It’s so simple. It seems to me that my life has been a slow awakening from a dream world to reality. For many years I had this illusion that what existed in my brain was the reality. My thoughts were not necessarily untrue, but they did not reflect reality as it is – only my notion of reality. Maybe I needed to believe this notion to create a sense of identity, values and hope – hope for happiness and a bright future. Without something to believe in life seemed meaningless, harsh, and hopeless. What are we without it? Aren’t we without hope then? I believed. But as time passed It dawned on me that I had been wrong in this assumption. Having imagination is good and often necessary, but when the perceptions that our imagination creates are confused with reality, it is time to stop and notice.
I was not aware that dreams can get in the way of happiness. I was so focused on dreaming of another situation than the one I was in here and now and being someone else or something other than I was, that my life seemed very boring and unsatisfying compared to the life of my dreams that I wished I could live. I did not like my life at all and became depressed because I did not live out my dream. And the more unsatisfying I felt my life was, the more I clung to my dream – and the more I clung to my dream, the more dissatisfied I was with my actual life and myself.
I thought that maybe I could outrun the mean facts of life and compensate by filling my life with even more dreams of happiness and ambition for a perfect relationship, for an ideal family, for a glorious career and so on – and then try to fulfill these ambitions. I didn’t think I could live without all these stories I created about what I thought should be my reality. I had built my whole identity on these stories. I built a whole structure around my life, thinking that this structure gave my life meaning, while I in fact just imprisoned myself. Bur I didn’t realize that.
That is probably why it is so hard to just appreciate the present moment and stop holding on to all these dreams and illusions that take us away from the present moment. So many people spend year after year of their precious lives trying to do just that: struggling and fighting against their immediate reality, because they do not believe it represents the ideal they have of themselves. They believe that the only way to make dreams come true is to fight their way out of the current reality. I know I did. But this way we mostly don’t come anywhere near to achieving the happiness we desire.
Recently, I found that the only thing this struggle does for me is just to make me more unhappy and dissatisfied, because my life is – and never will be – everything I dreamed of. It is never perfect in all aspects. Especially not if I use my dreams of a perfect life as a standard of measurement. Disappointment is the only result that comes out of it because the battle is lost in advance. When you try to fulfill your dreams by trying to gain control of your circumstances and other people to adapt them to the notion you have in your head of a more perfect life, you just get to face resistance all the time and it wears you out.
Lately, I have found that if I stop trying to control and just leave things as they are and allow myself to wake up to reality instead, reality might probably seem ugly, harsh, and cruel in moments, but it is also much more potent than belief, dreams and illusions will ever be. Reality can – if I dare to take it in and look it straight in the eye and accept it as it is – make me more vibrant, and more alive than any dream or illusion can ever do for me.
Accepting what is, does not mean that I will miss out on anything. On the contrary. When I let go of my beliefs, dreams, illusions and expectations and don’t spend all my energy on trying to correct or steer things or the people that surround me in specific directions, that I think suit me an my belief best, I realize how strenuous it is trying to have control over everything all the time. As soon as I stop doing it my awareness expands dramatically. The moment I let go, my attention is suddenly directed, not towards the past nor the future, not towards what is right or wrong according to my beliefs and stories in my head, but towards what is here and now. Towards what really is happening. And I see much more clearly. I sense much more clearly – my surroundings, people, things, nature. And it fills me with wonder and gratitude.
It is so ridiculously simple and not complicated at all, but it is the most powerful insight I ever had. I finally found out that here and now is all there is. And that is more than enough. Much more than I ever could dream of.
What I had probably thought before, but had not really grasped, was this: It simply dawned on me very clearly that the past and the future exist only in my brain. And all my memories of what happened once and fantasies of what should be happening later, and what everybody should or should not do, is in fact just worrying thoughts, constructs and stories in my head that remove me from being fully aware and present right here and now. Every time I try to analyze a situation, to intellectualize it, find reasons and draw conclusions about it, often just to make it fit my story in my head, I just create distance. I take myself away from the situation, out of reality.
These thoughts – or beliefs in the stories I have created in my brain have also long filled me with all kinds of feelings of unrest and worry that I might not be able to fulfill all that I dream of. And foolish as I am, I have tried to compensate simply by thinking even more worrying thoughts, intellectualizing, finding excuses, and trying to analyze why I had all these worrying thoughts and feelings, believing that this was the way to understand myself and find my true identity. This process sent me into a vicious circle that ultimately made me pretty tired of myself, of my life and of my surroundings, and made me really depressed, because I never realized that what happened in my head is simply not real. It’s just thoughts. But I believed in them. And that is why they had such power over me.
Fortunately, reality will always knock on my door to remind me of its existence when I’m on the wrong track. And reality will always win in the end. No matter what we do, we will somehow die someday anyway. I tried to avoid realizing that fact and so many other unpleasant facts, I wasn’t keen on confronting. Did I really have to accept reality? But what if I didn’t like what I experienced? I didn’t realize that in fact I have no choice but to confront reality.
So, when I had this realization, it made me very disillusioned, disappointed, and depressed… at first. But that was just until I found out that the only – and I really mean only thing that can make me truly happy, is not to run away from whatever bad happens or might happen, and try to shut down my senses to it, but instead open my senses as far and wide as possible and be present and fully aware right here and now.
I can never avoid or shut out all the bad things that eventually will happen in everyone’s life. I don’t have that power. I cannot avoid the fact that I am going to experience loss. It happens. And it’s always going to happen from time to time. I might as well face it and get the best out of it. It is possible to just leave it as it is. When I allow myself to face reality unfiltered, it makes me stronger. I know it is a cliché, but it is true: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But only If you allow it to, may I just add.
I did that: Allow myself just to observe and feel without thoughts, completely nonjudgmental. And suddenly it dawned on me that I had stopped struggling. The moment I chose to let go of all the thoughts I used to think to protect myself against an unpleasant reality, it seemed all the air blew out of the balloon. When I stopped thinking about how bad I was feeling and just let the emotions flow through me, it suddenly felt not nearly as painful. I now took my dreams and illusions for what they are: just dreams and illusions. They are just thought constructs in my brain that often make the pain hurt more.
I accepted reality as it is. I accepted the fact that I have no control anyway, so why bother trying. And as soon as I just left things as they are, I started to relax more, and I was not so afraid of reality anymore. I found that it set me free.I can do or be whatever I like, because it is always only a matter of choice, right here and now. I cannot change what happens to me. But I can change the way I look at it. “It is never too late to get a good childhood”, as someone once said to me. Just think of the endless possibilities that lie within that fact.
When I got this far in my realization, my life suddenly turned out to be a truly wonderful experience. Of course, it is also painful yet at times, but even pain can be experienced as a marvel in life. What kind of pain do I prefer? Do I prefer the dull pain of ongoing depressing disappointment and dissatisfaction because my life is never becomes quite like I dreamed of? Or do I prefer just to live and let live – accept that life has its ups and downs, and experience an occasional intense sudden pain sometimes, when reality throws a punch once in a while that will be over sooner, the more I allow it just to flow through me?
It’s not the end of the world as long as I’m here. And soon I can continue to feel wonderfully vibrant and just be so grateful that I’m here on this planet and more aware of it than ever before. I found that if I just am present and accept reality as it is, right here and now, whether it feels good or bad, it will reward me with infinite benefits. Freedom being the most obvious one. Power is another one. I am a free spirit. I have empowered myself to live my life more fully than ever before.
I’ve been experiencing that I’ve become a much more tolerant and loving person. I am not as critical as I used to be, but much more accepting. I feel much more positive energy from others now. I used to be more or less worried or scared all the time. Now I experience calmness and peace of mind most of the time. I feel deeper, stronger, more intensely. But I’m not afraid of my own feelings. I’m also no longer afraid of what might happen. It hasn’t happened because it is not there now. And now is the only thing that exists. So why worry about something that doesn’t exist?
And I experience both joyful solitude, happiness, and presence with other human beings that I never thought possible. I never feel really lonely even if I’m alone most of the time. And when I’m with people, I’m able to look them in the eye and know deep down that I’ll never have to change myself, that I will never have to be insecure about myself or others and play games to fit in, to make them like me or to seem cool or like a “winner”. I don’t need to convince anyone of anything – not even myself. Because I can never be what I’m not anyway, no matter what I think or do, and no matter what other people think or do. I can just take it easy and be whatever I am in this moment.
And it seems like I can see through other people more than before. I see how they fight the same battle I fought, and I feel their pain. But I never have to believe their lies or self-deception again. I just look at them and let myself feel what is going on – without judging or drawing conclusions about it. I open my senses, am present and just experience what is, instead of holding on to the illusions and stories my brain tells me about the situation. It enables me to forgive everyone – not least myself – for just being who we are. Yes, I even love people for exactly what they are – and not just for matching my illusions of them.
I can do that now, because I realize that they feel just as powerless as I do. I’m aware that they are just struggling and fighting their own battle with their own brainchild, their self-deception, believing that holding on to their illusions and stories is the only possible way of looking at things for them. Of course they hold their ground, because they believe it is intrinsic to their values and their identity. I can now embrace them with all their ups and downs, joys, and worries, and even their judgmental prejudices. It doesn’t matter anymore. I see it as part of their own creative inner world. And it is beautiful. It’s just part of the wonderful package that the miracle of life has to offer.
Of course, I can still get hurt if people treat me unfairly or with coldness. I can still get annoyed at people when they insist that their stories are the only valid reality and when they use a lot of effort to convince me of that. I am no more perfect now than I’ve ever been. I still have this vulnerable body and can feel sick at times. I still see all the injustice of this world. And it still makes me sad.
The difference is that now all these things do not affect my self-esteem. I no longer have this irresistible urge to try to change the way people think and to try to convince them of something else because I realize that their opinion really has nothing to do with me. It only has something to do with them. Only they can decide what they believe. It’s not up to me. If I try to challenge their beliefs, I will probably achieve just the opposite of what I wanted.
I can only choose to distance myself from someone, for instance, when I see clearly that nothing good comes out of our encounter. I’m not inspiring them in a good way anyway. So sometimes I withdraw. Sometimes I have to realize that it is not possible to have a meaningful conversation with someone. Their belief in their own thoughts is too strong. Their resistance to me is too strong. They will not accept me as I am. They want me to be something else that fits into their story. They want to go on living in their own brain instead of opening up to me.
I must respect that. It’s their choice. I know they must follow their own path. And the reality is that some people will never realize what it means to live in a world they have constructed in their own brain – fictional stories and mythology – and how this isolates them from other human beings. They do not realize how much pain they can inflict on to themselves and their loved ones, when they’re unable to just be present and accept what is.
Instead of trying to be what I or others think I should be, I know that I can only be true to myself just by being fully present here and now without prejudice about anything or anyone. It might inspire other people in small precious moments. But it’s not certain. I also must realize that the world is certainly not always ready for that. Such is the reality, whether I like it or not. The only option I have is just to be open and let whatever happens flow through me and not try to avoid the feelings it creates in me. This is the best way to sense what really is going on, so I that I can make better choices for myself.
I trust that reality works for the best if I choose to be present in the moment – just exist and allow myself to experience without filter. If I let myself be controlled by the prejudices that involuntarily arise when I try to control something that I can have no control over anyway and try to adapt reality to the stories I have created in my brain, I am deceiving myself and others. It increases the distance to them and removes me from reality and into a fictional world. The world will never be a better place, and people will continue to live in self-deception as long as they allow themselves to be convinced by all sorts of thoughts that construct these fictional stories about reality, instead of just being present with an open mind. When we are not present and do not look, listen and notice properly, prejudice wins over real presence, and it only creates distance and strife among people.
It is up to each of us to figure out how we will meet the world. I believe that if more people became aware of the benefits of being more present without a filter, it would automatically solve many problems and misunderstandings among people. We all tend to live in our own brains, where we guess at all sorts of reasons why everything is the way it is. But that way, we just make things more complicated. And the danger of misunderstandings and disagreements just grows. If we learned to focus on what is happening right here and now without judging, we would surely be better able to take responsibility for our own actions to a much greater degree and would be much better able to choose to be the best, we can be in this moment. And with that, everyone’s life would be improved.
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