The TWO Realities in Life

by Jacques du Plessis


         There are two realities that intersect in any person's life. The one is the external reality — the statistical probabilities in life itself, which are the chances that certain things will happen. The other is our internal or perceived reality, in other words, our take on life. Both these have to, and do exist. It is our awareness of both these realities that shape our identity.

         For example, a maniac depressive might be high one moment and down the next. In either case, this person has an imbalance between the internal and the external reality and the internal reality does not accurately, and with self-control interpret the external reality. On the one side, to be down does not require an external cause, and on the other side, to be high means flying in the clouds on a cloudless day.

         Think of a person running a marathon. When you are out there running, just about everything external challenges your intention and drains your energy and potential — the heat, the dry air, the stretched out road, your fatigue, etc. If you were to succumb to your external reality, your gusto would wind down rapidly. Eventually you would be telling yourself, "This is madness," or "No way I can do it," or 'Maybe next time," or a string of other perfectly sane and sound reasons to do the same thing — quit.

         So, why is it then that you keep going? You keep going to the measure in which you have prepared your internal reality to cope with the external reality. You knew it would be tiresome, that it would be hot, that you would be facing endless roads and awful climbs while you were completely exhausted. And somehow you keep pushing yourself minute by minute.

         The interesting thing about training for marathons is that beyond fitness, your mind has to be trained — to gain strength from nature and your context and to adapt rapidly to the unexpected. In technical terms – you are trained to turn your fortunes around with mental discipline. Your external reality is not exclusively a drain on your abilities, it also has positive elements. Your focus then is to find the positive elements and to use them to dominate your mental stage. As you run next to the river you sense the ionic charge in the air, that it is cooler and more fragrant. A disciplined mind would use this positive information for internal reinvigoration. You talk to yourself about that fact that you are about to go over the rise where you will have to be tough, because there the road is dry and hot. Mentally you move ahead to the next positive location 4 km down the road where you will pass underneath the shade of rows of trees. Your inner reality is fortifying you and keeps you committed, despite the external reality that challenges you.

         You pick a runner as a marker to keep you paced. Like with the experience by the river, it generates a commitment in your mind to stick to this runner no matter what. Your preoccupation with keeping up helps your mind not to be distracted, which would have presented you with many reasons to reconsider your commitment.

         This marathon analogy is an example of the struggle for success we frequently face. Our internal reality has to be a disciplined and committed environment — trained to look for information in the external world to help preserve and sustain the commitment and discipline.

         I remember the agonizing and priceless lessons I was taught on the endurance runs during marine training. I, with my light frame, looked flimsy and ready to bail out. We had heavy cotton clothing on, we jogged into the sea up to our chest, rifles above our heads. Then we had to crawl around in the sand on the beach, before setting out for agonizing mile after agonizing mile over sand-blown, sage-brush covered prairies. We were all desperate inside, but when I heard the first macho making noises of agony, it filled me with courage to persevere. I had to outlast this guy! And I did. I even offered him encouragement to reaffirm my commitment to deal with it.

         Under trying circumstances, when you sorely need your whits about you, many people make poor decisions. Lacking self-discipline, they allow themselves to entertain thoughts and consequently say and do things that erode or counter the commitment and focus they need to succeed. In fact, they do not even realize that it is an option they have exercised. In so doing their thoughts, acts, and words demoralize themselves and others. They cry out about the hardship, the injustice, or the harshness. They have taught themselves to be sensitively attuned to information from their external reality that might challenge their comfort and contentment. Their silent or outward wailing does not inspire, nor does it cure. Instead they sock it to themselves. They predict, justify, and amplify their own hardship and even failure. In this very hour of need, when they need the most favorable emotional environment just to survive, they throw rocks into their backpacks. This is the time to bravely face your lot, to be tough and wise, to have patience and compassion, and to rise above mediocrity with all your faculties; yet, they wallow in denial of the inevitable commitment that they will have to make if they are to succeed.

         What is the alternative then? It's already said and dearly tough to achieve.

         I'll add this. Like with anything tough you have to accomplish, it helps to practice on calmer seas and to build habits that reflect that vital commitment and self-discipline. Otherwise you might remain ignorantly or arrogantly foolish. (Interesting how similar arrogant and ignorant are from a broader perspective.)

         Train your mind to find the positive. While doing a marathon, it might be the river or the wind that supports your quest. To positively face life, some key words are: priorities, balance, and commitment.

         Priorities: What are your true treasures? Knowing your true treasures will help you determine your priorities and how to cherish these treasures. If you get it wrong about your true treasures, you will neglect what you should not, and nurture the less important.

         Balance: This is a challenge worthy to revisit frequently. Routinely reaffirm your priorities to reconfirm your balance in where and how you spend your time.

         Commitment: If you deem to have the appropriate priorities and the balance in how you spend your time, you now need the commitment, which is self-discipline in great part to make your intentions come true.

         What matters really? Humility before truth enables us to see. If we have not overcome arrogance and ignorance, those two will meddle with our judgment.

         Train your mind not to be distracted by the negative. This does not mean you have to ignore the negative (that would be ignorant), but to see is to identify it for what it is. Here are some key pointers:

— Once you have identified the negative, it is time for self-discipline. It is time to deny the natural lure of negativity from taking root. Negativity would blur your focus, compromise your commitment, sour your emotion, and trick your logic.

— Counter reactive thoughts with commitment — a commitment to be a positive force. This means to be brave, to be disciplined and to be intelligent in dealing with negative issues. Deal with it, don't linger with it. Do not nurse it, put it to bed.

— School your mind to identify the positive. Avoid dwelling on negative, sensationally-laced details which force you to feed yourself with justifications to validate this lesser choice. Be a force for good. If you see only the negative, don't speak. First find the positive, then reflect, then speak. A superb saying by Dorothy Nevill illustrates the point: "The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."

— Express your recognition of and gratitude for the positive in life on a daily basis. What are the reasons for hope that you have identified? With practice, you will become more adept at finding these elements in your external reality. Make your inner reality a well-trained environment that is courageous, self-disciplined and designed to survive and succeed. Live up to the positive and caring individual you are as a conscious choice. It is then that the words of Tsunetomo Yamamoto makes sense: "When one learns to recognize the strong points of others, anyone may become one's model, anyone may be one's teacher."

         Our lives are about personal transformations, reaching to our nobler identity. In doing so, each accomplishment will bless us with a clearer and broader vision, and proof in doing to empower us all the more in the quest.