So Much (for) Advice!

Posted on 2013 July 8

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My favorite Australian blogger has hit the nail on the head once again, this time with her critique of advice blogs:

“Seriously, practically every second blog that I read attempts to tell me how to be happier, prettier, craftier or more spiritual . . . These writers have no more of a clue about this old thing called life than I have. Self professed experts, bloggers, life coaches, guru-like sparkle ponies. . . . If you’re seeking fulfilment through the advice of people who very likely have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about . . . you may need to have a look at how that’s working out for you.”

When I was done chuckling, I wondered: how can there be so much advice on how to live, and such a variety of ideas, and at the same time so many people are still unhappy, unfulfilled, overweight, ill, lonely, and so forth? Is it because we don’t read the advice? Is it because we fail to abide by the various words of wisdom? But which advice should we take? Different diets contradict each other; life coaches urge us to “use our willpower” or “follow our hearts” or “be kind to everyone” or “be one step ahead of everyone”; spiritual ideas vary as widely as the religions they represent. So who’s right?

Maybe none of them. And not because they haven’t yet found the true answer.

I replied to the blogger:

Strangely, your idea to stop taking so much advice is good advice.

We try to make ourselves better the way a dog chases its tail. We’re not standing over here while the problem’s over there; we ARE the problem. The thing that needs fixing is the thing doing the fixing; it’s impossible. But to realize this feels painfully hopeless, so we avoid the pain … and lose the insight.

When people reach desperately for Paradise with locked elbows, they push it away. On the other hand, when we stop searching for a better life, the better life that awaits us simply appears. But we’d rather feel we’re “in control” of our lives, and so we turn down the free happiness. We can’t give up the fantasy that we are independent, noble agents of change who happen to live inside human bodies. Losing that belief is too awful to contemplate. So we become trapped in struggle, and can’t allow ourselves to escape.

“Every human being’s essential nature is perfect and faultless, but after years of immersion in the world we easily forget our roots and take on a counterfeit nature.” — Lao-Tzu

Timothy Gallwey has written extensively about his system of coaching tennis: he trains players to focus, not on controlling their performance, but on unimportant details, like whether the ball is bouncing or being hit. The idea is that your mind, otherwise occupied, stops back-seat-driving itself, and your nervous system is then free to learn the skills it needs. He taught this to an attorney, whose tennis game improved immediately. The following week, however, the lawyer’s game skills had deteriorated. When asked why, he admitted that Gallwey’s system worked beautifully, but it had left him without the feeling he really wanted: being in control.

And there’s the problem in a nutshell: we’d rather be in charge of ourselves than be happy.

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