“I am not the center of the world; the world is the center of me”
It was the craziest text I had ever received. (Well, almost). But it was hilarious at first glance, and I couldn’t help but laugh just loud enough to embarrass myself in front of small audience on the train ride home. The message reminded me of something I might expect to receive from this hippie ex-girlfriend I used to date during my second year of college. We met while she was working at Hooters, but if you spent an hour looking for her in a bookstore, you’d find her wandering around the “new age” section, spread eagle in an ankle-length skirt in the middle of the aisle. There was a deliberately annoying quality about her that made you wonder if she was TRYING to drive you insane, while sporting that amateur tattoo of Curious George on the small of her back.
It wasn’t her, though. The message came from one of my more mature and sane friends–the kind of mind you can trust to do you a solid and shoot you in the temple when the zombies come. You know the kind: he’s not going sit around and bullsh*t you about how the last decade of film entertainment has equipped you with the survival skills necessary to avoid death. He knows you’re a wuss at heart and won’t let you embarrass yourself when the horde pounces on you. Then, after he executes you, he turns the barrel on himself because he’s a gentleman; last, but certainly not least.
This was the type of guy that sent me this message, and so, I had no choice but to consider it seriously. And I did. Until I forgot a few days later. But, then I remembered it again today while enduring the challenges of what I perceived to be the world against me.
You hear a lot of this talk growing up, from others–from yourself. What often emerges is a trending dialogue about the self against the world; it’s a hero’s story about an entity separate from and raging against a system which denies passage and the purity of its expression. So much of this idea is woven into the fabric of being a participant of civilization, a climactic buildup of solitary efforts to impose our will upon an unwilling system. The struggle itself is one of an inability to let things be; it’s about making something happen in just the way we want it to and accepting nothing less. And so, the world becomes our enemy. We become cynics, forever marred in the depths of intransigence. As I once wrote about in a short piece called “The Uncompromising Man”, the cynic is easy to admire because it appears as if they always get what they want. Yet, in this view the admirer is choosing to subjectively focus on what they perceive to be a perfect record of wins, neglecting to acknowledge the greater number of victories lost to an inability to submit to a greater understanding.
As science begins to uncover the complex identity of human beings, populated vessels for the trillions of symbiotic relationships which exist between simpler organisms and our bodies, there becomes a profound truth in our emerging contextual identities. No longer the sacred, isolated temples once praised by those who came before us, the truth about who we really are and where we belong in the world is reaching new heights of awareness. The definition of what it means to be human has become a story of plurality, of how our humanity itself is not of its own making, born into an inherent value of singularity. Indeed, the privilege of being human is not what it used to be, hinging on the merits of lone intelligence. That being said, Descartes’ philosophy of “I think therefore I am”, as an expression of human existence, would do better by accuracy in proclaiming, “I am because I am with others”.
The perception that the world is not against you, but rather, with you, has a startling impact on one’s experiences of everyday struggles–the most crucial of changes being in the exchange of cynicism for optimism. Optimism comes easily when we perceive that we aren’t alone, that others are with us in our struggles. The ear of a good friend can make a disastrous day at work seem like something that won’t completely destroy us, and a few kind words of encouragement can keep our self-esteem buoyant. This isn’t some kind of magic trickery or crackpot theory. It’s real. People who feel they have the support of friends and family are more likely to cope better with stress and accomplish goals, while those who feel isolated or rejected will often struggle with self-image and have difficulty making strong, positive relationships.
So, how can we manifest these kinds of feelings when they aren’t so apparent? Maybe you DON’T have the support of family and friends, or maybe things do seem to go wrong often in your life. What can we do then? How can we believe that, despite such negative events and misfortune, the world is on our side and we’re not so alone? It really all starts with changing your perception, and nothing illustrates this better than a viral speech/video by David Foster Wallace, called This Is Water. The active monitoring of your mind’s focus is one of the most powerful methods of creating a new, more positive perspective. By shifting the focus of our thoughts from places of narrowness and negativity to new places of openness and positivity, we create conditions ripe for possibilities and creativity.
The trick, though, is the undoing of what has become so typical of how our attention operates. As an example, imagine the beginning of a challenging workday. In this context, your brain appears quite cynical as you’re more likely to consider all that might go wrong that day, rather than any good events that may transpire. We have essentially programed our minds and bodies to focus on and dedicate resources to the anticipation and engagement of negativity. We’re obsessed with problems and why things don’t go our way.
So, to reverse this trend, we must concentrate and change our focus. The imagination of the human mind is arguably the single most adaptive trait of our evolutionary repituior, where positive thoughts can change not only our outlook on life in general, but also the quality of our lives and our health.
Making our minds work to our advantage takes a conscious effort to focus its energies on things that motivate and inspire us, we can choose open-minded thinking that makes room for possibility, and we can focus on the good in people and in ourselves. Then, with all this new found power and focus, we can take action!
The world is full of inspirational people doing positive work every day, and they’ve become examples of how, we too, can change our thinking, our way of living, and become exactly who we want to be.
If you take nothing else from this article, let it be this:
World is with you, whether you know it or not. Start believing.
Here’s a list of some of the most inspiring people I know, doing what they love, and making a positive impact on the world through teaching, photography, and activism:
A New York City street photographer whose stunning images of urban life tell the story of daily human struggles from all angles. His photoblog, UG/Street: Life Photography, features inspiring vignettes of his experiences and provides readers with intimate slices of ordinary lives lived extraordinarily. At the very core of his artwork, the uniqueness and goodness of humanity is celebrated.
An activist for charity and community and youth development, Sufey is a rising star on the stage of inspiring young adults. From the land of Canada, this experienced yogi with a knack for internet marketing has become well-known for her ability to positively impact others. An international speaker and teacher, at just 19, she has been chosen as a top youth leader in an upcoming book entitled 2BillionUnder20. You can connect with Sufey through her website, sufey.org.
One of the most inspiring and heartfelt teachers of our time, he served as a Buddhist monk in Asia under the Thai Buddhist master, Ajahn Chah, and later went on to become a clinical psychologist, contributing to the growing accessibility and benefits of Buddhist psychology. An author of groundbreaking books like “A Path With Heart”, Jack continues to do the good work of bringing peace and happiness within reach of all those who seek it. You can visit his website here.
Through the development of a model called ASSET (Awareness, Self-Efficacy, Science of Happiness, Exploration, and Touch and Connection), this seventeen-year old has created a unique application of lifestyle tools which have inspired young adults to live healthier, more balanced lives. By employing the power of fitness, nutrition, ‘Original Play’, and Mindfulness/Meditation, Tessa is showing the world how to choose a healthier body, mind, and overall lifestyle. You can learn more about Tessa and her impact on young adults from her website, iamtessa.com.