What is the cost of living? And I ain’t talking about money.
It’s very easy to simply ‘survive’ life and I don’t mean that in the traditional sense of the word, to stay alive. On that front, I am astounded that most of us wake to see another sunrise given the multitude of unfortunate, vicious and bizarre ways a human life can be snubbed out in a second.
In its proper use, our survival instincts are of course more than useful. Without them, we would find it impossible to remain unknocked down by passing cars or unmugged by street corner-loitering ne’er-do-wells. This system, more than likely developed out of a need to not get eaten by sabre-toothed tigers with a predilection for human flesh, has indeed served us well.
However, with no physical threat on the horizon, our internal safety system or ego, the thing we call ME still works tireless to keep us safe, but this time, against perceived emotion threat. Ekhart Tolle talks extensively about the ME or identity we all create for ourselves and its need to keep us safe, initiating the fight, flight or freeze modes. Nowadays it’ll be something like arriving at a party on your own, starting a new job or one of a myriad of socially challenging situation that triggers the process. I don’t know about you but walking down a long corridor towards someone I only half-know triggers fight, flight and freeze all at the same time.
But luckily, we live to see another day despite how painful these situations can be. But there’s another type of survival and that’s related to our ability to keep our heads down and just get through daily life, especially the aspects that are dull, uninspiring, routine or tedious.
Anyone who’s been in a bullet-to-the-head inducingly boring lecture will attest to the fact that being about to survive misery and come thought the other side unscathed is trying but useful.
In fact, unwittingly, this type of survival is a strategy that many people use to insulate themselves from some of the more challenging parts of their life. If you’ve ever had a job you hate, you’ll at some point have thought, as I have, "if I can just get to the weekend", or "if I can just make it to Christmas"… or been in a relationship that’s no longer working… I’m sure we’ve all thought, "if we can make it to his birthday..." or, "things will be easier once we’re on holiday/ get married/ have a baby". Then we proceed to survive until this time comes, dulling ourselves to the discomfort of the current situation, mollifying ourselves with a future we hope will relieve this current ache.
This type of survival, on the surface, is completely logical but actually, it is one of the worse things we can do to ourselves. We are dismissing our lives, extracting ourselves from the present to fixate on the destination rather than the journey. Tolle reminds us that actually, life consists of very little destination e.g. weddings, childbirth, new jobs etc and a lot of journey. If you discount all that journeying as simply a means to an end then you are setting yourself up for unnecessary pain. What if you destination looks nothing like you planned and you didn't take in the journey on the way? What a waste.
Additionally, 'survival' means we are numbing ourselves to something life is trying to communicate to us. Life is yelling at us that something is very, very, wrong and that change needs to come – immediately.
But, ostrich-like, we put our heads in the sand perhaps thinking that’s where the solution is. As problematic as the current situation is, we are often more comfortable in our discomfort and will therefore, do little to change our circumstances. Our ego knows something is up and change is coming but change is threatening. Sadly, if this type of ‘safety’ is initiated it can be inhibiting, even disastrous because, if we allow what the ego wants to dictate things, it will prevent our lives from unfolding to its fullest potential.
Change is not always pretty but so often life is infinitely better as a result of it. This is why for example, being made redundant can be one of the best things that can happen to you. When it happened to me in 2001, it set me on a path I simply wouldn’t have been brave enough to embark on if I hadn’t had that boot up the arse from the Universe.
Fear of the pain change can induce can cause the ego or the Me, which is deeply invested in keeping us small, to strategically manipulating us, hindering our growth.
It manifests itself in the most subtle of ways - the niggling voice in our head that tells us our plans aren’t going to work out, that whisper that says starting a business during a recession is a bad idea, that internal broken record saying your best man’s speech will suck and everyone will wonder if the groom’s first choice wasn’t available, the brain memo which states you’ll never meet Ms or Mrs Right so don’t bother looking. Whatever this voice says, it has no investment in your expansion. It is a ghost, a past echo of a pain you experienced long ago attempting to reassert itself in the present and every time we listen to it, we instill it with more power.
It is very hard not to listen to that voice. After all, it’s inside our head. It’s like trying to ignore an argument in the next room. Ignoring our internal voice is made even harder because most of us, are entirely identified with it. Even when people manage to dis-identify with it, every now and then it will hijack our being and we once again live from it as though it were us. It is not us and there is an inherent cost to our lives when we buy, wholesale into this internal noise.
The things the ME say inside our heads may appear to be new, objective thoughts but they are not. They may seem to be in our best interests but that often is not the case and sometimes, for the sake of our own progression it is vital that we override the voice and live and listen from a deeper part of our being.
It’s not that we need to not think, or that thinking is bad. We have many, many useful thoughts, it’s just that not all of them are in service of our true selves and have our growth as their objective.
Sometimes, these thoughts must be overridden because the cost of this is essentially our lives, by which I mean, the fullest expression of who we are meant to be.
Surviving life should not be our goal even though that is how many of us live. We should seek to enjoy it and experience everything it has to offer but this means risking ourselves, throwing ourselves in fully and more importantly, enjoying the current moment rather than seeing it as a thoroughfare to the place we think we should be.
You wouldn’t go on the rollercoaster and just survive it. You would want to enjoy the thrill of it, the pure adrenalin rush, the sky and landscape whizzing past you, the high of hearing the person next to you scream with a mixture of terror and delight, you’d want to wave your hands in the air as you approached the photo stop at the top of a peak as your stomach churned before the 90mph decent into the deepest dips. Rollercoasters aren’t simply about getting off and being about to say “I made it”, they’re about the experience themselves. You had to go through the ups and downs in their fullest.
If your egos were in change of what rollercoaster rides were like, they’d be monorails, a pleasant 8 mph pootle, three feet off the ground. Imagine if you were on that but far off in the distance you could hear the pure ecstasy and terror and joy and dread of everyone else on the rollercoaster.
As scary and uncertain as it sounds, wouldn’t you rather be on that? Surely not being on it is too high a cost.