Shifting Context: The Stakes Are High
by Victoria Castle, excerpted from The Trance of Scarcity
“I’m 55, and I want to feel alive.” Outwardly, Barbara was successful in every sense of the word, but secretly her life felt desolate. “I’ve done everything I know to do, but it feels like my energy just keeps getting siphoned off somehow. What do I have to do to finally be good enough ?” With these words, she revealed that she was living in a story that was strangling her.
Barbara’s question seared me right to the bone. It’s a question that goes to the heart of the matter for a great many of us. What must we do to feel that, at long last, we’re enough as we are? Is it ever possible to feel a sense of true belonging? Or is our only option to join the Stoics of ancient Greece who believed that humans should be free of passion and accept all occurrences with indifference? Seems to me the last thing the world needs is more indifference!
Most of us have developed a Herculean tolerance for suffering. And we put up with far more than what is biologically wired into our nervous system, part of our internal survival gear. Our survival instinct increases our awareness of stimulus, especially pain, alerting us to adjust to conditions as they occur. Pssst, feel that burning in your hand.. Let go of the electric fence!
But if we believe that no adjustment would help (if letting go of the fence is not an option) then we keep turning down the volume on our sense of aliveness. If we believe our pain or difficulty to be inescapable, we numb out in desperation. Like Barbara, we may keep trying harder and harder to follow the wrong prescription, attempting to cure ourselves of being ourselves. And it’s all we know to do, because we’ve spent years designing our entire life according to what we believe is real. Our belief in scarcity shows up in our bodies as a lack of aliveness, and in our lives as the experience of lack and limitation.
This is where the mischief begins. We’re not always great at assessing what’s real and what isn’t. See if any of these statements sound familiar: I’m not enough, There’s never enough to go around, It’s so hard, Nothing comes easy, That’ll never work. Most of us have been repeating such statements to ourselves for decades, and as far as we know they accurately describe “reality.” And really they’re just ideas.
These ideas, in time, become a big part of who we think we are . At this point the thought that “I’m not enough” or “There’s never enough” is no longer a thought: It lives as The Truth (and we’re convinced that everybody else accepts that Truth, too). We’ll actually defend these statements, no matter how lousy it feels to believe them, because we’ve built our whole reality on them. They’re our foundation-our security. Without them, how will we know what’s what?
Human beings are natural storytellers, and we are most captivated by the stories we tell ourselves . An event occurs, and right away we go about the business of interpretation. We assign some meaning to the event. Once we’ve assigned that meaning (and we’ve deemed ourselves to be right) we forget that there might be other possible interpretations of the same event. We then pass on our conclusion to our neighbors and children and students.
And here’s the trouble: if they don’t recognize our “Truth” as a mere interpretation or a story – just our personal perception of things, then they, too, treat the story as though it’s The Truth. They move right in and set up house inside it . At that point the story may persist for centuries, generation after generation, as though chiseled into the side of a mountain.
Trances Are Sneaky. A trance is a semi-conscious state that operates in our lives without question or discernment. It becomes our way of living, directing our actions according to whatever programming is featured in the trance. Living entranced is the opposite of living in sovereignty, of being self-governing. Stage hypnotists are famous for inducing trance states in which people act in ways they would be unlikely to act when fully awake. A trance can be a source of entertainment, or a source of suffering. The Trance of Scarcity is the unexamined predisposition that lack, struggle, and separation are our given reality.
Daily we are offered increasingly sophisticated strategies for surviving in a world of scarcity. There’s no question that poverty exists. It’s what makes our exploration of the Trance, and the aim of this book, so critical. All such survival strategies share the same starting point: they accept scarcity (lack of self-worth and lack of resources) as a fact of life , as the only proper orientation in response to the evidence. But what if the truth were actually the other way around? What if our default way of thinking-maintaining the idea that scarcity is real-is the source of the conditions producing the “evidence”? Which one’s the chicken and which one’s the egg?
Many years ago Albert Einstein pointed to the limitations of the mind, saying that we can’t solve problems within the same mindset that created them. To defeat this way of seeking, we must become a little bit radical and impertinent. I say radical because, when we try to crack an illusion, our denial often intensifies in order to protect our familiar reality. It takes courage not to sit with folded hands at our desks and accept that red is actually green-especially when everyone else in class is pointing to the fire engine and saying, “Of course it’s green. What are you, crazy ?!”
In an atmosphere like that, it takes courage even to allow ourselves to get curious about this persistent predisposition. So at this point I’m not asking you to accept that a Trance of Scarcity exists. For now I’m just inviting you to join me in considering the possibility. What if there is a Trance of Scarcity? What if that Trance is the source of much of the world’s suffering? What are the ramifications? What are the possibilities? What might be revealed that we cannot see from inside the Trance?
As leaders, we set the course for ourselves and our constituency . Listen to the default contexts that shape your organization and your world and when you see them leading to a stone wall, grab your flashlight and shine a new route. You may need to be loud and repeat yourself. Get a bullhorn if necessary. Leading people to a live-giving context when they’ve been starving inside an old one is a generous and valiant act.