I’m afraid I’m stating the obvious when I say that here in America we’ve created a culture that worships fortune, fame, and material wealth. It’s as if there were a huge golden carrot hanging in front of everyone, hypnotizing us into believing that if only we have more, do more, achieve more, we’ll be happy.
Of course not everyone falls for this seductive idea. We’re all susceptible to it in varying degrees, depending on our interior landscape and vulnerabilities. How secure we are in ourselves, how inner directed, how well cared for we feel… these are some of the factors that determine whether we’ll worship the carrot.
I fell for it in a big way when I was in my early teens. In my family, intelligence and worldly achievement were highly prized. It wasn’t that I was specifically told that I would only be valued if I was successful, but I looked around, saw what was going on in my family, and drew my own conclusions. The message I took in was that one way or another, if I was going to be worth anything, I needed to be quite something.
I lost my dad when I was 14, not long after I’d begun playing in a band. I’d already decided I was a musician, and was eager to find my way in that field. Soon I made friends with another young musician who convinced me that the way to certain happiness was to be in a super rock and roll band. We’d have all the money, girls, friends, and especially important for me, recognition we’d ever need. I totally bought into that idea, and that’s when I signed on to the dream of the golden carrot.
See, I was in a perfect setup, because I was insecure, didn’t feel well connected to my own family, and felt the weight of impossible expectations. But I could play keyboards, so this seemed like the perfect way out of all the unhappiness and stress I felt inside. I dove head first into the idea of seeking inner peace through outward accomplishment.
And because I latched onto it so firmly during my formative years, it took me years to find my way out of that mindset, and it still haunts me every so often. So, I can understand why we’re fascinated by American Idol, why we think we need plastic surgery to look younger, why we need to have the latest car, cell phone, and whatever else there is Out There we might desire, in order to try and fill something missing inside.
And though you won’t find it in the DSM, the cannon of psychological disorders that psychiatrists and therapists use to bill insurance, chasing the golden carrot is a real form of mental illness. We have it collectively as a culture, and some of us have it bad as individuals.
How do you know if you have this disease? Here’s a handy checklist. See if any of these apply to you:
- You have enough money to cover your needs, but you work to the point of stress, where you’re always tired.
- You’re focused way more on future goals than on enjoying your life today.
- You feel compelled to have that thing, whatever it might be, that promises to make you happy.
- You’re competitive to the point where you feel a driving need to be better than other people at whatever it is you’re trying to do.
- It’s hard to sit and relax, and enjoy a conversation with someone, without feeling pulled by your phone, your screen, or your plans.
- You obsess over things in life you can’t control.
- You feel guilty or ashamed if you’re not working, doing accomplishing something.
- You make it a point to bring up your accomplishments in conversation, in order to impress people.
- You believe that if only you were better looking, thinner, richer, or smarter, your life would improve and everything would be OK.
I’m glad to say that I know lots of people who do not have this disease, and I admire and gravitate toward them. There is something very peaceful and nurturing about being around a person who is comfortable and satisfied with their life, just the way it is. Theirs is a healing presence.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that I found myself back in that place recently, dissatisfied and trying desperately to control something that just could not be controlled. I’m pretty sensitive to that state of mind these days, and it wasn’t long before I felt miserable, and knew I’d gone off course.
So, I sat myself down and had a little chat with myself, to try to get my mind right, as they say. I asked for some help from above — not help controlling what I couldn’t control — but help letting go, accepting, and appreciating my life. A little humility was called for. I had to say, look, human, drop the demands, and start being grateful for all I’d been given. In other words, tune in to the larger agenda.
Of course, if you’ve listened to my podcast for a while you know that I do have a shortcut to all this. All the thinking, planning, and more thinking I can ever do, doesn’t help me when I’m going off course. Over time, I’ve learned that the quickest way out of my dilemma, is to get out of my head, and drop into my heart. Then I rest there for a while, and listen. For me, getting into my heart is the fastest way out of trouble, and back into that feeling of grace and ease. It’s so different from what I thought was going to work for me, so long ago when I was just a kid. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Life is funny that way.
If you resonate with what I’ve said, you might enjoy checking out my work, especially my guided meditation program called Heart Meditations. You can find that, along with dozens of other programs that help, here at The Healing Waterfall. Thanks for listening.