Confessions of a Modern-Day Walter Mitty

 Table of Contents

Is Your Clarity & Sense of Purpose a Delusion?


Image courtesy of manhhai

Have you ever felt like your future suddenly came into clear focus? Suddenly, you knew what you were supposed to do with your life, as if your guardian angel had descended from the heavens and handed you your personalized marching orders? I believe I’m not the only person in the world who has felt this on occasion.

On the other hand, do you remember who Walter Mitty is? In 1939, the New Yorker published The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by humorist James Thurber, the story of an insignificant and oppressed loser who embellishes his sorry life with constant daydreams of heroism, fame, status, and power. This made such an impact on our society that it was made into a 1947 film (with Danny Kaye) and a 2013 film (with Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, and Kathryn Hahn).

Yet a sense of purpose is a good thing, right? So how do I know if that sense of clarity and purpose is based on a real calling? What if my sense of life mission is delusional? Am I modern-day Walter Mitty or a Thomas Edison who is currently working on his 9,999 failed light bulb? (Thomas Edison is reported to have failed 9,999 times before his final success.)

Here are two examples from my life, and the thing about them is that they do not answer the question. Maybe they are the stories of a schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur or maybe not. Yet I’m continuing to work on my dreams: Of course. That’s what you’d expect of me, whether I’m crazy or a visionary.

The only way to know for sure is to keep going until I’ve flipped the switch on that 10,000th light bulb. Which could be any time in the next forty years since I’ve lost count.

Example #1: The Ultimate Personal Growth Training Program

In mid-February 1976, I had a vision of what I was supposed to do with my life. It was a little late coming—I was already 25 years old—and it was beyond my ability. Frankly, I wasn’t even interested in parts of it. It seemed too much like science fiction. Worse yet, it involved (Kill me now, okay?) computer programming.

Yet this vision inspired me at the deepest level, and it’s been the guiding principle for my life from that day forward. When I tell people about it, I call it “my download,” as if I were certain that some form of divinity had cooked up this undoable path and had decided that I was the guy to do it. And although I’m still not certain of this, I still call it “a download.”

I’ve now written the entire training system that I visualized, which required decades of research and 1½ million words. I started the Joyful Wisdom Community so that I would give my work to an organization when it reaches a certain level of maturity. I’ve learned quite a bit of computer programming, and I’ve created the first six computerized lessons. At 65, I’m still planning to finish the work, though I still don’t believe that I can.

There are certainly things that seem miraculous about it. I visualized creating an entire training program for personal transformation which always fit your exact needs by using automation. I imagined people creating a customized training programs, filled with exercises and practices that suited their needs precisely, whether they were dealing with health problems, unruly children, clutter, poverty, anxiety, loneliness, or depression—or pursuing life goals and dreams that they needed help with.

After each meditation or exercise, I visualized, they would be able to discover what they needed next by following a few links. What seems miraculous today is that hyperlinks—the kind that are all over the internet—were first introduced publicly in 1977. That’s more than a year after my vision.

I’m 65, now, and I still haven’t accomplished what I was assigned in this download. I didn’t believe my vision, because I’m still not the right guy. Furthermore, the project is still beyond me, as it has always been. I felt I was inadequate to do the job in 1976, and I still feel inadequate today.

Yet it’s still the guiding principle of my life.

Was the “download” a fake? How am I to evaluate the fact that it’s 40 years later, and I’m still working on it? I had to overcome my allergy against computer code and overcome a lot of other personal issues with this “assignment,” which is another unproven word that I use to describe it.

I needed to be highly inspired to sustain an effort like this for over 40 years, including all the personal work that was involved. But I can’t prove that it was “a download” or “an assignment.” Nonetheless, the fact that I believed that it was both a download and an assignment was absolutely necessary for me to work as unceasingly as I did.

Example #2: The Motorcycle Teaching Tour

In April 2015, I was taking a course from Jean Houston (called “Awaken Your Quantum Powers”) which involved guided meditations in small practice groups that met over the telephone. As always, my highest purpose involved my vision and download from 1976 as described previously. I felt that I was doing a poor job of communicating what I had to offer.

I was doing a guided meditation together with my small group, and in the sharing portion of the conversation, I began to describe what I had seen. In my vision, I had seen myself on a motorcycle, driving all over the continent, and teaching.

To understand the context of this vision, you should know that in my previous 64 years, I had never before wanted to drive a motorcycle or even imagined it. It was NOT on my bucket list—not even the bucket with the big hole rusted through the bottom. To my knowledge, it wasn’t even on the bucket list of anyone I knew in 2015.

You should also know that I was very nervous about the entire idea, partly because I have had multiple sclerosis for twenty years, and if I wasn’t managing it with strict dietary restrictions, high dosage Vitamin D, and other interventions, I’d probably be walking with a cane—not riding a motorcycle.

In British Columbia, the requirements of driving a motorcycle are strict. Almost everyone who gets licensed has taken a $700 to $800 course, and taking that course is no guarantee that you’ll pass the DMV test. I myself had to take both the $700 course and a remedial course (that cost several hundred dollars extra) before passing the exam on the second try in October 2015.

On February 29, 2016, I took off on the motorcycle tour that I had visualized 10 months earlier for the first time. I first taught the workshop at a Nine Gates Mystery School reunion in Joshua Tree, California, and then I headed into Mexico to teach the workshop in Veracruz state, where it would be translated into Spanish by Enrique from our Sunday group.  As I write this blog, I’m heading into my fourth month on the road.

While I was driving down toward my destination in Mexico, I realized that I couldn’t offer our regular groups to people who I couldn’t understand (since my Spanish is still so poor). I suddenly began to feel that it wasn’t fair to come into town to tease the people there to hungering for practices that they could never, ever have.

This uncomfortable feeling led me to many different conversations, and in the end, I began to emphasize the Four Fundamental Skills, because those could be practiced without the groups that I led. In addition, this uncomfortable feeling led me to creating the Fundamental Skills Routine, which takes a mere five to ten minutes in the morning.

Was the inspiration that was so powerful that it got me onto the road a real inspiration, or just a delusional idea that will eventually get me killed? It sure felt like another download, and it was such an extreme distance from my comfort zone that I can’t imagine that it’s not a download.  It must have been real.

Exactly what a visionary would say. Exactly what a schizophrenic would say.

Commitment: Does It Matter if It’s a Real Download?

In the 1970s, my personal path led me to a spiritual organization called “The Community,” founded by an Argentinean leader named Silo. In one of the ads for their meetings, they made the following point (paraphrased from something I read 40 years ago, which in turn was a paraphrase of Silo’s teachings by one of his followers).

Imagine, they said, that you are about to die, and that you know for absolute certain that your entire life and consciousness ends in death. How do you feel? Now imagine that you are about to die, and that you know for certain that life goes on after death. How do you feel now?

Since no one can prove or disprove life after death, Silo taught, you get to choose. Which belief about death is most useful for you?

Silo taught that many of our beliefs have no actual proof and that the beliefs that we choose to create are what empowers us or disempowers us. Our beliefs provide meaning and a path through suffering, as well as determining whether we move forward with a sense of optimism or pessimism.

If you do an inventory of your beliefs, you’ll discover that there are an amazing number of them that you can’t prove. Our beliefs are part of what Silo called “our internal landscape.” The world we live in is not the landscape that is outside of us, but our internal depiction of it.

Our internal landscape consists of what we see, hear, and otherwise sense, combined with our beliefs about what we experience. External reality is only half of it. This is why so many of the most committed rationalists are such bombastic, arrogant, dogmatic, and opinionated Archie Bunkers.

Our moods, feelings, level of optimism or pessimism, actions, reactions, relationships, attitudes, choices, plans, and ability to fulfill those plans are all directly created from our internal landscape.

They are not based on actual reality.

We Choose & Create Our Internal Landscapes

Anything we believe about the future is by definition fictional. We often interpret our experiences from the past from preexisting beliefs and attitudes. If we’re optimistic already, we can sincerely find the silver lining in the worst disasters, and if we’re pessimistic already, we can find fault with the most wonderful celebrations and events.

Our view of the past, present, and future are filtered through the preexisting beliefs and attitudes that define our internal landscapes. So how do we manage these internal landscapes for the greatest happiness and most productive and satisfying lives?

The problem is that our beliefs are as invisible to us as water is to a fish. We believe that our world works in a certain way, and changing those beliefs requires that we become aware of something that we don’t even notice in our regular lives. Saying things like “Don’t believe everything you think” may be funny, but does it really free you to live a better life?

Until recently, psychology as been the study of both mild and severe mental illness and the practice of seeking cures. Positive Psychology is a new branch that focuses on happiness, satisfaction in life, and personal growth rather than on solving problems.  In our groups, we have borrowed practices from Positive Psychology—with our own unique spin, of course—such as The Acknowledgement Round—The Skill We Forget to Use.

However, everything we do using the Four Fundamental Skills changes your state. Starting your day with the Fundamental Skills Routine will usually set up your day to be much more optimistic. It’s easiest to learn this routine in a workshop, but the webpage is complete and accurate.

While these different practices will assist you in changing your internal landscape, they’re not very precisely targeted at your actual beliefs. The habit of seeking out the beliefs that control you and debating them is vital to getting free of them. Unfortunately, we currently don’t have an app that helps with this, though you can get some help from the app Chase a Whisper Through a Secret Door to Find Your Place of Power.

The general routine for seeking out your beliefs and debating them are as follows. You will do better with them if you find someone to help you work these steps. (See Cougar the Coach.)

  1. The Situation. Describe the situation that upset you or that you feel dissatisfied with your experience. Describe it to a friend or coach or in your journal. If you’re talking to a friend, ask them to just listen and make sure you’ve been complete in your description.
  2. The Beliefs. Review or think over what you’ve just described. Ask yourself what you believed about the situation: things like personal rules about how life should be or about how others should act. If you’re talking with a friend, ask them to draw your ideas out, rather than inserting their own interpretations.
  3. The Consequences. Usually, when you figure out what you think other people should be like, the emotional consequences of anger, hurt, withdrawal, or whatever are pretty obvious. But say them out loud or write them in your journal anyway.
  4. Debate the Beliefs. In this step, review the beliefs that led to the emotional consequences and state aloud exactly why they might be wrong—or write your  reas0ns down clearly in your journal. Once again, don’t rely on the fact that this step might be obvious. If you’re talking to a friend, they might help you debate the beliefs, but the points made against the beliefs should mostly come from you.
  5. Predict the New Consequences. The new consequences from changing your beliefs may also seem obvious, but take the time to write them down or state them aloud. Doing so will help you get free from the original beliefs that are keeping you in bondage.

The above procedure is the basis for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, which was developed by Dr. Albert Ellis in the mid-1950s, but it is perfectly within the reach of you and a friend or you working by yourself in a journal. You have the power to change your internal landscape at times when you need to do so.

You simply need to know that 1) Your beliefs aren’t necessarily true, 2) They have a powerful effect on your well-being, and 3) You can change them.


One response to “Confessions of a Modern-Day Walter Mitty

  1. FloatingOnSmiles (FOS)

    Great essay! I like the fact that you use logic to challenge your beliefs, and logic supports beliefs that help you and gives a basis to discard beliefs that hold you/us back. Blind faith that is never challenged is SO limiting!

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