Why the Future of Humanity Depends on a Buffed Up Don Knotts
Huh? It all comes down to meditation. Don’t worry. We’ll get there. For now, bear with me as I unload on humanity. What the hell are we doing? We get cut off in traffic and erupt, rage spewing out of us like lava. We stand in line at the grocery store and stew over the fact that the checkout guy’s hands aren’t operating at the speed of light. Your best friend pours her heart out to you over the phone about a relationship gone south, but you can’t hear her because you’re fixated on the five things you still need to check off your to-do list. You write off your own brother because his worldview is too liberal…or too conservative.
Why are we behaving like this? Because our stressful job and rambunctious kids make us feel perpetually anxious? Could be. Because we’re frustrated with our station in life? Not successful enough? Not respected enough? Perhaps. Because our brains are off-kilter from having our noses stuck in our phones 24/7? Maybe. One or all of these may apply to WHY we’re acting like this.
But all of this bad behavior emanates from a common source: humans’ egoic selves dominate their conscious selves. Before you click over to check your Instagram, let me explain. It all starts with the fact that humans are comprised of two entities: an egoic self and a conscious self. The egoic self is the person your mind tells you you are. “I am David Gerken. Grew up in Newport Beach, CA, played college tennis, average-looking, hope I have enough money for retirement someday, worried I may have to get my other hip replaced and will that curtail my exercise life and throw me into a depressive spiral…” And on and on. It’s the you of your past and the you of your perceived future.
The key is this: your egoic self doesn’t exist. Really? Really. That past is gone and exists only in your mind. And the future hasn’t happened and also doesn’t exist…except in your mind. The only thing that exists, that is real, is the present moment. It has always been the only thing that exists and it will always be the only thing that exists. The egoic self is what causes you to think the obsessive, useless thoughts that consume virtually all of us. “I never reached my potential. I should have worked harder.” “Why does that bitchy mom never say hi to me? We’ve met like five times.” “My butt is so big. Let’s face it, I’m fat.” The egoic self is the harsh, relentless critic inside you. Without those involuntary thoughts coursing through your head, the egoic mind would cease to exist.
Your conscious self is the you that exists only in the present. This is the real you, the you that exists when you’re not thinking. After a minute of your egoic self taking over your mind and, for instance, repeating over and over exactly what you’re going to say to someone you’re mad at (spouse, sibling, coworker, boss), your conscious self is the part of you that finally recognizes this and says, “Whoa. Enough. Let’s get back to the present. The here and now.” It’s also the “you” that is in charge when, for example, an athlete is in “the zone,” making every shot on the basketball court or the putting green. That athlete is not thinking anything when they are performing at the highest level. They’re just allowing their conscious selves to take over. Just ask Lebron James or Serena Williams. The no-thought, conscious self is also present when you watch a sublime sunset and feel completely peaceful and blissful inside. Because you’re experiencing it in the present moment. Not thinking about how beautiful it is. Just a thought-free experiencing of how beautiful it is.
To articulate the monumental impact the interplay of these two selves have on humanity, I created the LT-Don Knotts Theorem. Here’s how it works. In the vast majority of the 7.5 billion people on planet earth, the egoic self dominates the conscious self. It’s not even close. Most everybody is lost in egoic thought much of the time and not living in the present moment. Why is this so? That’s the subject of a future piece, but for now, suffice it to say that for a few hundred thousand years our brains evolved as homo sapiens to thrive in the hunter-gatherer environment we lived in. Then roughly 7,000 years ago agriculture took hold, throwing our brains into a distracted, anxious tailspin that has worsened with each passing millennium. So let’s picture the powerful, egoic self as Lawrence Taylor, thought by most to be the best defensive player in the history of the National Football League. Known as LT, Taylor was 245 pounds of raw, athletic ferocity.
Now let’s call the conscious self Don Knotts, the hilarious actor from the Andy Griffith Show in the 1960’s. Knotts was five-feet six inches tall and weighed 120 pounds soaking wet. [Apologies to the non-football fans and those of you unfamiliar with 60’s sitcoms, but LT was the fiercest, and Don Knotts the slightest, person I could think of so I went with them. And by the way, if the Knotts-Taylor references seem wacky and bizarre, they’re meant to be. A major reason I started this site is that I want to bring some fun and creativity to learning about meditation and mindfulness. Most stuff in this space is way too serious and boring, in my opinion.]
Now is when meditation enters the story. And by meditation I mean sitting quietly for a period of time and placing your attention on something happening in the present moment, like your breathing. Turns out, every time we meditate, what we’re doing is putting our skinny, Don Knotts/no-thought/conscious self through a weightlifting routine. Not a crazy, Schwarzenegger-in-his-prime workout. Just a regular, medium workout. And when we do that on a regular basis, over the weeks, months, years and, yes, decades, here’s what happens: Don Knotts slowly but surely transforms into 180 pounds of rock solid muscle. In other words, a more present person less plagued by compulsive thoughts.
And what about our egoic selves? What are we doing about that troublemaker LT while we’re building up Don Knotts through meditation? This is critical so laser in. You’re not building up your Don Knotts/conscious self so that he can become strong enough to step into the ring and beat the heck out of LT. No. You don’t beat LT by fighting him. In fact, fighting is exactly what the LT/egoic self wants. LT’s lifeblood is drama and conflict. Every one of you knows this. Example: You get pissed at that guy at work for lobbing a snide remark your way during the meeting with your boss. The little shit knows you can’t do anything about it because if you complain to the boss it’ll just make YOU look bad. So you stew over it in your office. “Man, I hate that bastard. If I ever got him alone in a dark alley…” Eventually you peel yourself away and get back to writing that memo that’s due at the end of the day…Until seven seconds later, BAM, your egoic drama queen pulls you back in for more stewing. And on and on it goes. Sound familiar?
So the question is, how the hell do you deal with this egoic insanity? It’s simple: You just notice LT when he appears, in the form of involuntary thoughts. Don’t try to change him or tame him or judge him or get mad at him or DO anything to him…just notice him. That’s it? That really is it.
How does that manifest in our meditation? Simple. Every time we have a thought, we just notice it and then let it pass on like a cloud moving across the sky. We don’t judge it. We don’t get mad at it or annoyed with it. We just notice it. Observe it. And let it pass through us. Bottom line: You don’t engage the thought, you starve it of the attention your drama queen/egoic self craves. And when you do that, it just dissolves. Here’s how we want it to play out in your head when you’re meditating:
LT/Egoic Self: “I can’t believe what that asshole Jerry said in the staff meeting.”
Don Knotts/Conscious Self: “Had a thought about Jerry’s remark in the meeting.”
LT/Egoic Self: “I mean, what a dick!” Silence… “Hello? Anybody home? Let’s go! This guy Jerry’s a total loser…Let’s dish! I’d love to grab him by the lapels and smash his face in!”
Don Knotts/Conscious Self: “Thinking bad thoughts about Jerry.”
LT/Egoic Self: “Come on, I’m starving, man! Throw me a bone here…Oh, no, I’m drifting away! Say something! AAAHHhhhhhh!!!!”
And the bad thoughts about Jerry drift away, biting the dust because the conscious you refused to engage with the egoic you.
So what happens to you as your Don Knotts/conscious self gets stronger and Lawrence Taylor gets weaker…in other words, what happens to you when you meditate regularly? Really great, profound, life-transforming stuff. You worry less. You ruminate less. You don’t completely lose your head when someone cuts you off in traffic. When you walk by the flower section at the grocery store you stop and spend a minute just looking at the dazzling yellows and purples and whites of the alive and brilliant flowers. When your adorable six year old daughter reads a book to you before bed, you don’t obsess over the sales meeting you have tomorrow morning or fixate on that DVR’d Game of Thrones episode you can’t wait to watch once your slow-as-molasses reading daughter finishes her stupid book! No. You’re actually there. Listening. Present.
Now to be realistic (and honest), most of us aren’t going to eliminate our egoic selves. Maybe the Buddha did. Perhaps a fortunate few others over the millennia have. Someone like the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has come pretty close. Well, that’s not going to happen to me, or most of you. But if we could go from 98 percent egoic/2 percent conscious, to 50/50 that would be an enormous game changer. Not just for us, but for our spouses, siblings, friends, coworkers…and yes, for humanity.
So how do we get there? That’s the purpose of this piece. You start by developing a regular meditation practice. But you’ve heard that’s really hard. No. It isn’t. All meditation is is placing your attention on something happening in the present moment. Then when your mind wanders off into thought (and it will, often), you simply notice that and bring your attention back to the present. That’s it.
Having said that, there are pitfalls that can keep you from developing a regular practice. How do you avoid those pitfalls? Easy. You read my free 45 page ebook Five Steps to a Regular Meditation Practice, a practical, step-by-step guide that has one goal: helping you develop a meditation practice in the simplest, easiest way possible. How do you get this ebook? You just sign up to receive my free articles.
I’ve been meditating for six years and it has made me a better dad, husband, brother, friend and overall human being. You can do it, too. It’s not that hard. All it takes is a manageable dose of discipline in the beginning for a short period of time.
So DO THIS! Go sign up and start reading my ebook. Today. If not for yourself, do it for your kids, or your wife, or your husband, or your parents, or your friends, or your community. If not for them, do it for the great Don Knotts!