I keep being astounded at our capacity of evading facts and sticking to our habits no matter what. I know about cognitive dissonance and all its implications, so I don’t wonder why this keeps happening. I am simply amazed that our brain functions the way it does and how limited our free will actually is.
I write and lecture on quite crazy stuff that is bound to bump into “Erhm, yes, erhm, you’re right, erhm, but …”
When I ask people why “but” and why they keep doing what they are doing even when they know it is downright dumb, the answer is either:
“What would other people say,”
or: “Well, I’ll take it up once I … (whatever),”
or: “I can’t change anymore, I am too accustomed to the way I’ve been living all my life.”
When we decide to do something different there is always inner dissonance, uncertainty, fear. That’s natural. It is uncertain where the next step is going to take us so caution is normal. What is not normal is staying where we are when we know that it is wrong and when the state we are moving to makes so much more sense.
I think two of most precious skills in life are adaptability to change and capability to admit we are wrong.
That’s why I am grateful for 7 years of life as Hare Krishna devotee (and for moving out 13 years ago). I did stuff that’s totally wacky – like dancing in the street dresses like Gandhi, relishing water that washed my guru’s feet, walking around in circles from 5 to 7 a.m. chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna … The list could go on and on. No weird stuff that I am doing now comes even close in weirdness to what I’ve been doing back then!
Fate was on my side, it seems, for I’ve been writing a diary all those years and I learned to see myself in the right perspective. I couldn’t cheat!
When I read my diary two years after I joined the Hare Krishna movement, I thought to myself (and wrote it in the diary): “Oh God, what a jerk I was! Now I am well on my way to becoming perfect! (I am so lucky!)”
Two years later I read the passage from two years ago and thought: “Oh my, how could I have written that! I was such a jerk! But now I know! And now I am really on my way to perfection!”
Two years later …
Do I even have to go on?
Since I had no way around real me in the past (damn diary!), I couldn’t idealize myself and project myself as I was then to how I wanted me to be in the past. It was painful at first, but once I accepted the truth it was liberating!
The truth does not hurt unless it ought to.
— B.C. Forbes
Finally I stopped thinking I was a jerk or on the way to perfection or whatever. I was what I was, period. And that was OK.
Still, moving out of the Hare Krishna movement was dreadful! That was my life, my society, I didn’t know how to live outside of it.
One of our biggest dreads in life is excommunication, being removed from the society, or mocked, ridiculed, punished. I was on the edge and I didn’t know how to cope with it. I was terrified of leaving, and terrified of staying. A study case of cognitive dissonance.
Ultimately I left. I would never have learnt as much as I have, if it weren’t for my diary. It gave me the ability to see myself from a broader perspective pretty much all the time – as much as my awareness and knowledge allow me to, of course.
Now I am aware of the tone of my voice, my gesticulation, body posture, lame arguments, absentmindedness, silly repetitions etc. etc.
I keep making bad choices. However, as opposed to most people, I don’t want to hold the belief that I make good choices – not anymore. I make both good and lousy choices. And that’s fine. I take responsibility for both of them.
I won’t say I am healed of cognitive dissonance. Far from it!
I am aware it’s there and I am not imagining I can make it disappear by turning away from it or constructing “perfect” arguments for my way of life. I am looking in the face of my own stupidity. It hurts only when I expect I mustn’t be a jerk, I must be perfect. When I know I am an ass, I am at peace. It is when I forget it that I get in trouble.
That’s, really, what gives me strength to go on being a round peg among an army of squares.
I walk barefoot all the time, squat on the toilet, sit cross-legged to eat, recycle my shit and urine, ignore dress codes, enjoy nudity, use chewing sticks instead of tooth-brushes etc.; I live luxurious simplicity.
And I am not doing anything to prove I am right.
I suppose that’s why so many people look up to me. There is something in what I do that attracts them, sure, but there is even more in the inner attitude. I am glad of that! What I conclude form this is that I radiate the idea more than the action.
So I keep seeing dozens of people “following” me by being wacky in their own original way, instead of them following me barefooted and squatting and luxuriously simple(minded), obsessed with being right (and comparing their right to my right). Basically, I am a bad guru.
I do the things I do because that’s the game I was destined to play.
I first wrote “I chose to play”, but that would be a lie. Most things that comprise my reality haven’t really been the result of my choices. It was all a setup! And I am taking it with responsibility — simultaneously playing with it by taking small choices in the big scheme of fateful events.
Life is an endless string of paradoxes and human mastery consists in seeing them and not being bewildered and not trying to fix anything. I can’t construct my fate from my choices, I can only understand my fate by my choices.
Did I intend to write all this?
No, I actually didn’t. I wanted to write about you, your “buts” and your dumbness. So you should be glad it turned out this way! Now you can go on living the way you do without having to justify anything.
However, since you came this far and since you obviously enjoyed reading what I’ve written, you might want to read more? Here’s something you might enjoy: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me). 😉