The world is spiraling in accelerated growth, increased technological interconnection and a common knowledge platform. Your geographical location is less and less relevant, as a lot of people begin to work remotely, and large common economic areas like the United States or the European Union (and recently Canada) allow qualification recognition within their respective borders, making relocation a habit, and commitment to a certain place a choice that can be easily revoked (for certain professions). But you surely know all these…
This process has however some setbacks, and one of them could be named “too much focus“. As the surrounding world is gradually and constantly accelerating, we need to stay focused, and as a result, we prioritize so as to become more and more efficient. And prioritizing means also removing irrelevant information or activities, as the day still has 24 hours and we need more time for activities that bring us success in a fast-paced life. In case we’re not absolutely aware of the difference between “success” and “happiness” or “meaning”, we might allocate time for success-related activities instead of the later group. From here, being lost in a tunnel-like situation is only a simple and logical step.
In general, people run after two main needs: affection and power. Few people are absorbed by searching for meaning or insight, although there are some isolated cases. Most people run after relationships, sex, being accepted by a group of any kind, and also run after power, usually in its basic form – money. Becoming too focused on all these is easy when you harbor an inferiority complex inside you: you feel you lack some of these (or you really lacked them in your childhood or early age), so you become obsessed with them, until you lose touch with reality and get into a perceptive tunnel, where your entire life and activity is absorbed by getting what you feel you lack.
Take a look at the image of this article. It was created by Boardman Robinson, a Canadian artist (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boardman_Robinson). It’s called “Europe 1916” and it’s pretty eloquent for what I want to say, although its aim was different. It depicts the “carrot and stick” approach, one of the basic ways of manipulating large populations. Take a really good look at the donkey: skinny, unhappy, carrying a burden and nearing the side of a deep slope. From a certain perspective, we may say the donkey is… stupid.
The donkey should perceive that it is skinny and starving, and should give up pursuing the carrot and eat the grass available around. The donkey should not accept the burden of the one riding and enchanting or mesmerizing it. The donkey should see he’s approaching a cliff and, if we grant the donkey the intelligence of an average person, it should understand that moving forward will also make the carrot move as well. From the outside, it’s pretty logical, right?
The situation changes when you’re in donkey’s place. Your emotional side is high-jacking your reason and you end up often in a hole. Or you don’t know why are you running like an idiot and you never make it. Or why that elusive success is always just one step further. In fact, you make mistakes; your perception is not okay (you don’t perceive the grass around, the guy sitting on you and the cliff) and your reason is poisoned by abnormal emotions (you can’t discern the fact that the entire situation is made in such a way that you can’t possibly win). Plus, there is something else that is even more worrisome: there is somebody else deciding for you, you do not have the control of the situation and you’re not in charge of your own life.
Most people are not stupid. But in school and throughout their entire formal education, they have been taught to accurately repeat and accumulate information, to follow orders, and not to think critically and question everything. Most of them are just “bricks in the wall” as Pink Floyd used to say. So, despite that they were initially smart, they were prepared for their “donkey role”. They were trained not to see well and not to think correctly. And this makes them excellent employees. And victims.
One solution to exit this story was found by Buddha: removing desire, removing the carrot, so that people can see the entire situation. They are called the Four Noble Truths (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Noble_Truths) and they are worth reading. Basically, Buddha says that any desire (carrot) means suffering, and by removing desire, we escape suffering. At that point, the entire trick is exposed and the person (or donkey) can choose freely.
Another solution comes from psychology and the work with complexes (psychoanalysis, Freud, Adler, Jung, etc.). A complex is a situation from which you can’t escape neither by fighting against it (a donkey running after the carrot will never catch it – this is called overcompensation), nor by refusing or ignoring it (a donkey refusing the carrot will still starve, as it can’t see the grass around it – this is called denial), nor by doing what it has been doing (the donkey will collapse and die of hunger if it continues to follow the same path – this is called surrendering). You always get out of a complex just like getting out of quicksand – using a totally different method: acceptance. A carrot is not enough to feed you, there are other carrots somewhere, you can eat other things, eating the carrot won’t make you happier as this depends on you and not on something outside you, etc. … many alternative thoughts used to flexibilize you and broaden your perception… Acceptance can happen in various ways, by several glimpses of awareness…
So, if you feel that there is something you want that you can’t get for some time – let’s say years – and you want it badly… make an appointment with yourself and take a piece of paper and write that thing down. Imagine that thing as the carrot in the photo above. Then, imagine that you are – some way or another – a stupid donkey that is running like an idiot after a chimera, an illusion. You will probably say that it’s not an illusion but your personal dream – that thing that makes your life worthwhile. Disregard this for now. Then, begin to think about the cliff in front of you and the hole that might hide there. Be aware that, while chasing your dream, you might fall in there. Then, notice your bones coming out of your skin and think about all those things that you lost while pursuing that dream: were they worth losing? What were those things? Put them down on paper! And then, while imagining you are the donkey, turn your head a bit, defocusing from your carrot. Who is riding you? Who’s pushing you? Is it only you? Or it’s your spouse? Your mother or father? Someone you feel grateful to? Who’s life you’re trying to live? What do you want to achieve that you didn’t have in your early age and you believe that now it can make you happy? Then, notice that there is grass around you, available opportunities that you overlooked while always keeping your eyes on your carrot! Ponder on all these!
Does pursuing a carrot really makes you happy? Is it worth it?