There are times in our lives when we barely notice the contours and choices of our lives; they pass around us so smoothly that we think we’ve figured it out. We start to say things like “Well, that’s life” and encourage each other to “accept what is.” We nod along with government policies that codify and regulate “what is,” we take out loans, adopt animals, have children, schedule our lives, buy products, and negotiate our relationship boundaries with the sure knowledge that life “is what it is.”
And there are times in our lives when we simply cannot believe what is happening around us. Everything feels new and unimaginable; sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way, and sometimes in a way that simply feels new.
Times like now.
When this happens, we have a unique opportunity to “see” our mindsets as they are turned inside out in front of us. Mindsets, as you may remember, are patterns of beliefs. (Beliefs are thoughts you’ve had often enough that they feel familiar and right.) Most of the time our mindsets feel like truths, and we safely build our lives on them. It’s fascinating to think about big moments of history, and imagine the people whose lives played out during those times of seismic shifts. When the big shift happens, people’s minds we blown by how much of what they thought was inescapable truth was revealed to be mindset.
I only know the simple stories of Passover and Easter. I hold the level of knowledge that can be gleaned from children’s stories or a quick glance through a Vox article. But, to my eye, both of these stories include huge shifts to ways of life, resulting in major chaos while illusions were shed and new mindsets were formed, and then they returned to a semblance of normal.
It’s that brief moment when our mindset is revealed to us that interests me. It’s almost as though the mindset shimmers in the air for a minute before it disappears, replaced by a new familiarity. In that shimmery moment a great truth about life is shown to us: much of what we call “truth” is just a story that we tell ourselves.
In the Easter story, imagine the lives of the disciples. They are roaming around following Jesus, witnessing his miracles and supporting his work. They were students, learning at the knee of a great master and when asked how they know that Jesus was so great, they could say “look with your own eyes.” They were not leaders or teachers themselves. Then, in a dramatic and tragic turn of events, Jesus dies. But only for a minute… and then he ROSE FROM THE DEAD. These heartbroken followers had to become leaders overnight. These students had to become teachers of a truth so fantastical that they would be persecuted for believing what they saw with their own eyes.
In the Passover story,* the Jews have been living in slavery in the desert for-ever. Anything, when you live it for any duration of time, becomes normal. (Not normal as in “ok” or “reasonable” or “acceptable in any way”, just normal, as in “this is what is happening. I will predict the world based on these things continuing to happen.”) Pharaoh decides to free them (after God sends 10 plagues to force his hand), and then, like a jerk, changes his mind. Imagine the turmoil of that one! “You’re free! Just kidding!” And then hundred of thousands of Jews are running away from the Egyptian army, until they end up trapped against the Red Sea. As you know, the Red Sea then PARTS DOWN THE MIDDLE and the Jews are delivered to Israel (and the Egyptian army was drowned). Jews who had been slaves for their whole lives were suddenly free. Farmers became nomadic desert dwellers. People who considered themselves as “staunch realists’ had just witnessed the Sea open up FOR THEM.
These are moments when our mindsets are revealed to be just stories. You think “I’m a student. I’m not the kind of person who leads people through their religious awakening” and then 5 days later you have to be exactly that kind of teacher. Farmers become nomads. Slaves become free. Massive, life altering shifts happen. And all the history and theology and lore aside, just think about the people. What must it have been like to see so much of the ‘truth” of life laid bare as mere story?
You have almost certainly had the experience of seeing some of your life’s stories challenged very recently:
There’s a saying in the world of change management that “Change is good but transition is hard.” Remember that as we enter the 4th week of our quarantine. There will be a new normal on the other side of this, and we will make sense of it all once again. There’s comfort in that truth, for sure.
And, if you are open to it: Give yourself the gift of looking at the world as it deconstructs around you and realize how much choice you have in the meaning you assign to yourself and others and your lives. As you put your world back together, consider: Who do you want to be? What do you want for yourself?
This might be the perfect time to design a life where those things are simply “true.”
PS- I was raised somewhat vaguely Christian, so I have some sense of how the Easter narrative plays out. Please forgive me if I miss the true drama of Passover and misrepresent it’s narrative arc.
PPS- Don’t give in to the temptation to argue that “some things are true!” Sure, I know they are. Yes. We agree. And yet, allow yourself to open to the idea that who you “are” may not be one of those “truths.” What if it were true, instead, that you could be lots and lots and lots of different kinds of people. What then? Who do you choose to be?
Amanda Crowell, PhD is a cognitive psychologist obsessed with how people make change. She is best known for translating cutting edge research into practical strategies that can be used right away.