the cognitive dissonance mantra
This piece first appeared on the Dissident Voice webzine.
Every morning I wake to sunshine and birdsong (sometimes a little bit of morning fog). I rise to take my morning coffee. (There is always coffee. And my pantry is always full of good food. Make a note of that.)
Then I begin my work. I do this work on behalf of all of you, although I’ve never spoken of it before. But lately I’ve heard people wondering: why is it we are not more upset by the things that are going on in the world? In our own country, our own town? Why is there no generalized rage at the contempt for life displayed by those in power? Why are we so servile to the rich and corrupt? Why do we not swarm the streets in protest every day, demanding someone’s head on a platter?
Well, now I’ll tell you: It’s because of me. Every morning I actualize the consciousness that in most of you is only potential, and (I am convinced) it is this awesome power of actualization which continues to keep things in place. Which is only right, of course. It would be ungrateful and hypocritical of me to seek to upend the status quo, when it has given me everything I need and more. And so through this work I do I’m really just trying to give back to the universe.
But whenever things seem to be a fraying a bit at the edges, I start to worry. Perhaps I alone am not enough. More of you should be aware of the power you too can wield, and wield it consciously; otherwise at some point things could get bad, even for me. So I’ve decided to go public. I’ve decided to ask you all to join me in a single daily meditation. (Yes, that’s all it takes).
There’s no personal ambition here – I’m not seeking power or celebrity. And there’s no cost – I’m not in this to get rich; I am already rich, relatively speaking. I just want to keep the good life that I have. And from observing you closely every day where I work, where I live, and when I travel, I can see that you do too. Many of you have told me as much. Why shouldn’t you? You’re human! It’s that simple.
So now I invite you to join me in my daily practice. Here’s all you have to do. Repeat along with me:
Nothing in my life is changed by Euro-austerity and the humiliation of Greece.
Nothing in my life is changed by the latest mass shooting.
Nothing in my life is changed by the latest oil spill.
… the Chinese stock market panic.
… the mass deaths of migrants.
… the War on Terror.
… the War on Drugs.
… the acidification of the oceans.
… the suicide rate of children, transgender people, or soldiers.
… police assassinations of unarmed “suspects.”
… the disappearance of the Monarch butterfly.
And so on… You can customize your mantra however you like. I tend to choose whatever comes into my mind after I’ve had a look at the day’s headlines. I know most of you prefer not to bother with the headlines, and I don’t blame you. It seems ironic that by mentioning these things at all, you may appear to acknowledge in some way that you are affected by them. But the truth is that if you are, it’s only at a vaguely emotional level, or worse, some abstract intellectual level – it isn’t reality. And this mantra is all about grounding you in reality. The world is such that it is nearly impossible to go without hearing many horrific things that may seem to be far-reaching or fundamental at least mentioned as you go about your day. And so when you do hear of them, remember that all you need to do in order to actualize your full potential is to repeat your mantra: Nothing in my life is changed by… whatever it is.
What you are really doing, you see, is manifesting an inner truth. You are confronting the universe with absolute honesty. I mean, when you look at your life, has it been altered in any way because some racist boy waving a confederate flag massacred a handful of churchgoers? Did it lower your salary or make you lose your home or make you sick? Did it harm your relationship with your children or your parents or any of your family? Did it lengthen your commute? And this is the reflection you should undertake with everything you add to your mantra. The value of this practice is that you become fully conscious of just how distant you are from the horrors you may hear about, and this in turn will instill a sense of profound gratitude and groundedness in you. All the while knowing that your actualizing work will be helping millions who are just like you.
You will find yourself (as I do, as we all do) in some situations where it isn’t just a question of the headlines – for example, actually seeing a miserable person on the street. This is where your practice needs to become a little more sophisticated. You can repeat softly one of several phrases I’ve devised for such situations: “Some people are their own worst enemy.” Or better: “Some people are beyond help.” Or you can try compassionate meditation: “There but for the grace of … go I.” Depending on how much you are out on the streets or ride the buses (I try to minimize both experiences) you may end up having to repeat this rather rapidly, and if you aren’t careful, you can run out of breath. So of course you have to be extra mindful of your breathing at these moments. But you will find you can quickly return to a sense of equilibrium if you do as I say.
What you discover when you look with complete honesty at life in this manner, is a manifestation of the abundance that is everywhere available to you once you are able to recognize it. You have to stop living in that artificial scarcity that has trapped so many others. Just because someone else’s glass is half-empty (or entirely empty, for that matter) doesn’t mean you need to look at your own glass that way. Look how it paralyzes those who persist in seeing the world like that. Have they really improved the situation of others in the slightest? Have they really ameliorated anyone else’s suffering? Or are they just wallowing in some kind of self-righteous, holier-than-though, perverse form of self-abnegation? (I think if you look around you’ll see that no amount of so-called “political consciousness” has affected the amount of suffering in the world one bit. Or those headlines would be quite different.)
And frankly, I’m sure you’ve all met people like this at parties. Do you actually want to be like that? Or do you want to be attractive to others, effective, and in charge of your life? You have to decide.
The other side of this, of course, is that you will also have to give up that false image of yourself as capable of doing anything that somehow more meaningfully addresses, even in the most minimal way, the suffering in the world. When you hear about any unpleasantness related to bombs dropping on children in a distant land or poisoned water giving farmers cancer you will have to stop saying things like: “Well, I’m doing what I can. At least I vote!” You will even have to give up the idea that “if everybody just took care of their own children as well as I do and tried as hard to be friendly, everything would be fine.” For this to work, you will have to let go of the idea that anything ought to be different in any way. You must focus entirely on disconnecting yourself from everything that has no real impact on you. You really must make everyone else disappear.
It requires discipline and continuous effort to reach that stage, I can tell you. But once you do, there’s a beautiful world of sunshine and birdsong waiting right outside your door every morning. Just take a moment to sip your coffee and appreciate it.
Next week we’ll talk about what to do in the remote case that something in those headlines actually does affect your own life.
Don’t worry! I can help…