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Illusions of the Moment

“When you go through life with preferences but don’t let your happiness depend on any one of them, then you’re awake. You’re moving toward wakefulness. Wakefulness, happiness—call it what you wish—is the state of nondelusion, where you see things not as you are but as they are, insofar as this is possible for a human being. To drop illusions, to see things, to see reality. Every time you are unhappy, you have added something to reality. It is that addition that makes you unhappy. I repeat: You have added something … a negative reaction in you. Reality provides the stimulus, you provide the reaction. You have added something by your reaction. And if you examine what you have added, there is always an illusion there, there’s a demand, an expectation, a craving.” – Anthony De Mello, Awareness

Monday mornings are a good time to revisit De Mello. To confront the reality of the work week ahead without dread requires a measure of acceptance of the moment you’re living in. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing do something else as soon as you possibly can. If you enjoy it, understand what it draws out of you and double down on that. Most people in the world today have the freedom to choose how they react.

The entire quote above might immediately makes you think of Viktor Frankl’s thoughts on stimulus and response. Even in the worst of moments, we can choose how to react to stimulus in our lives. Accept the truth of the matter for what it is and see things for how they are. That might not make you happy, but it makes you fully aware. And don’t we need to be in that state to make effective, meaningful decisions in our lives?

The question is, what exactly are you adding in the moment? What are your illusions about the way things ought to be, about how someone should speak with you, about wearing a mask or getting vaccinated or how we see a person a bit different from ourself? How do you view that job you’re going to or the title you have or the car you drive? How about how you view the person driving in front of you or the one trying to pass you? What are you adding in that moment?

We often confront illusions in how others treat us. I had a conversation with an old friend who was poking at me about a tendency I used to have when we were younger. I smiled and let the moment slide away, knowing I’m not that person anymore. You learn to accept who you once were as you get older. But doing so in the moment is a bit trickier, isn’t it? It requires us to be constantly aware of the illusions we’re throwing up. What story am I telling myself right now? And what might happen if I simply subtracted that story?

This idea of observing yourself in the moment between stimulus and response is a way of getting outside of your own head and seeing the choices in front of you. To shatter the illusion that you don’t have a choice in how you react. To shift to a state of non-delusion and maybe, to choose the path towards happiness. In the thirty years since I first read Man’s Search for Meaning and accelerating in the two years since I read Awareness I’ve chipped away at this within myself. I’m under no illusion that I’ve mastered it, but I work with the tools available to step outside myself towards wakefulness.

This is a skill that is especially handy on some Monday mornings.

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