Two men are raised by an abusive and alcoholic father. One becomes very successful. The other becomes an alcoholic. When the one is asked for the reason for his success, he says, "Well, wouldn't you be like this if you had a father like that?" When
the other one is asked for the reason for his alcoholism, he says, "Well, wouldn't you be like this if you had a father like that?
I don't know where I first heard this story, but it occasionally occurs to me to share it.
I can never know what anyone will get from the story, but for me, it illustrates the incredibly powerful and random nature of thought, and how it unknowingly-to-us, defines our personal reality, our sense of who we are, our ideas of what we can, cannot,
should, or should not do, and all of our ideas of right and wrong.
Thousands of personally unique thoughts get served up to each of us, every day... an incomprehensible streaming energy of nonstop thought flowing through our mind, with
our human system somehow giving significance to some thoughts as if they are real and true, and somehow dismissing others.
For my clients who are really hard on themselves (as most of us often are in various ways), this story helps me
point them to the innocence of each person's life path... how our thoughts about life and ourselves, somehow become invisibly ingrained as beliefs in each of our minds, until (if and when) we gain insight (deeper than our intellect) about any of our hidden
beliefs and/or their arbitrary and limiting nature.
I'll also sometimes point out that the son being "driven to success" is in some ways, no better or worse than the son being "driven to alcohol". Both habits of action can come with many
consequences, and both habits of action can in many moments, come from a common source... experiencing feelings of discomfort and then coping with the distraction-drug of striving for success, or the numbing-drug of alcohol... or perhaps even both.
The list of options and habits that we humans use to distract, numb, and avoid our thoughts and feelings is endless... and we have all tried many of them.
In this story, the successful son, in his nagging moments of discomfort, somehow
learned to find temporary relief in his busyness, his control, his perfectionism, his "always the next thing" striving to obtain or achieve. The alcoholic son, in his nagging moments of discomfort, somehow learned to find temporary relief in alcohol.
Both were doing what seemed to allow them to feel better. Both of them felt genuinely justified in their behaviours. Both of them were seeing their situation through the filters of their own ingrained beliefs... a random mix of complex ideas somehow pulled
out of their life's history of thought, about themselves, about their past, and about life as they think it is now.
At some point, the successful son could potentially discover that all of his success has never completely stopped his feelings
of discomfort, and in some ways has made some of his feelings worse. At some point, the alcoholic son could potentially discover that his drinking has never completely stopped his feelings of discomfort, and in some ways has made some of his feelings worse.
And perhaps, in a moment of despair of realizing the inability to permanently rid themselves of their feelings of discomfort, they somehow give up their coping, they somehow drop their habitual resistance to the discomfort, and they somehow
allow the space to realize something new about life...
...Perhaps realizing their own innocence in just doing the best they could to manage the thinking/feeling that they were given, and they had somehow learned to believe and follow.
...Perhaps realizing some sense of the limited and arbitrary nature of any thought or feeling, that doesn't always need to be held onto so tightly, or taken so seriously.
...Perhaps realizing some sense that feelings aren't
ever wholly and directly tied to singular circumstances, but instead are born of an infinitely complex web of time and thought and attention.
...Perhaps realizing the inevitable and naturally recurring appearance of feelings of discomfort
throughout every human being's life, and that those feelings could be experienced without the need to figure them out or resist or avoid or overcome.
...Perhaps realizing the deeper nature of themselves as human beings, as always being
enough, exactly as they are in each passing moment.
...Perhaps directly experiencing a profound feeling of peace and contentment that they realize has always already been there, found in the complete absence of all their ideas and beliefs
Who knows if or when either son may realize something new and profound about life for themselves, but how helpful it is to know that one of the functions of being human is our infinite potential for new insight in any moment,
offering the possibility of a bit more grace in navigating life, despite whatever circumstances arise, and despite however our thinking/feeling defines them.
Sydney Banks offers his words of wisdom in this regard... "If the only thing
that people learned, was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world."