KIS-Sunday: Let Go of Your Old Ideas, and Think Your Own Thoughts
The Average man is a conformist, accepting miseries and disasters with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain. ~Colin Wilson
I know some of you read my blog for its entertainment value, but I think many more of you are here because you are at a crossroads in your life. For many of you it is an economic crossroads. First you lost your jobs, then your savings, maybe even your home. Many are left feeling hopeless and terribly unsure of their future. Then you heard about vandwelling, and that brought you a glimmer of hope. Here was a whole new way of life that could not only solve your economic problems, but possibly some of your other problems as well. But it goes so much against the grain of everything you’ve been taught and totally contradicts the American Dream. How can you make that radical a change in your life?
Others of you are at another sort of crossroads: a crossroads of purpose and meaning. Life is going along basically okay but you are still discontent with your life. Shouldn’t there be more to it than this? Isn’t life about more than going to work, buying stuff, watching TV, and then going to work again to buy more stuff? “Why aren’t I happier than I am?” You feel a need for a change but a change to what? More importantly, how can you throw away everything you’ve ever known and just take a leap into the unknown?
Like many of you, I have stood at both of those crossroads and found making real change was terribly unpleasant and difficult for me. In working through that crossroad and making deep and profound changes in every single area of my life, there was one single lesson that made possible every other change in my life:
You can only change in proportion to how willing you are to give up your old ideas. Total change, requires totally giving up your old ideas.
I found that if I kept one foot in the past, in my old ways of thinking, I couldn’t truly embrace a new way of life. To borrow a phrase from gambling, I had to go “all in!” The ties to my old thinking had to be severed. Because in truth, none of them were my thoughts, they were all brainwashed into me from childhood.
“The societies kids naturally form are tribal. Gangs, clubs, packs. But we’re herded into schools and terrified into behaving. Taught how we’re supposed to pretend to be, taught to parrot all kinds of nonsense at the flick of a switch, taught to keep our heads down and our elbows in and shut off our minds and shut off our sex. We learn we can’t even piss when we have to. That’s how we learn to be plastic and dumb.”
I’d like to tell you my story and how that worked for me. As you read my story, I know can’t walk the same path I did, it was uniquely mine. But you can adopt the same principle of being willing to give up your old ideas. If you will, I think you will see positive change in your life.
I’ve never been a happy person, but I was making it through life the best I could. By my 30’s I had given up on the idea of being happy; it just was not an option for me. I was only trying to do what I was told to do and get through life with as little suffering and as best I could. When I turned 40 my life fell apart. I was going through a divorce and I was miserable and hopeless beyond words. There was simply nothing for me to do but accept a life of misery and endure it as best as I could until I found the sweet release of death.
One day I was talking to a friend about my problems and he suggested I go with him to an AA meeting; he thought I would relate to it. That seemed totally bizarre to me because I didn’t drink and had never been drunk in my life, not once! Nor had I ever used an illegal drug of any kind. How could I fit in at an AA meeting? But he was a wonderful guy and I admired his story (he had been a drunken, drug addict living on the streets and had been in and out of mental institutions). He said at AA his whole life had changed and today he was literally a different person. He told me the same thing could happen for me. I loved the idea of being a different person! The person I was had totally fucked up his life and was a total failure as a human being. I had nothing to lose so I agreed to go.
As I sat in my first meeting, for the first time in my life I felt like I belonged. I heard people telling my story (all the details were different, but the feelings were all the same). But their stories had a happy ending and mine was still mired in misery. They had “something” and I wanted it. I decided at that first meeting I was willing to go to any length to get what they had. I asked my friend to be my sponsor and committed to do anything he asked of me. We worked the 12 Steps together and it was the hardest, most painful thing I have ever done. And then something amazing happened, just as my friend had promised, I was changed. Little by little, miracle by miracle, I became a different person.
One of the guiding principles of AA is that we have to be willing to give up our old ideas totally. The best thinking and reasoning of every addict ultimately led him to his total failure as a human being. So what part of that thinking should he keep? Some of my old thinking might be good and work, but how could I know? I couldn’t, so if I wanted change my life, I had to totally give up ALL of my old ideas. Here is what the AA literature says about how to get results changing your life:
“Some of us have tried to hold onto our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.”
Today, that sentence is the guiding principle of my whole life. I needed results, so my old ideas had to go. As I worked through the Steps and then walked through recovery I discovered over-and-over again that if I clung to my old ideas, things generally went badly, but without exception if I simply let them go and tried a whole new path, things went well. Slowly but steadily I let go of all my old ideas. I found that willingness to change my thinking had to be carried into every area of my life: religion, politics, relationships, family, work, everything! In fact, unless I applied new thinking to every tiny aspect of my life, none of the changes I had made would become permanent. Nothing was sacred and I assumed everything I believed was wrong unless it could be proved to be true, and even then only after it had stood the test of time.
We begin life with the world presenting itself to us as it is. Someone–our parents, teachers, analysts–hypnotizes us to “see” the world and construe it in the “right” way. These others label the world, attach names and give voices to the beings and events in it, so that thereafter, we cannot read the world in any other language or hear it saying other things to us. The task is to break the hypnotic spell, so that we become undeaf, unblind, and multilingual, thereby letting the world speak to us in new voices and write all its possible meaning in the new book of our existence. Be careful in your choice of hypnotists.
At the same time that I started going to AA, I moved into a van. The two worked together to change me. Going to AA changed the inside of me, but living in a van changed the outside of me. It opened my eyes to see that there could be a way of life that was entirely different than the one I had been living. In fact it was not only different, it was far better. Then five years ago I started living in my van in nature and spending most of my time on public land. Nature deeply and profoundly changed me in ways beyond words. My eyes opened to the horrors of what mankind was doing to each other and to the earth. As I looked at my past and all the things I had been taught about life and how I should live it, I decided every tiny bit of it was wrong.
The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.”
The longer I lived in a van–and began to think my own thoughts–the more I realized that everything I had been taught about how to live was a lie. The American Dream was a lie. Capitalism was a lie. Any way of life that is built on constant growth is doomed to failure and is at its core an incredibly destructive force that must be fought against. At its core, our society is very, very sick and I could not live my life by it any longer.
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
If you will open your eyes, and start to think your own thoughts with your own mind—I have no idea what conclusions you will reach—they may be totally different than mine. But I do know one thing, they will be your own and not someone else’s.