. And if we can understand that our feelings of insecurity come from within, we can see that feelings of confidence lie within us as well. If we can see how easy it is for us to feel shortchanged, we can also realize that the powerful feelings of gratitude that we sometimes feel are natural to us as well. We’ll realize that compassion is just as natural to us as judgment; joy comes as naturally to us as sadness, and powerful feelings of forgiveness are as available to us as are hatred and anger.
We don’t need to change our thinking. We simply need to appreciate the tremendous gift that we each possess; the power to think and create the reality that we experience. If we understand that, we’ll understand how quickly and dramatically our world can change. We don’t even need to try so hard. All we really need to do is leave an opening.