Barbara Emrys

Neighborhood Brats

Think back on the childhood friends who liked to steer you into trouble. Maybe you avoided kids like that, or maybe you were one of them. In everyone’s childhood, there was always at least one kid who recruited others in silly, reckless pursuits. It’s doubtful he would do dangerous things alone, but with friends it’s easy to laugh in the face of danger.
Having been a good little girl – who loved adventure, but who never dared to break the rules – I can say that I kind of admired those who did dare to break rules. I was usually willing to climb with the brave ones over a neighbor’s fence, to follow them into dark storm drains, or run with them through cemeteries at night. Later, when I was tucked safely in my bed, I could laugh quietly at my wickedness – and blame the bad kid.
The ones you ran with in childhood were probably kids you knew well over time and trusted. It didn’t matter how dumb they were and how dumb you became in their company, friends were friends. Good times got much better when they defied adult rules and adult logic. But now, in your own adulthood, it’s important to pay attention to the crowd you’re running with.
You may not have the same friends you did long ago. You may not even remember their names. It doesn’t matter. You carry the mischief-makers with you always. They have challenged you, tempted you, and made you afraid over and over again. They spurred you into awkward situations, great interactions, and they also made you stupid. The brats I’m referring to, of course, are your thoughts. In the course of your life, they have prompted you into destructive behaviors of a very different kind. Their voices run constantly in your head, like the teasing and goading of a bunch of rowdy neighborhood kids, and you love to listen.
The thoughts that override common sense and integrity are the thoughts you may still indulge and obey automatically. Who’s the adult now? Can you make sure you’re tucked in safely at night and have sweet dreams, no matter what the adventure was that day? I’m not advising against taking risks in life – I’m hardly the one to do that. I’m alerting you to the hazards of thinking, and how best to live an exhilarating life without commentaries from the best-buddies in your heads. I’m suggesting that you can live a life that doesn’t require apologies and daily remorse. Thoughts can offer no new information. They are creatures from another era, from a time when you were losing innocence and could not yet imagine being wise. The thoughts you entertain now no longer represent you, or your desire to transcend stupidity.
One of the greatest human stupidities is the choice to be unhappy. You only chose it in the past because you never thought there was a choice. It’s tempting to think you are being treated unfairly, that everyone else is wrong, and that happiness will always remain just out of your reach. With that sage advice, you can grow out of childhood, but never out of your early domestication. Even with mom and dad gone, you can still become your own relentless tyrant. You can continue to domesticate yourself through repetitive thought – believing the old rules, and rebelling against those you love. Apologies can only take you so far. Modifying behavior is better. Guilt means that ordinary thought – bratty and predictable – has won. Shame means that you’re still hanging around the same idiots you grew up with. They have been egging you on for so long you think they are your most trusted friends. You could say that, in every person’s community of imaginary friends, these are the least trustworthy. Stories win over happiness most of the time. Cherished beliefs win over human impulse most of the time. And, too often, a fearful thought will win over love.
Stories win because you say so. Before you start judging the mind too harshly, let me remind you that you are the one thinking. You are the voice in your head, telling tales of injustice and indignity. To really grow up, you have to see who you are and how you can change your own world order. This is not only within everybody’s ability to do, but it is part of human biological programming. Just as you were biologically programmed to grow from a single cell into a mature human body, your mind was designed to define reality, to be mesmerized by that reality, and ultimately to wake up and see beyond itself. Your mind was designed to transcend knowledge.
Before we can undertake such a leap in personal evolution, it’s important to realize that such a thing is possible – possible, and not so very difficult. Behind the veneer of flesh and dreams, there is absolute truth. There is life.

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