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The Lie of Certainty


The phrase “You can achieve anything you want if you just want it badly enough” is a dangerous lie. Politicians and pop stars often love to recite sayings like this to the jazzed up, adoring throngs of people before them because it gives people a false sense of hope that life can be just the way they want it to be. According to some, if you work hard enough you can be president of the United States, earn millions of dollars, or at least have your album go platinum.


The truth is, we never know what’s just around the corner, or what twists and turns our life will take, and how our priorities might shift from one year to the next. And if we’re being too rigid and clinging to what we think we need in life, it’s like we’re trapped in a wooden barrel at the highest edge of a waterfall.

Our fixed ideas and narrow requirements for happiness keep us stuck.

It’s wonderful to have aspirations and to nurture them with consistency, focus, and hard work. But it’s very dangerous to think that we can control and manipulate life so that it can turn us into the precise version of ourselves that we think we ought to be, or offer us the very specific lifestyle we thing we need to be happy. This kind of thinking keeps our attention constantly out there, like a horse chasing after the carrot dangling right in front of his head.

All of the wishing and creative visualizing in the world can’t ever guarantee us a specific outcome. Our condition is one of constant change. Things arise and fall away, and then other things pop up and then turn into something else. No form of mind mastery or magical thinking is going to reverse the very nature of things.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to force things to happen a certain way and I’m now just learning to appreciate the value of watching all of my plans fall apart before my eyes. I’m learning how to just settle into the space created by that sudden void instead of trying to fill it with something new and “better.”

What opens up when our plans fail is very potent and something we can really work with. Having exactly what we want all the time doesn’t offer us much room for growth at all.

Recently someone who heard about my recent and very public withdrawal from the Taego Order seminary asked me if I was “ok.” When I considered her question carefully I was surprised to discover that I actually feel more liberated than devastated, more excited than angry. Had things worked out just the way I planned for them to, that might have been just fine. But what I’m experiencing right now is so unique and unexpected and I’m getting to learn all kinds of cool stuff about people, myself, and the world in general.

What I’ve wanted throughout my life has changed and evolved many, many times. If I were the kind of person today that I dreamt of being ten years ago, I’d most likely be surrounded by people and circumstances that have nothing to do with where my heart is right now.

The more I think I know what’s going on, the more I eventually realize I have no idea what’s going on. That used to scare the bejeezus out of me, but now I just find it comforting.

The only ground we can actually depend on in life is that there really is no ground at all.

And this is very, very good news.

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Thanks for the comment Jerry.


I'm totally starting to get how little control we really have over things, even though the world is set up to con us into thinking we do.

I like what you said about trust in things rather than the push mentality that's usually encouraged in our society.

I'll check out the Forster book.

Fixed Ideas & Narrow Requirements

I think alot about the idea of "getting what you want", which seems to be such a mantra in our society and causes no end of suffering for all of us.  So much nicer to have a broader outlook and openness for whatever happens.  Thank you for the thoughtful post!

excellent point Kim

It really is something of a mantra, isn't it? A broader outlook is key.

Thanks Kim-


Pull v Push

Lawrence you are having the same experience I am in life right now - learning to exist less in a push mode and more in a pull mode, where instead of forcing things to happen, things come to you and you use your intuition and experience to decide what should stay and what should go .It takes a ton of trust in oneself and the universe in such a "push" oriented society to relax into creativity instead of productivity, but it's possible.

I believe essential elements for this are - as you say - a not too over-precise vision, willingness to take action, a mind made as fertile and open and receptive as possible (cough cough meditation), and a sense of humor.

You might enjoy Mark Forster's free book on this topic, which he wrote using these methods, and which just fell into my world precisely when I needed it.  It's at http://www.markforster.net/blog/2011/6/2/how-to-make-your-dreams-come-true.html

Book Recommendation

Thanks for posting this!

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