KIS-Sunday: Let Go of Your Old Ideas, and Think Your Own Thoughts
I know some of you read my blog for its entertainment value, but I think many more of you are here because you are at a crossroads in your life. For many of you it is an economic crossroads. First you lost your jobs, then your savings, maybe even your home. Many are left feeling hopeless and terribly unsure of their future. Then you heard about vandwelling, and that brought you a glimmer of hope. Here was a whole new way of life that could not only solve your economic problems, but possibly some of your other problems as well. But it goes so much against the grain of everything you’ve been taught and totally contradicts the American Dream. How can you make that radical a change in your life?
The Average man is a conformist, accepting miseries and disasters with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain. ~Colin Wilson
Others of you are at another sort of crossroads: a crossroads of purpose and meaning. Life is going along basically okay but you are still discontent with your life. Shouldn’t there be more to it than this? Isn’t life about more than going to work, buying stuff, watching TV, and then going to work again to buy more stuff? “Why aren’t I happier than I am?” You feel a need for a change but a change to what? More importantly, how can you throw away everything you’ve ever known and just take a leap into the unknown?
Like many of you, I have stood at both of those crossroads and found making real change was terribly unpleasant and difficult for me. In working through that crossroad and making deep and profound changes in every single area of my life, there was one single lesson that made possible every other change in my life:
You can only change in proportion to how willing you are to give up your old ideas. Total change, requires totally giving up your old ideas.
I found that if I kept one foot in the past, in my old ways of thinking, I couldn’t truly embrace a new way of life. To borrow a phrase from gambling, I had to go “all in!” The ties to my old thinking had to be severed. Because in truth, none of them were my thoughts, they were all brainwashed into me from childhood.
“The societies kids naturally form are tribal. Gangs, clubs, packs. But we’re herded into schools and terrified into behaving. Taught how we’re supposed to pretend to be, taught to parrot all kinds of nonsense at the flick of a switch, taught to keep our heads down and our elbows in and shut off our minds and shut off our sex. We learn we can’t even piss when we have to. That’s how we learn to be plastic and dumb.”
I’d like to tell you my story and how that worked for me. As you read my story, I know can’t walk the same path I did, it was uniquely mine. But you can adopt the same principle of being willing to give up your old ideas. If you will, I think you will see positive change in your life.
One day I was talking to a friend about my problems and he suggested I go with him to an AA meeting; he thought I would relate to it. That seemed totally bizarre to me because I didn’t drink and had never been drunk in my life, not once! Nor had I ever used an illegal drug of any kind. How could I fit in at an AA meeting? But he was a wonderful guy and I admired his story (he had been a drunken, drug addict living on the streets and had been in and out of mental institutions). He said at AA his whole life had changed and today he was literally a different person. He told me the same thing could happen for me. I loved the idea of being a different person! The person I was had totally fucked up his life and was a total failure as a human being. I had nothing to lose so I agreed to go.
As I sat in my first meeting, for the first time in my life I felt like I belonged. I heard people telling my story (all the details were different, but the feelings were all the same). But their stories had a happy ending and mine was still mired in misery. They had “something” and I wanted it. I decided at that first meeting I was willing to go to any length to get what they had. I asked my friend to be my sponsor and committed to do anything he asked of me. We worked the 12 Steps together and it was the hardest, most painful thing I have ever done. And then something amazing happened, just as my friend had promised, I was changed. Little by little, miracle by miracle, I became a different person.
One of the guiding principles of AA is that we have to be willing to give up our old ideas totally. The best thinking and reasoning of every addict ultimately led him to his total failure as a human being. So what part of that thinking should he keep? Some of my old thinking might be good and work, but how could I know? I couldn’t, so if I wanted change my life, I had to totally give up ALL of my old ideas. Here is what the AA literature says about how to get results changing your life:
“Some of us have tried to hold onto our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.”
Today, that sentence is the guiding principle of my whole life. I needed results, so my old ideas had to go. As I worked through the Steps and then walked through recovery I discovered over-and-over again that if I clung to my old ideas, things generally went badly, but without exception if I simply let them go and tried a whole new path, things went well. Slowly but steadily I let go of all my old ideas. I found that willingness to change my thinking had to be carried into every area of my life: religion, politics, relationships, family, work, everything! In fact, unless I applied new thinking to every tiny aspect of my life, none of the changes I had made would become permanent. Nothing was sacred and I assumed everything I believed was wrong unless it could be proved to be true, and even then only after it had stood the test of time.
At the same time that I started going to AA, I moved into a van. The two worked together to change me. Going to AA changed the inside of me, but living in a van changed the outside of me. It opened my eyes to see that there could be a way of life that was entirely different than the one I had been living. In fact it was not only different, it was far better. Then five years ago I started living in my van in nature and spending most of my time on public land. Nature deeply and profoundly changed me in ways beyond words. My eyes opened to the horrors of what mankind was doing to each other and to the earth. As I looked at my past and all the things I had been taught about life and how I should live it, I decided every tiny bit of it was wrong.
We begin life with the world presenting itself to us as it is. Someone–our parents, teachers, analysts–hypnotizes us to “see” the world and construe it in the “right” way. These others label the world, attach names and give voices to the beings and events in it, so that thereafter, we cannot read the world in any other language or hear it saying other things to us. The task is to break the hypnotic spell, so that we become undeaf, unblind, and multilingual, thereby letting the world speak to us in new voices and write all its possible meaning in the new book of our existence. Be careful in your choice of hypnotists.
The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.”
The longer I lived in a van–and began to think my own thoughts–the more I realized that everything I had been taught about how to live was a lie. The American Dream was a lie. Capitalism was a lie. Any way of life that is built on constant growth is doomed to failure and is at its core an incredibly destructive force that must be fought against. At its core, our society is very, very sick and I could not live my life by it any longer.
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
If you will open your eyes, and start to think your own thoughts with your own mind—I have no idea what conclusions you will reach—they may be totally different than mine. But I do know one thing, they will be your own and not someone else’s.
In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia. ~Charles Lindbergh
Ha ha ha, I love it. you cant swing a dead cat without hitting another AA-er. I got sober in 1990, and KNEW I was better than everyone else because I had a job, money,car, etc etc. Then came multiple sclerosis. I found I had to start over again. So much for plan “A”. Bob, I started following you a few months ago and I knew there was something in your writings that sounded familiar. Standing at the turning point again dammit. Keep up with the writing, and Ill see you n the desert eventually. Steve H
Steve, one day at a time, everything works out the way it should.
See you in the desert!
Steve, we are holding you to that. Get your butt to the desert. I’ll be there in October.
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
This is my favorite quote, if ‘favorite’ is a good word to describe its painful meaning. Ever since the Columbine massacre, and so many school shootings since, I have tried to understand what it is about our society that turns children into killers. Finally, for me, it comes down to capitalism and the terrible price families pay for the American Dream. It’s not a dream, it’s a nightmare. I’m so glad I failed at achieving it.
LaVonne, most people look at us vandwellers as losers, but this is one time when the losers are really the winners in the lottery of life. Good for you for losing the American Dream!
Since mass killings by children is a relatively new phenomenon, something must have changed as a driver. This seems so far only to occur in the U.S. I can only think of two possible contributors, myself. One is, as you say, the sacrifices made to maintain a high standard of living when the job/pay climate won’t support it. Two full-time career jobs are needed to get the gadgets and support daycare, a trend begun in the 1970s and becoming even tougher to succeed at now. We’re not even called customers anymore, but consumers who need to live “the good life” by buying more. The “family” lives apart and meets for a few hours at the end of each day, at best. The overall shaping effect on children can’t be good.
Second, our children are now taught in school (in the U.S.) that they are a biological accident of the cosmos, and that no other realms can possibly exist other than those offered by cool-headed science. All else is a primitive crutch of myths fueled by persistent ignorance. By inference, they learn that their lives can have no meaningful significance other than a temporary blip either way, and that the concept of right and wrong is at its core just one more artificial, arbitrary method of societal manipulation. In short, unless you’re a Hitler or a Gandhi, what you do with your life can have no meaning or consequence.
Angry, depressed and emotionally isolated children are sometimes clever enough to realize that in this scenario, the only way to be held accountable for one’s actions is to be caught. So, given life’s meaninglessness and the “fact” that it ends when it ends, before they kill themselves, they lead the way with those they hate.
This is what I see, and I’m sure others have their own, different insights.
Doug, your explanations are as good as anybodies! I think it comes down to two things:
1) Alienation: As hunter-gatherers we lived in small tribes of 20-50 people and we were deeply connected to them all. If one found food, all ate. If one was hungry, all went hungry. Agriculture and then Civilization ended that. Suddenly everything was “mine” versus “yours”. As civilization “progressed” the alienation deepened until today it is near total. Most of us simply have very little human contact in our lives.
2) Objectification: For most hunter-gatherers, everything was alive, had meaning and was due respect. Agriculture ended that. The earth became an object to enslave and break and force to do your will. Anything that stood in the way was simply killed. Civilized men took that idea and expanded it to people. they were also just objects to be used. If they got in the way, they were made slaves or killed. Today that has been carried to an incredible extreme. You and I aren’t people, we are “consumers” or “workers”. We are expendable drones. Until we get out of line, then we get a LOT of attention.
Civilization is evil, and there is no end to the evil fruit it will bear. Kids killing kids is just the latest. I’m afraid we are in for much worse.
I think it is TV.
The most radical philosophy of all – question everything.
Brilliant essay. Your transformation (and willingness to share it) has the power to change lives.
Thanks Kim, that means a lot to me coming from you!
Makes me think about what people value and what they expect. I wonder how many public employees of Detroit will be getting only half of what they thought for their retirement? If they’re lucky. And what about all the other state and local govt employees? All of us expecting Social Security when we hit 62? Etc….
Blind reliance on the “system” is how most people in our society operate. Self-reliance is a rare skill these days. But I bet there’s gonna be a crash course in it for a lot of folks in the next 10 years.
GREAT POST BOB!……I definitely can relate and apply what you’ve said to how my life has been and slowly opening my eyes to what my heart wants…..been full time in my van for a month now….difficult adjusting to the changes, but each week i am finding it simplier, ie…bathing,cooking,ect..hasn’t effected work,the key is to plan/prepare for everyday and don’t take anything for granted anymore. I am in the final stages of finishing my box van and will be headed out your way by January,maybe earlier if job doesn’t last until then. Randy
Randy, don’t let the initial problems discourage you, many of us felt the same way in the beginning. Getting into the van is usually busy and hectic and we have very high expectations that it is going to be so wonderful, and then we move in it is something of a let down. That’s pretty typical. It’s too hot or too cold or too noisy. Strange sounds wake us up at night and then in the morning we wake up disoriented not knowing where we are. Then we hear a door slam nearby and that throws us. Everything is new and unusual, nothing is as easy and pleasant as it was when we were in a house. And then we have a totally new worry to add to our list, what if a cop sees me and chases me away or a clerk in the store comes out and says move on, then there is parking lot security to contend with. And that stupid parking lot sweeper comes by every Tuesday like clockwork!! Why can’t I find my favorite T-Shirt, I know packed it in here somewhere in all this stuff!! Oh good grief, all my food is soaking in ice water again! I CAN’T STAND IT ANYMORE!!
We’ve all been through these things and none of us enjoyed them, but slowly and steadily things get better. You find solutions to all the little problems and you get pretty used to the street sweeper (or the snowplows in winter). You will remodel your box van and have a place to put everything. If you will just hang in there, I think you will see that at some time you will be sitting in the van and the thought will come to you quietly in the back of your mind, “I’m happy, I’m actually happy to be right here, right now in this dumb van!!” At least that’s what happened for me.
Thanks Bob…i know it will work out…appreciate the words of encouragement! 🙂
We are here for you Randy!
CAE, I think you are right, we may be in some pretty rough times ahead and the great majority of us are not prepared for it. I think many more people will be forced into living in their cars and vans and will be wanting to learn everything they can about how to do it. That’s where people like you and I can come in and try to guide them through it.
Bob, you are on the front-line of a growing trend. A barometer, if you will. I’m thinking that the number of inquiries you get every month from people curious about vandwelling is growing at a constant rate?
CAE, you are right about that, my emails from people in trouble increase every month, but I can see it even more in traffic to the websites and forum. In 2008 when the economy crashed it skyrocketed and hasn’t slowed down at all.
Conformity, complacency, predictability…it’s killing me.
Bob, as you know I just put the van together and this week I gave a thirty day notice to my landlord…I’ve lived in the same place and kept the same job for the last eight years to be near my folks as they got older. Prior to that I lived life like that feather at the end of Forrest Gump…which ever way the wind blows.
I lived in South Florida, bartending and on the fishing boats in the winter and working on Lake Mead, Nevada in the summer. All I needed was my backpack and a bus ticket. It was physical work, outdoors and kept me in good shape. I was always around people who were on vacation and in good spirits “for that one or two week period every year” …what a gip, trading fifty weeks for two. I didn’t even own a pair of long pants all that time…probably ten years. Now I’m fat, irritable and short tempered…and I even wear a tie to work. I suck at conforming.
You’ve probably seen this one before…
“The Tale of Two Wolves”
An old Cherokee told his grandson, “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all.
One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy & truth.
The boy thought about it and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”
openspaceman, a man has to know his limitations, if you suck at conforming, maybe you shouldn’t do it!
If your family obligations let you, maybe you should go live wild and free like your wolf! And if you are headed back to Lake Mead, be sure to stop by and see me Arizona!
love that wolf story. i’ve copied it to my files to call forth when I realize I’m feeding the wrong wolf.
Pam, it is a good one. I also love simple little things that like. I tend to be a moody, compulsive overthinker, so when I catch myself doing it I can just pull out that story and say to myself, “Which wolf am I feeding right now?”
it’s simple enough that it works.
This post is one of my favorites. Again…I love the way your mind thinks 🙂
I work for my local school district (giving them notice in a few weeks). You are so spot on…”society” needs us to be conforming sheep, to not ask why and to be just happy/content enough not to rock the boat. We are Pavlov’s experiment…salivating at every bell (shiny new object advertised).
Children are crammed into tiny/unhealthy rooms (35 per classroom is common in Ca.) with one teacher who is often pissed off with the demands placed on him/her by their overworked and pissed off principals. No one (especially the children) feel they have any power or voice. We are force fed the bullshit passed down by our “leaders” who have their own self serving agenda to fulfill. Anyway, I could go on all day about this subject, but I am sure I am preaching to the choir. Keep up the good work and thanks again for your fearless determination!!!
Diane, being on the inside of the educational system you can criticise it directly, but I must say I’m not qualified to do that. By no means do I intend to criticise teachers or the job they do. Nearly all of them I have know were wonderful, caring, hardworking people who only wanted the best for their students. They were doing a hard job to the best of their ability. I am condemning the entire education system because it is nothing but a puppet for “civilization”. Brainwashing and conformity are tools of civilization and most teachers and administrators are just as brainwashed and conformists as everyone else so they actually believe what they are doing is the best possible thing for everybody.
The movie the Matrix really had it right but it is not a computer simulation we live in, it is something much worse and more vile: CIVILIATION
Wow man, the sad part about all of this, is that it’s all true. It’s almost like that movie- They Live, but less dramatic of course.
It’s a world of the haves and the haves not, but the worst part is how the rich people want to control all and have all. Little for the poor along with less and less freedom.
Jobs going to other countries and now technical jobs for far less pay than in the U.S.
Corporations will suck the life out of you and will even destroy it with layoffs.
This is one of your many best post Bob, I just wish you where my teacher when I was just a young brainwashed punk. A Survival Teacher, I think that if most schools had those, young people would have far less stress with life.
But we can’t have that can we Bob, because politicians, bankers, realtors, credit card corporations, health care, and prisons would lose money. Then they would go into SHOCK, we can’t have THEM go into shock can we.
I’m sure somewhere you’ve saved a life here and there, you may have more people benefiting then you think. It‘s very powerful. Keep up the good fight.
Frank, I like the idea of being a Savior, but do I have to die for anybodies sins?
All I have to do is think of my life before the Steps to know that I am nobody’s savior. Put me in charge of your life and you will quickly be the unhappiest person alive. Every good thing I do or am was given to me as a gift, I don’t get any of the credit.
You’ve summarized the situation quite well. I know several professional people who worked for corporations all their lives and thought they were secure and then boom, their whole division was laid off and the jobs went to India. They are living in vans or RVs now. Fortunately they had made good money all along and saved it so they can live on their savings until they get SS. But younger people today can’t even get good paying jobs (or no job at all)so they have no chance to save even a penny–they are lucky to live paycheck-to-paycheck. The future looks very, very bleak for them.
But as a conservative, I hate to see everything go back to class warfare. The majority of the “rich” we love to hate and vilify are average hard-working people who took chances, worked their asses off and made it. I have nothing but admiration for them.
No, I HATE the SYSTEM of civilization. It is so inherently flawed there is no redeeming it. Capitalism isn’t the problem, socialism isn’t the solution. The whole thing has to be torn down and destroyed and start over with small-tribe based life.
Well said Bob.
Good comment Bob.
Good post Bob and good for you! Fortunately you realized the message and messages from AA. There are many in AA that even after 20 to 50 years of going there they still don’t get it. They claim spirituality so therefore they are self deceived into thinking that they are spiritual and righteous. But instead they still think much of the same way as they did before entering into AA. Always judging, labeling, starting trouble with other people, sticking their nose in other people’s business, gossiping, disliking people for no sound reason, using people for sex and attention and etc. In other words they still do and say the same things as drunk people do. And as you already know drinking alcohol is only a symptom of alcoholism. There are many alcoholics that do not drink or hardly ever drink. They are in many places and even in the van dwelling community.
Jason, you are right that many in AA do not give up their old ideas completely. Some not at all. Others need not deal with that, though, except for understanding that some examples are what not to do. They will find their course and will either do the work or pay the price.
Bob I really like all the quotes that you use in your blogs. Hope the sun is shinning for you there. I miss Homer.
Thanks Richard! But really the credit goes to Google! Homer misses you too!
I am loving the smoothies! I am so glad I switched over to your kind of eating! I have smoothies every morning and a salad every night. It’s obvious to me I am losing weight. I owe you a big thanks for that! I’ll do a write up on it soon.
Bob, be careful. Society never knows how to deal with a person who has learned to use his or her own mind. You could wind up as lionized as Einstein or its total opposite.
As I have said before, we share a great deal of background. I am a member of more than one 12-step fellowship, and have a story to tell in each of them. My opinion is that people have a kind of spiritual laziness. There’s plenty of pain in the steps, but I think the work deters many people. They’ve never had to work in that realm (spirituality, philosophy) and they’d rather not learn. I myself would never have attempted it were it not for the extreme pain of having nothing spiritually. Passing time waiting for death was as miserable for me as you describe it being for you. How others survive that into old age mystifies me.
I agree with the statement that the American Dream is a nightmare, and I suspect that others are catching on. The only people I have heard use that phrase in recent years were selling real estate or stuff to put in or on that real estate. In the course of my life, I have come to know at least two men who had “serious” money. It doesn’t seem to have done much for either of them. Because the ones I know are in recovery, they can say so with authority. So much for that “dream, huh?
Calvin, many of us are finding out it is not such a dream after all. Of course there are still many people for whom it is a dream and a darned good one at that. We are all different.
Ah yes… the familiarity of another friend of Dr. Bob’s 🙂 I knew there was something in the words.
Great post! Telling one’s story, and another one reading it, is such great fun, isn’t it? I personally think stories are awesome and I enjoyed reading yours.
One day at a time is my motto – actually, my motto is “the plan is no plan” but it fits in perfectly with ODAAT, too.
— Lois & Dinah Dog
Dr. Bob is a great buddy to me Lois! I owe him my life! Best medicine I ever found, a little bitter at first, but that goes away after awhile.
wonderful post Bob. We are so unconscious of our own motivations, stuck with all the buttons installed by parents and society, believing that we are in control. We are like that image I saw once of a monkey riding on a tiger’s back, facing backwards with a steering wheel attached to nothing. It takes courage and diligence to be conscious, and I think maturity helps. As always, you inspire.
Sold my rig today! Looking like mad for the next one as I’m itching to be gone.
Yolando, it was a beauty! Somebody got a great rig! So what are you getting next?
I know! It went to some great kids off on their adventure. I’m happy/sad.
I have my sights on one of those toyota jobbies like the one Brad had at camp. I want a little more room. So, next I see you, you won’t recognize me in a new rig!
Those Toyotas are great rigs!
Yolanda, I’m already looking forward to the next time!
You have a very interesting story. It is interesting that the 12 step recovering addicts program would help you out of a deep depression when you have never been addicted to anything – except maybe a belief system. Maybe the same malfunction is at the root of depression so the solution worked for that.
There’s a saying: If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten. And: Expecting a different outcome from the same old failed behavior is the definition of insanity.
And if that isn’t working for you, look for another way. I’ve had another motto to live by: When faced with two impossible choices, always choose the third. And there is always a third way if you just look hard enuf.
I use rationality and analysis to manage my beliefs. I’ve gone from inherited conservatism to the opposite because after a 30 year experiment it has shown that just about nothing they promised is true. By the way, rejecting civilization and capitalism is rather radical and not conservative at all.
Mary, I’m afraid I made that confusing, I started the Steps in 1995 and the deep depression didn’t come until 2011. I was depressed by the divorce in 1995 but it was nothing compared to 2011. But the Steps did get me out of that depression to. When I hit my bottom and I totally gave up I told my Higher Power that I was through fighting it. It was up to her-him-it if I lived or died. Apparently she choose that I should live because very shortly thereafter things started to improve. Odd how that works for me. The only third choice that has ALWAYS worked for me is surrender. 100% of the time when I choose it, things have gone well.
I loved your Sprinter Class B, that is a beauty! Are you selling your house to go full-time?
Thanks for the explanation. Maybe your surrender clears your mind so you can see the third way. I have a friend who suffers from real clinical depression. From the outside, it looks like complete self-absorption and a rejection of everything that isn’t bleak. I don’t know if that impression is correct but it is what it looks like from my seat. The surrender is a way of getting out of that self-absorption? Don’t know if that would help him or not. He’s pretty resistant to changing his failed ways. For me, when what I’m doing or thinking is failed, I look to change it, but I’m very analytical. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been really depressed. Or my body chemistry is healthier. Don’t know.
Once I get this house looking good, I plan to sell it and move into the van with my dog and 2 cats. Can’t say how long it will last, but so far, I rather enjoy the absolute freedom it gives me. The house I have now is an anchor around my ankles. What is so great about the van is that it works really well and I have complete freedom to live in it or not as I choose. Selling the house is the main objective as I no longer have any need or desire to live here. The van gives me a good choice for living or as a transition to another place. We shall see how that works out. The other thing that was a revelation is how much stuff I thought was necessary really is not.
Mary, the main text of AA says this “…selfishness, self-centeredness, that we think is the root of our problem.” I have found that totally true for me. I never thought of myself as selfish, but then I realized that I was inwardly totally “self-absorbed” even while being reasonably generous outside. The act of surrender turns my attention away from myself as THE SOURCE of all good and bad and fixes it on something else as the source. Part of the 12 Steps is breaking our fixation on ourselves, and part of us is re-focusing our attention outward on others and serving them in every way possible. Service is the key to every member of AAs sobriety.
I think we are all very surprised how much more stuff we have than what we really need!! Freedom is addicting, once you have it, it’s hard to give it up!
Hi Bob, Great post as usual…HJ