As humans living in a physical world of material things, we are used to seeing, touching, hearing, tasting, smelling, and basing our thoughts and judgments on external things. We look at a clock or the calendar, mentally compare it to our next due date or the length of our to-do list, and we decide whether to groan or celebrate. We look at our bodies, compare them to the images we see in the media, and decide whether we measure up or fall short. We see the cars, houses, clothes, and toys others have, compare them to our own, and decide where we fall on the spectrum of "how well I am doing." Do you see any kind of pattern here?
In each instance, we're looking outward, making our satisfaction in life contingent upon somehow measuring up to externally created criteria. We forget that many of those expectations are created by other humans to benefit those who sell stuff. And they are very good at their jobs! After all, who decided you needed stainless steel appliances and granite countertops? Who else decided that this year, we should have faux-stone appliances and quartz counters? And while we're at it, who on earth decided women should walk around wearing high heels? Who decided that size 10 was better than 16, that size 4 was better than size 10, and when did we all agree that that size 0 models should determine how we ought to look in our clothes?
The marketplace has gotten very large and very loud. The voices telling us we "should" have this, or "ought" to do that, dress that way, shave there and buff here are very insistent!
One of the jobs I've held was managing HUD-subsidized housing, and - as you might imagine - there's a lot of paperwork involved. Income eligibility needs to be determined, subsidies calculated, and continuing eligibility is recertified at least annually. For the most part, the actual eligibility requirements remained the same. But nearly every year, and sometimes even more frequently, the paperwork changed. This form replaced that form, this agreement superseded that agreement, and I was always somewhat confused as to why that was. One day, it occurred to me that maybe the forms changed simply because the people who were responsible for designing the forms needed to keep busy in order to maintain their employment.
I'm not saying this was any big, evil, conspiracy, or even done with any awareness of what they were doing. But really, at what point do we get to say, "Well done, Form-Makers! These forms serve us well and meet the needs of all parties concerned. Yay You!"?
At what point is "enough", enough?
Learning to exercise our free will involves accepting that we live in a continual state of choice, recognizing that those choices are constantly changing, and that we are responsible for our choices. Learning to exercise our free will requires us to leave the comfortable rut of victimhood. Free will requires us to look squarely at our lives, assess what is most important to us, remember that WE are the ones who chart the course of our own lives, and actually choose. Finally, learning to live with free will means that we accept the consequences of those choices, and remember that we have no one to blame if things don't work out the way we'd hoped. If things don't work out the way we'd hoped, we reassess the situation and choose more wisely the next time.
Bit by bit, we learn and move forward. We begin to see that our choices have an impact on all the areas of our lives, and ripple outward, as well. Do I need an 80-inch TV if my 60-inch is still working? Do I need to go into debt buying Christmas gifts just because the retailers want me to believe that expensive, beautifully-wrapped jewelry, electronics, perfumes, toys, video games or other products will make my loved ones love me more? Do I need to receive those expensive gifts to believe that I am loved?
The bottom line, of course, is that we are the ones who are responsible for stopping whatever from of insanity is playing itself out in our lives. We may have believed that all those outside influencers - the media, our bosses, parental or societal expectations - are the source of our unhappiness, but that is not so. Every "should" or "ought" or other expectation you feel you must live up to has the same resolution. Whether it is an intolerable work situation, a family disagreement, neighborhood dispute, or the chaotic political environment, our path to peace is the same.
At some point, we must recognize that the one constant in each of our less-than-optimal situations is the same: us. At some point, we must awaken to the Truth that peace can only come from one place, within us. No outside person or external thing can "give" us peace. We are the ones who must stop looking here, there, and everywhere, and accept that peace is here, present, now, in our midst, and it does not have a price tag or ribbon attached. It only awaits our recognition and acceptance.