1. I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the pavement. I fall in. I am lost…I am hopeless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
2. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
3. I walk down the same street There is a deep hole in the sidewalk I see it is there. I still fall in…it’s a habit. My eyes are open I know where I am It is my fault I get out immediately.
4. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk I walk around it.
5. I walk down a different street.
I first came across the Autobiography in Five short Chapters around the turn of the century. I read it in Sogyal Rinpoche’s “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”. It had a strong and an immediate impact on me, and I have since used to whenever I am trying to detect patterns in my life and in myself. Which is, kind of, always.
Patterns are like waves on the shore, they crash and recede, then crash again. If the wind is blowing a certain way, there may be more debris floating on the surface. If it is stormy, the waves may be destructive. If it is calm, they waves may only lap at the shoreline. But the waves keep coming.
Most of us live like on Repeat. We get some ingrained habits when we are young, then never question them. They can be useful – brushing your teeth. And they can be toxic – narcissists, for example, are formed, not born. The reason that the Autobiography in Five Short Chapters is so useful is twofold:
Firstly, it shows us the cyclical nature of our problems. Then, it shows us that we are responsible for behaviour that repeats.
This resonates particularly strongly with me because of my penchant for independence. I believe that the point of living is to be(come) free. Freedom is about making good choices even when no one is looking. It is about walking down another damn street, making that change and getting the hell out of the rut. You are simply NOT free as long as you are on auto-pilot. Truth.
So, every time you catch yourself going round and round again in that same old loop, STOP! read the Autobiography in Five Short Chapters and ask yourself “Which chapter am I on?”
I have done this many times, answering myself “oh, 4” and then a year or two later, I repeat, and I ask myself “Which chapter am I on?” and maybe this time I am a little more humble and say “maybe 3?”
Change takes time, deep change takes forever, but you get there slowly and one day you find yourself WALKING DOWN A DIFFERENT STREET. And then, you’re free. Well, free of that habit at least.
A fundamental part of my philosophy of Renaissance 2.0 is the idea of personal responsibility for one’s health and happiness. But, in contrast to some of the anti-maskers in the Wellness world, although I advocate personal responsibility, I also advocate for collective responsibility. In fact, the roots of my understanding of anarchism is that we are at once personally responsible and socially/collectively responsible. These shared duties are the cornerstone of a truly free society. Maybe if we were to ask ourselves, collectively, which chapter are we on, and answer honestly, humanity might stand a chance of getting out of the mess that we have made for ourselves. (I refer to the economic and environmental mess. I believe that we are doing well in some things and poorly in others. More on that later).
For now, peace and goodnight. Be well, be strong and be free.