[v. in-vurt; adj., n. in-vurt]
- to turn upside down.
- to reverse in position, order, direction, or relationship.
- to turn or change to the opposite or contrary, as in nature, bearing, or effect: to invert a process.
- to turn inward or back upon itself.
- to turn inside out.
If we take a moment to look into order in our life, we will see that in actual fact we live a most inverted life.
To begin with, let’s take stock of what we are doing with our most valuable resource: time. On a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle. On the left side of the line, list out numerically in order of importance what is meaningful to you. For example, it could look something like this:
- Spiritual practice
- Family/ intimate relationships
- Career/ study
On the other side of your page, list out the same priorities but based on the time you spend on each with (1) being the activity you spend the most time on.
It would not be unusual if your list is nearly, if not completely, the reverse of the first list, thus looking like this:
- Career/ study
- Family/ intimate relationships
- Spiritual practice
Generally when people do this exercise of mine, they often comment how they spend the most time on what is least important to them, and the least time on what is most important to them.
Certainly I spend a lot of time at work, doing work and thinking about work. Yet I know that when I am on my death bed, although I would be pleased at all the clients I have helped along the way, but I wouldn’t be wishing that I had worked harder or worked longer hours. What would matter for me would be my spiritual practice and all the wonderful people who have been a part of my life in a meaningful way.
This brings me to the second inversion.
Again drawing a line down the middle of a page, list out in order of importance the groups of people who you interact with. For example, it could look something like this:
- Immediate family
- Extended family
- Acquaintances (Facebook friends could fall in this category!)
Now on the other side of the page, list down which of these groups of people you find it:
(a) Easy to be kind to
(b) Somewhat difficult to be kind to
(c) Difficult to be kind to
Everyone’s answers would be different depending on the types of relationships they have with each of these groups, and even with individuals within that group. For example, one’s relationship with a parent may be different to one’s relationship with a sibling. So if you wish, you can refine the first list further by specifying individual persons.
Finally, you should throw yourself into the mix. Can you be kind to yourself? Can you speak kind words towards yourself with ease? Or are you always dismissing yourself? Criticising yourself in a way that you would never do so to anyone else?
The point of this exercise – like the first one – is simply to help us notice the inversions in our life and the way our perspective can be skewed and distorted. I have come across some people who are kind to strangers in word and manner, and yet harsh and abrupt with their own family. Although there is no doubt they still love and care for their family, but they have assumed that as their family they are able to treat them that way and get away with it. In reality, however, those who hurt most from our actions are precisely those who are close to us – our family and close friends.
A final example of inversion is our view of the world. We see things that are not there, and we do not see things that are there. We see happiness in worldly things – such as fame and fortune, possessions and youthful beauty – yet we don’t see the ever-present stress that underlies these fleeting things and experiences. When we buy a new car, we worry about it being scratched or stolen; when we buy a new house, we worry about meeting the mortgage repayments; when we have wealth, we worry about that wealth being taken from us. So although wealth is important in providing us with comfort, sustenance and happiness, we should be clear in our minds that the happiness that comes from this wealth is limited.
Many people dream of becoming rich and famous, yet no celebrity has ever declared themselves infinitely happy because of their success. At some stage the happiness from the wealth and status wears off because it is so impermanent, so unstable. It also takes a lot of effort to maintain that wealth and reputation.
On the other hand, long-term happiness that is not dependent on the flimsy sensual pleasures of the world can be gained only when one has happiness within oneself. This is why the wealth of the heart is worth a lot more than the wealth of the world. In order to find this internal happiness, one needs to start seeing the world as it really is and not just as we want it to be. We need to develop our mind’s clarity and presence so as to see clearly what is really going on before us and within us in every moment.
This could take the form of seeing things as they really are and not making everything about us. That teller who gave you attitude? Don’t take it personally; they are probably just having a bad day.
That white hair that you eagerly pluck out? That’s just a reminder that the body is aging and we should use our time wisely (there’s really no need to buy any products to “reverse the signs of aging”. Aging will go on regardless of what you do).
That anger that is rising within you? That’s a choice on whether you want to act on it or not. Do not excuse it by saying it is natural. It is your choice on whether you want to give in to it and sow seeds for it to return again next time, or to deal with it at the root level so it doesn’t rise again.
That desire for a coffee first thing in the morning? That is your choice whether you want to be controlled by the craving every day, or whether you want to start from tomorrow morning to wake up refreshed from your sleep rather than from caffeine.
If we want to be happy, we must learn to rid our lives of things that make us unhappy. If something makes us happy but sad when we inevitably lose it – is that true happiness? If we want to be happy, we must learn to look past the superficial billboards plastered throughout our life telling us: “Buy this!” “Study this!” “Work harder!” “Save more money!” “Spend more money!” “Get married!” “Have a soccer team of kids!”
We must get to know ourselves better, build confidence in inner wealth, so as to muster the courage and skill to turn our mind away from the superficial and conceptual world, to really know and experience life as it really is in this very moment. It is with a mind that is clear and present, mindful and sharp, that we can reverse the inversion, turn the world upright, and live in accordance with the right way of the world and not the other way around.
Sincerely, I wish you the clarity to see all that is inside, and the equanimity to face the world outside, as it is. May you find lasting happiness that fills the whole of your body and into the depths of your heart.