As I proceed with translating “The Ascent of Humanity” I almost daily stumble upon sentences reflecting deep insight into the fabric of reality. Stella Osorojos from the Santa Fe Time Bank called it “one of the most important books of the century”. She says she means it, and so do I. So please forgive me for coming back on elaborating on content from “Ascent” every now and then.
Many thinkers describe life as “living a story”, meaning that there is no such thing as an “objective universe out there” by the rules of which we have to live, and that the thing we call reality is not the actual thing of infinite properties, but merely a limited, abstract projection of, and withiin, our mind; what remains after so many filters of perception and selection. That projection is comparable to a map, a picture or a story which represents reality in the form of symbols (“The map is not the landscape”). Depending on the zoom level you prefer, the attributes you pick, the number of details you go into, the presentation format you choose, the symbols you design and the emphasis you set, the outcome will be very different from any other persons’ work. How many different maps of the world are there? How many interpretations of “Amazing Grace” or “The Count of Monte Cristo”? How many different opinions on any political matter, any piece of art, and every single person on earth? How many different definitions of God? And have you ever wondered why witnesses to a certain crime (or any other event) are talking of seemingly completely different things?
All those are stories, and so is life. For the way we look at it is arbitrary – and it shapes our actions depending on the choices we make, thereby changing also the repercussions we experience from outside.
Buddha called the way we usually look at, and live, our lives an ‘illusion’, J.Krishnamurti called it ‘image’, Adyashanti described it as ‘virtual reality’, and Villoldo actually called it ‘a story’. So does Charles Eisenstein who explains in Chapter VII-10 of his book how we are not victims, but creators of our fate; how there is no inescapable coercion, just surrender to stories; and how language, which is a story in itself, partakes in shaping the story of your life:
Even naming these stories and observing them in operation already makes them less powerful. However, I have found it useful to deliberately undo them through the way I speak to myself and others. We can use words in ways that deny the stories that enslave us, and thus accelerate our freedom. For example, Marshall Rosenberg suggests rephrasing every “have to” sentence as “I choose to… because…”
Here is a personal example. I used to say, “Even though I hate it, I have to give grades.” When I rephrased it as “I choose to give grades because I am afraid I will lose my job if I don’t,” everything became much clearer. I realized that my job was much less important to me than my sense of integrity, which for me personally was violated by giving grades, and so I decided to leave academia. By thinking in terms of “have to” we surrender our power. The very words carry within them an assumption of powerlessness.
As I wrote in earlier essays, a gun to your head does not imply being unrejectably forced to do as you’re told. With or without that gun, you still have all the choices in the world, as long as you are willing to take the consequences. And please don’t ridicule my words there: it doesn’t mean you are to making stupid decisions in a dangerous situation. It just means you are free to do whatever fits into your value system, your story, if you are aware of that story. The less fear you have of forces threatening to overpower you, the more freedom there is for you, up to the point where there is no coercion at all.
You do not have to believe in the shamanic concept of physical-reality alteration by forces of the psyche to actually shape your personal reality the way it suits you best – although such forces might have an impact, who knows.
Unluckily most of the people I have been talking to hardly understand the concept or even reject it, and I could feel the underlying fear. People speak of freedom, individuality, and the power of love, yet don’t trust it much. And why would they, having been raised under a system where there is such a huge background fear, a survival angst about not fitting in with all the others, losing their job, losing their livelihood, sometimes even physical hurt. How would you not feel threatened and coerced into doing things you don’t like, such as working a degrading job, watching your back, and giving into all sorts of constraints.
The fact is: this is just one story to live by. If you equate an external attempt of force to a reaction of yours, then this story will shape your experience of reality, your life. The threat then, of course, feels very real. But as countless individuals have proven, other ways are possible. With the number of choices available to you, increasing by the degree you free yourself from unconsciously lived-by stories, life becomes better. By better I mean satisfying and fulfilled, as you then tend to make ever more choices by yourself, out of free will, instead of being forced to obey, subordinate, follow, give in, which equals to living someone else’s life. If you take the freedom of living a story where there is no irresistible pressure creates even more freedom. Freedom from (particularly fear), and freedom to (create your reality).
Living by the story of Western civilization, on the other hand, resembles being hunted down by all sorts of predators, getting driven from one crisis into another, until you eventually get trapped and die. You may even be lucky enough to count as one of the predators; but as long as you are unaware of survival-of-the-fittest being just a story – the story of our culture – you are a slave chained to a story like all the others. Gandhi put it best when he asked, “Don’t hate your oppressors. They need liberation, just like you.”