Is The Glass Half Full Or Half Empty?
It’s the day after Christmas. Did you get what you wanted? Sometimes I wonder about that myself. I have many of the things I have wanted. I can look around in any room in my house and find something that I wanted. When I’m outside, returning to the world for an errand, an outing, I can still find something that I wanted.
I have considered the question of what it would mean to me to get everything that I ever wanted. I have run mental experiments to see how I might feel if I could just think of something and have it. I have seen fantasy shows that have similar themes. I’m reading a fantasy book right now that has some of that going on. I watch my kids playing video games, and I still see that going on. There is this sort of undying hope that we could have what we want by thinking of it.
I have found that to a large extent this is true. Our brains have difficulty telling the difference between reality and dreams. Whatever we’re thinking or dreaming, our brains tend to manifest the conditions that make what we’re thinking come true. We imagine doing everything that we’re planning on doing. We imagine our goals before we undertake them. So I’m careful with my thoughts. I consider what will manifest with what I’m thinking.
Long ago, I had a conversation about this with a friend. We were talking about prayer and what prayer can manifest in life. My friend knew of another who had been praying for the things that he wanted, and, to a large extent, he got what he wanted. Yet he still wasn’t happy.
I know what it’s like to want something and not get it. I’ve found that desire is somewhat akin to the bondage of self. I have found that desire tends to limit my aspirations. I have also found that a want, whatever that want may be, limits the possibilities in my life to just what I know.
In the last 18 years of my life, I have often found that what I want isn’t necessarily confined to what I know about. I like to think of this concept as “set theory”. It’s a mental experiment that I have used for myself to relieve myself of pangs of want and desire. It’s a very simple thought experiment that anyone can do and it goes like this. Take a sheet of paper, or imagine one if you like, and draw a small letter “o” in the center. Like this:
Everything in that little circle is what you know. It’s a very small sphere of knowledge relative to the universe. Everything you have ever seen, touched, smelled, or heard, is in there. Everything you have ever imagined is in there, too. Now draw another circle around the first one, like this:
That second circle contains everything that you know you don’t know. Every question that you have dared to ask, but not answered, is there, in that bigger circle. You know your limits from that circle, and relative to the universe, that’s a pretty small circle.
Those two circles may represent everything that you could know that you want, too. For a moment, just imagine that everything you know you want is in those two circles. But what about the rest, you know, everything that is outside of those two circles. What you want could be outside of those two circles. Those two circles could be “the glass”.
The glass is an illusion because we cannot actually define those two circles. What we know is always changing. What we have is always changing. We breathe in, we breathe out, and what we want and have has changed, if only for a moment. We get up to pee and what we wanted is no longer wanted, it is used up. We lose something and learn we’ll never get it back, we may have to grieve for a time, and then change our minds about what we wanted. We may have to change our expectations to avoid disappointment.
I’m still thinking about that guy who was able to pray for what he wanted and then get what he wanted. I was not terribly surprised that he was not happy with the gifts in his life resulting from his prayers. The worst fate one could have is to know the contents of every birthday gift we might ever receive before we can open them. No surprises? No fun.
I have seen in my life, an unending stream of gifts that I didn’t know about before I got them. These were things that were not within my consciousness. On more than a few occasions, I didn’t know that they were gifts until after I discovered their utility. Or maybe I got something and somehow the cost of that thing was mitigated by something else, a refund, a bonus, money found inside the couch. Or sometimes, someone gives something to me that they no longer needed, but it turned into treasure for me. Those two circles above, are the set of what I know and what I know I don’t know. The universe has bestowed to me, many gifts that were out there, beyond that set.
So I keep my prayers as open as I possibly can. I don’t want to limit my prayers to my consciousness. I don’t want to even think too hard about what I want so as to have the lightest touch of my influence upon the universe. This isn’t to say that I don’t plan for my needs. I do that. But I try to let everything else fall as it may to see what happens next. That’s why I want to stay alive. I want to see what happens next.
I’m agnostic about everything. I’ve read enough about particle physics to know that we don’t even know what reality is. We are composed of a buzzing cloud of particles that we can’t even prove for certain if they exist. We have only clues about what reality is. So I keep my expectations low. And I keep my prayers open:
God, please grant me knowledge of your will for me and the power to carry that out.
I don’t believe in God, either. But I have some evidence to support the notion that I’m a part of something called, “the universe”. I use the word “God” as a metaphor for the universe. I am conscious, but I cannot step outside of my consciousness and say, “That’s my consciousness, and that’s the universe.” Technically, I cannot distinguish between the two.
So I keep it open. I want my mind to be as open as possible. I reserve judgment to the greatest extent possible in an action called, “faith”. I toss beliefs that don’t work for me as quickly as possible. I take what I want and leave the rest. I keep my expectations very low so as to see what is before me at any point in time and accept it, without reservation, so that I may make the most accurate appraisal of the conditions around me.
I don’t worry about the glass. I am only concerned with being in the present. I want to notice who is here, what is here, and that I can make a choice about what to do next in any given moment. I find freedom in my mind, not in the conditions around me.
I have found this attitude promotes a positive feedback loop, too. The lower my expectations, the greater my happiness, the greater my happiness, the more I appreciate the gifts that I didn’t ask for, and the gifts keep coming. The gifts keep coming because I’m thinking about what I have, not what I lack. Wash, rinse, repeat. Happiness compounds with interest.
I don’t need to know if the glass is full or not. I only need to leave my expectations at the door so that I may see a reason, any reason at all, to be happy.