In the movie Wonderful World, Matthew Broderick plays Ben Singer, a children’s singer-songwriter who has given up on his career and on his life. Singer is full of explanations that justify his poor decisions. All of these explanations involve blaming circumstances or society in general.
Finally, the illness of his roommate forces Singer to re-examine his choices. In the closing scene of the film, Singer is making a comeback performance. The emcee comes out dressed as a clown and is barefoot. He asks the children in the audience if anyone has seen his socks. The children are laughing, pointing and yelling to him that his socks are in his pocket. For a while to keep the mirth going, the emcee pretends not to understand the children or notice his socks.
This closing scene is a perfect metaphor for Singer’s life, as well as our own. Our “socks” are really in our pocket, and we pretend to not understand.
Consider this scenario. It is Monday morning and you can’t find your car keys. You notice the mess that your spouse has made on the dresser; in your mind, you immediately begin to complain. While it’s true you have to find your car keys, the mental complaining is completely optional. Your “socks”—in this case your mental equilibrium—are truly in your pocket. Your spouse’s mess does not have to be cleaned up before you find a healthy and stress-free state of mind. Indeed, the mess is a reminder to you that you can choose peace-of-mind over being right.
But you insist your socks are not in your pocket, you grab your keys, and go off to work. Immediately you encounter heavy traffic and, in your perception, inconsiderate drivers. More mental complaining ensues; your mood drops further. You add your story to the circumstances you are in, insisting that finding your peace-of-mind depends upon changing your circumstances.
Have you ever noticed that even when you change external circumstances, you will often have the same internal experience? For example, if you have a tendency to worry and you “fix” the circumstances that you are worried about, you will find something new to worry about. More often than not, even when you change our circumstances, as the old saying says, “wherever you go, there you are.”
Sometimes changing external circumstances is called for. But that is rarely a first step. The first step is to stop trusting our feelings and our erroneous thinking.
We pay far too much attention to our feelings. Feelings lie. Our feelings are generated by the quality of the thoughts running through our head. Anxious thoughts generate, for example, a low mood or a physical tension in our body. Typically we use our feelings as guides for our behavior. We can make a different choice: We can read our feelings as signals of the quality of our thinking.
Does that mean we need to continually monitor and change our thinking? No, that would be exhausting and ultimately futile. Instead, we can simply notice that we are feeling, for example, anxious, fearful, or angry. Then we can notice the quality of our thinking is not being caused by the world. If we are ready to give up blaming people or circumstances, just seeing and questioning the quality of our thinking will loosen the grip our thinking seems to have on us; and automatically, we make room for a deeper intelligence to go to work.
This deeper intelligence offers us nothing but Wisdom and Love. Every moment of every day it is telling us where our socks are. And what is amazing is that this deeper intelligence is standing by whether life’s challenges are daunting or trivial. What we perceive as inconsiderate drivers are also helpers whispering to us a message: “Hey buddy, you are blaming me for your choice to not turn in the direction of a peaceful state of mind. You can make another choice right this moment.”
Like Singer, most of us believe that barriers to happiness are outside ourselves; thus we set out to get more of this or less of that. Change comes from a place deeper than our personality. We can stop struggling with self-improvement projects. Instead we can look in the direction of understanding the power that we have given our thinking to distort our experience of reality. As we improve our understanding, change will happen effortlessly. Our socks really are in our pockets.