There is no “Definitive Guide to Optimum Health.”
No “Key to Finding Your Soul Mate.”
No “3 Simple Things That You Can Do To Go From Living In a Porta-Potty On Top Of a Garbage Dump To Millionaire in Under 6 Months.”
And there is certainly no “Secret To Success.”
Because if ANY OF THIS were true …
EVEN SLIGHTLY TRUE …
Then a tsunami of HEALING, and SUCCESS and WEALTH and SOUL-PARTNERSHIPS would have already been generated by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide in verifiably repeatable ways.
And most of all, we would have heard about it by now.
But we haven’t.
Because it’s not true.
And deep down we know it.
But most of us still don’t want to hear this.
We still want it to sound easy, and simple, and that all our dreams are always and forever attainable.
And they are.
But they’re also not.
And admitting that … literally taking a deep breath and surrendering into that painful truth of life, is actually … liberating.
Because when we accept the truth of how much genetics, and environment and culture, and timing and a whole host of others factors that we have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL OVER play into every success and failure that we’ve ever had – it stops us from feeling like losers when our goals don’t work out, or for feeling like total ego-maniacs when they do.
Because it shows us that WE ALONE are never the sole cause of our successes or failures.
But accepting that requires us to embrace the actual complexity of the world.
And that’s tiring.
Whereas settling for an over-simplified version of reality feels easier.
I mean just take the greatest slogan of modern times: ‘Just do it.’
So great because it makes it all seem so straight forward.
I mean seriously, how hard is it to “just do it”?
What kind of a lazy bum has trouble “just doing it”?
Well try telling that to the kids on the cancer ward.
“Just heal you bald little bastards!”
“Just get off your asses and juice and work out and go raw and ketogenic you’ll beat that stage II killer in no time!”
“What? … sleeping in until 11am because the chemo’s got you beat??”
“IF YOU WANT TO STOP HURTING THEN JUST START HEALING!”
“JUST DO IT!”
Oh puh-lease …
The pre-supposition of “Just Do It” is that if you can’t … then you’re just not trying hard enough.
Or you just don’t have enough courage.
Or you have too many blind-spots and can’t stop self sabotaging.
Which all may be true …
But I’ll tell you a secret that I’ve learned from years of being invited into the intimate struggles of people’s lives. The more you work with people, the more you get permission to be on the front lines of their health crises, their career challenges, or their family or relationship issues, the more you realize how much grace plays into the equation. The more you realize how much you can do everything “right” and still have to surrender into life’s grand plan and the decent of good old fashioned luck. And realizing that, seeing it happen over and over again to good, smart people doesn’t mean that you end up developing less compassion for the struggles that we all go through in life, but more.
And if that wasn’t enough, consider this: assuming that people fail because they’ve done something wrong only ever serves to condition us into having zero compassion for ourselves when the shit hits the fan (love that image) and times are hard and we don’t need another pep-talk, brain storm, vision quest, or session to uncover our self sabotaging mechanisms … just some compassion. Just some care.
Because the truth is that we’re all going to experience failure in life.
We’re all going to get sick.
We’re all going to fart and then poop our pants a little.
It’s just part of the game.
It’s built into the system.
So my invitation is to change your relationship to failure, both in your self and in others.
My invitation is to stop buying the lies that we are all being fed about how easy it all is and how everyone else is drop-kicking major ass, except you.
Because the truth is that it’s just a trick, a Pavlovian dog whistle designed to make you feel so insecure that you doubt your path, and then end up knee-jerk purchasing something that you don’t need because for a split second it provided you with the illusion that the answer was a click away.
Check it out.
Do you remember the parable of the Buddha walking one night with his friend Ananda?
The one where it was late and the Buddha was tired and Ananda was worried because they had no food and it was getting cold and dark, and they had no place to sleep?
It’s such a beautiful story.
Because they meet this old man on their way and Ananda asks: “how far until the next village?”
And the man says: “another mile.”
And the Buddha smiles and they walk on for another 3 miles until they meet an old woman, and once again Ananda nervously asks: “how far to the next village?”
And the woman says: ”another mile.”
And this happens two or three times and every time the Buddha smiles and Ananda gradually continues to lose his shit more and more until he finally cracks and shouts at his Buddha: “Why the hell are you smiling, you dip shit?! You’re old and tired and weak and it’s dark and we need food and shelter and all these people are just lying, just bullshitting us to our faces and saying that it’s ‘just another mile’ and we’ve already hauled-ass ten miles and the village is no where in sight!”
And the Buddha turns to his dear friend and says:
“Ananda, these are very compassionate people. They know that the path is far, and that the village is not near. But if they had told us the truth we might have been discouraged. We might not have been able to go so far. We may even have given up. But because they have all said ‘another mile’ we have been able to walk ten,”
And this is a bit like what is happening to us.
Because all the lies of marketers are telling us: “it’s just another mile, it’s just another mile.”
But are they really being compassionate?
What I really love about this parable is the fact that it’s not about the people.
And it’s not about the Buddha.
It’s not even about Ananda.
That’s just the first layer of meaning.
The real parable is about us.
And like all good parables this one is designed to wake us up.
The Buddha knew the truth.
He wasn’t afraid that he might not make it.
He wasn’t afraid that he might die.
But Ananda was.
And when Ananda asks “how far” we can imagine the people looking into his eyes and seeing his fear, his fragility, his desperation.
In fact it may be that Ananda’s fear actually prompted the people to give him the answer that he so desperately wanted. It may be that his fear demanded that they lie.
And so they did.
In the end what Ananda was really saying to them was: “I am feeling weak and afraid, and it is late, and I am tired, so please, I beg of you, do not let me face my fear. Do not tell me the truth. I have not the strength. I am not ready.”
And the people responded by saying “Because you ask us we will withhold the truth from you. We will lie to you. We will say that it is just another mile. We will bow to your fear and tell you what you want to hear. We will offer you 5 steps to ultimate health, and e-books on how to become a millionaire in under 6 months, and how to find your soul mate if you sign up now, and that there is a secret to success and that by simply clicking here, you can have it.”
And like Ananda we are momentarily relieved.
But what is the true cost of this?
Beyond just wasting time and money?
We are deprived of an opportunity.
Without even knowing it we are fooled into a way of being.
A way of being where we are always holding our breath.
Always waiting, hoping, always dreaming that this next mile, this next step will be THE ONE.
And in doing so … we fail to let go of the lie and face the truth.
The truth that the journey is long.
And that it is hard.
And that many of us will not make it.
And knowing this …
truly knowing this in our bones …
changes something radical in the way that we show up with those around us.
It allows us to see everyone with a deeper respect and care for the dignity of what it is to be human and the utter courage that it takes to face life day after day.
It literally allows us to love ourselves and others more fully.
And in terms of finding the village?
Letting go of the lie doesn’t mean giving up.
In fact, letting go of everything that you desire, and deeply accepting the truth that none of it may actually work out is actually the most rational, logical and empowering approach you can take.
Because when you face those fears preemptively, when you stare the death of all your dreams in the eye until there is nothing left to see – you no longer chase those same dreams with an air of desperation, which makes you better at accomplishing them.
And you no longer shake like a leaf at the 11th hour when everything’s hanging in the balance like Ananda because you risk nothing that you haven’t already accepted.
So take a breath and let go.
Just for fun.
What do you have to lose?
Just take a deep breath in and imagine that this moment is your last.
That it’s all over.
And to whatever degree you’re able to …
let go of succeeding.
of being healthy.
of being happy.
let go to everything that you’ve ever wanted.
as best you can.
Just do it.
And then when you inevitably feel the part of you inside that resists. The part of you that says “HELL NO.”
Turn to it.
Because that is the place where the fear that most undermines you lives.
And then when you feel you’re holding it in your awareness, begin to unleash a wave of care, compassion and love into it.
Literally say to it … “I am no longer afraid of you.”
And it will begin to heal.
Photo credit: @pyrrics, play.esea.net, christophmeyer.
I love you Zach Feder, truth bard. Thank you for your down to earth, compassionate, fierce honesty. And please, I’m dying to hear about you crossing the threshold into fatherhood!
Brilliant, thank you.
So good to see your perspective again! Always refreshing. emotional/psychological pain is real and I’m not sure about “grace.” I know how not reacting bides some time in terms of how situations can dissolve possibly taking some time (not a lot) in dzogchen/Zen studies. Having said that take any refuge that can be taken.