When we’re exposed to certain stimuli for a long time- maybe even a lifetime- we tend to take them for granted. We subconsciously assume that, “This is just how things are,” because we’ve rarely seen them done another way.
When we do see variations from the norm we are dumbfounded. Either we express cruelty toward deviance or we close our eyes to it. And if something strange is merely heard about, we may consider it an impossibility—just a story, you know.
When I was 16 my Cross Country coach gave me a book called Running Within. At one point the author, Jerry Lynch, talks about a man who ran a 100 mile race. I had never heard of runs longer than a marathon (26.2 miles) before this. As I scanned the passage I barely felt or thought anything: there was nothing remotely close to, “Someone ran 100 miles?!” This was incomprehensible to me to the point that I could not even contemplate it. If the next sentence said, “2 years from now you will complete a 62 mile run,” my brain probably would have turned into dinner.
It would be another year before I accepted that ultramarathons were not only possible, but a thing people actually did. This was thanks to Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run being placed into my lap. Why I was open to the possibility then I’m not certain, but indeed it helped to have read a detailed, first-hand account of running ultramarathons as opposed to a single paragraph on the matter. By some force I now allowed this story into my conscious processes, and in the end considered it as truth.
At some point someone decides to sit down and listen to the story of the minority- the people on the edge-, and they are convinced. The question is what leads that person to be so aligned with Openness all of a sudden (another article for another day, eh?).
What’s more important, though, is that you can choose to embrace life with openness. You can consciously question your thoughts, your behavior, and everything around you. Imagine something wild and wonder if it can be brought into existence—or better yet, if it has been already. Consider that everything, from objects to activities to life itself, can be better than it is, and may in fact exist in a highly-improved form elsewhere.
Look at the closest object to your right and ask, “Why is this here?” Take a good look at it for at least a few seconds. Did you even notice that thing was there before you asked about it?
I see a sock on my dresser, and it’s tellin’ me that I need to get more organized! I don’t even know where its pal is!
But that’s not all. I see that it’s brown on the bottom from running in the woods—like all my socks. It isn’t a particularly special sock: it’s white and cotton. I’ve had it for longer than I can remember—maybe as long as 5 years. I was 13 five years ago. Good goodness.
From here, I can consider a few things. Do I tend to skimp financially on clothing? On all purchases? Might there be better socks out there than this? Does this brown sock suggest that the rest of my appearance is less than tidy (okay, it is)? Do I have a tendency to leave things out long after they’re due to be filed away (okay, I do)? Are there things I do the same way year after year without even the slightest awareness of the fact?
That may seem pretty in-depth based on a sock, but it shows that you can gain quite a bit of information from one stimulus simply by asking the right questions.
Always see whether you can ask general questions and draw general conclusions from one thing, whether that thing is a person, an object, a place, a thought, an attitude, a feeling, an event, and so on.
The basic questions are these two: (1) I’ve labelled an entity x as an exception to the norm, but what if x represents something that is actually more commonplace and/or significant than I realize? (2) An entity x has always been present in my life, and I have taken it for granted. But what if x actually is not normal? What if there is something better than x that I can create or find?
In short, (1) asks, “What do I consider as abnormal or bad that might actually be normal or okay?” (2) asks, “What do I consider as normal or good that might actually be abnormal or suboptimal?”
Please note that “normal” does not mean “okay” or “justifiable.” Crudely put, normal simply means “common enough.” Likewise, “abnormal” does not always mean “better,” “bad,” “suboptimal,” “good,” “optimal,” etc.—this depends upon the situation. Normal/abnormal is simply a numbers game. Optimal/suboptimal, or improvement/stagnation, is far more important to consider.
I’ve labelled my cruel behavior toward this one person as an exception to the norm, but what if I actually am cruel far more often than I realize? Could this mean that I’m actually less content with my life than I thought I was? What might I believe that leads me to be so hostile and miserable?
Remember—with the right line of questioning one observation can go a long way.
The Questions You May Not Have Asked
Now for some other questions. These may or may not be remarkable, but when asked for the first time they can lead to major changes in the way you look at the world and act within it.
Is a bed the only comfortable place to sleep, or might the floor do just as well?
Does all of your food have to be coated in sugar? Or are there plenty of unsweetened options out there, and you don’t actually need to taste sweetness as much as you thought?
Do farm animals really have to be pushed into overcrowded, overheated, disease-ridden conditions that provide them the wrong diet? Do you have to eat those particular animals?
Do you need meat at all? How about grains? Fruit? Polyunsaturated fats?
Is a job the only way you can make money? Do you have to start at the simplest, lowest-paying level and work your way up over many years in order to make more money?
Do you have to work out at a gym? Could you go to a local park to run, slide down and climb up hills, and lift rocks and logs? Do you have to avoid the snow in the Wintertime? Or, could you trudge through it to strengthen your aerobic threshold, and use heavy ice blocks to practice throwing and lifting?
Do you have to drink water for every 30 minutes that you run, or could you cruise for 5 hours without just fine?
If you claim to be in a relationship with another person, are you limited to emotional intimacy with only that person? Is it possible to be intimate with multiple people without crossing boundaries or triggering jealousy?
Is a formal, public education the best way to learn something? Could you learn it faster on your own or with a group of friends?
Is sleeping 6-10 hours at a time every 24 hours the only healthy way to go about sleep? Could you sleep for 5 hours at one stretch, and then for 30 minutes about 12 hours later and be okay? Could you sleep for 25 minutes at 8 different points in the day and still function?
Is that girl who likes you the only person you have even the slightest chance with? Might there be hundreds of people who would be crazy about you, if only you expressed yourself more honestly?
Was Lucy really such a weird movie? What if it basically reflects the progression humanity will take as consciousness elevates?
Do you have to read a book word-for-word, or could you receive just as much value by skimming through strategically?
Does it have to be so hard to remember small details, or can you use memory systems to remember anything easily?
Do you have to physically and mentally fall apart as you age, or can you remain fit far longer than you imagine?
If you go to a public place by yourself will you explode, or might you have more fun that way?
Should you really be sitting in that chair of yours right now, or could it be slowly destroying your hip flexors?
Are you sure that laying down is the best way to give birth, or might squatting be easier?
Do you honestly think sitting down is the best way to poop?
Will your eyeballs fall out if you spend a day without your phone?
Did Buddha really know what he was talking about? Jesus? God?
Is Salad Fingers just creepy, or does it illustrate psychological conflicts we all may have?
Is Santa Claus real?
Are you real? What would make you real?
Is it time for you to Stop?
There’s no pressure to choose a particular answer. What’s most important is that you ask. You may not always decide on the #1 absolute best answer, but you still may get something far more interesting, accurate, and effective than what you’ve taken for granted.
Keep asking, and you shall keep growing.
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