The first draft of this article was written in my mind as I was in a Vipassana retreat where you are not allowed electronics, reading, and writing material. The course is 10 days of 10 hours of meditation a day while maintaining silence. As I walked back to my room after finishing the seventh day of meditation, my mind clear and focused, I felt deep gratitude for the opportunity to be here in this course, especially in Bodhgaya, India (the place made famous by Siddhartha Gautama who achieved Budddhahood here).
My next thought was how I couldn’t wait to recommend this experience to my friend. I began thinking of how to convince him, and his response: I want to do it, but I can’t get off work, can’t find the time, don’t have enough money, have other responsibilities, the kids, the wife, family obligations, etc. We have heard all the excuses before, whether we were on the excuse side, or the recommendation side.
"I Really Want To Do That, But…"
This inner dialogue of trying to convince my friend to do something that he probably would want to do, but won’t, seemed strange. Yet, this seems like a common theme when sharing my experiences with people.
I reflected on all the experiences that I have had, as well as those passed up. What separates the things I wanted to do and did, and the things that I wanted to do and didn’t? Then I realized that I have done everything that I wanted to do. If I really wanted to experience something, I didn’t stop until I did. I didn’t let time, money, ability - anything hold me back.
Then I reflected on all the people throughout my life who have said, “I want to do that, but can’t because of __________ (fill in the blank).” Why do people let all these excuses prevent them from doing something that they “really” want to do?
It is simple - they really don’t want to do it, or they have fear. They hide behind what appears like legitimate excuses such as money, time, ability, responsibility, family, kids, etc. However, most of the time they are unconscious to the real reasons that they don’t manifest the experience.
Why, if you wanted to do something, didn’t you? Is it that there were too many obstacles for you to overcome? If this is true, what kind of life have you created? You have a job that consumes all your time, to pay for the car that takes you to work, to pay for the clothes you wear to work, to pay for the house you sleep in waiting to go to work. How is this living? It’s okay to fully immerse yourself in your work, but not at the expense of life’s unlimited experiences.
Life Is About Experience, Not Routine.
Life is about self-reflection to understand who you are. You learn in relation to people, events, environment, - everything. If you continue to have the same experiences day after day, year after year, you have stunted your awareness. If you have created such a life that you can’t pursue the things that you really want to, what kind of life is that?
What are you making the focal point of your life? Preserving your possessions? Sustaining a “quality” of life? Retaining your comfort? Or living experiences?
More often than not, you hide behind excuses because you didn’t want to make the effort, you are attached to the way things are, and/or out of fear. The reasons are mostly unconscious due to the ease and acceptance of life’s excuses. But these excuses are part of the victim mentality.
You can clearly see the times that you made the effort to have particular experiences. Look at the experiences that you wanted to do and did. Look at the considerable effort you made: You may have had to save money diligently for months, worked extra hours to get more vacation time, eliminated something from your life that you didn’t want as much, etc. Nothing stopped you from pursuing the experience, because you truly wanted it.
If you are not pursuing a particular experience, then you have to be honest with yourself. You hide behind insufficient resources, responsibility, family, kids, etcetera. I am not saying that people don’t have responsibilities, but they do make easy excuses. These excuses are part of the victim mentality. How many people have said to me, “I want to travel, but I have a child, not enough money, not enough time, etc.” In my travels, I have encountered single mothers trekking across India with a young child in arm, people doing some craft along their journey to support their travels. I have seen it all.
These people didn’t make excuses. They wanted to do it and found a way. They are not smarter, better educated, or more capable than you. They just wanted it and didn’t allow themselves to give up. So you have to ask yourself honestly, why aren’t you doing what you want to do? Do you really want to do it?
What Is Holding You Back?
Many times the lack of effort to pursue what you “want” is an unconscious cover up for deeper reasons. The most common reasons are self-doubt, fear, and attachment.
Self-doubt happens to everyone, even people who take the plunge into new experiences. You need to learn to persevere despite self-doubt. Brave people aren’t people who walk without fear; they walk despite fear. They don’t listen to that internal voice that tells them they can’t. They understand that their mind is not them and they don’t have to listen to everything it says. Train your mind to listen to you, not the other way around.
Another common problem is that we get stuck in life’s comfort. After all your hard work you have finally arranged to have the living situation you wanted. You live in a nice flat in a decent neighborhood, with your favorite stores within a few minutes. Your favorite restaurant is just down the block. You are comfortable.
This is an attachment: This comfort is your self-imposed prison. Most people are not afraid of what will happen if they venture into new experiences, they are afraid of letting go of what they have. Fear is not in the unknown, it is in letting go of the known.
You identify yourself with your lifestyle. This identification is your self-imposed prison; you are the jailer and the jailed. You cling to this identification. You can’t imagine yourself living differently (unless it is at a higher comfort/economic level of course). Since you worked so hard to achieve this level, you feel that it would be a negative to let go of this identification so you hold on with all your might.
This identification holds you back from exploring life and being flexible. It puts economics and comfort above experience and growth. The traditional stereotypical life is nothing more than stunted growth. Going to the same job, living the same life day after day, not having new experiences. New experience is how to learn and grow. You learn in relation to things. You see something and then reflect it back to yourself to see who you are.
What new things will you learn about yourself if you continue with the same patterns and experiences?
Not only am I talking about identifying with a particular lifestyle, but identification in general. We see people doing something and say, “I could never do that.” We can’t imagine ourselves doing whatever it is. We limit our experiences in life like this. If we can’t imagine ourselves doing it, we don’t. Think about all the possibilities in this world. Yet, you have the same types of experiences, friends, etc.
All identification is a hindrance to true freedom. Whenever you say, “I am….”, be very careful about what follows. Identifying with the temporary is false and brings suffering. You are not your culture, religion, nationality, sex - you are not even human. You are a spiritual being having a human experience. Your natural state is love. This should be your only identification: the expression of love.
The Victim Mentality
Hiding behind responsibilities, lack of resources, abilities, etc. is the victim mentality. You can have any experience you want despite having responsibilities, lack of resources, etc. All these excuses are part of the victim mentality: thinking things happen to you. Even the phrases we use: don’t let anyone stop you. This again, is victim thinking. No one can stop you, but yourself. True it may not be comfortable or easy living some experiences, but that is part of the experience.
Even when we encourage people we treat them like victims: May your dreams come true. What this phrase infers is, that hopefully your dreams will “happen to you.” I prefer – may you create the life of your imagination. This is proactive. This is up to you to do.
The more you let go, the more beautiful life becomes. May your imagination illuminate your path!