When I was in high-school, there was a group of tough kids who instilled fear into the hearts and minds of any who dared to tread upon their territory. They were called the Nike Gang – an uncreative homage to the brand of sneakers they all wore.
If you wanted to participate in any of the clubs to which they belonged, or become friendly with any of their members, you’d better have thick skin and incredibly high confidence.
I had neither. And I was terrified of the Nike Gang.
Each day while standing at my locker or walking between classes, I was filled with terrible anxiety that I would be accosted. I had helped tutor a girl in mathematics, and she was close friends with several members of the gang. Consequently, I was on their hit list.
I had an enemy. And as I contemplated the concept of enemy, I realized that it somehow represented something that stood in the way of my peace. In this particular case, I wanted to freely walk the halls without stress – and this group had just the opposite objective. The more I hypothesized how they might attack me, the more anxious I became.
This wasn’t my first enemy. He appeared on the scene many years earlier in the form of my younger brother. And just like the Nike Gang, he stood in the way of my happiness. What did my brother do that caused such angst?
Nothing. In fact, he couldn’t have been a nicer person. But my brother was an enemy because once he was born, the amount of attention I received from my parents was dramatically cut. What once flowed uninterrupted to me I now had to fight for.
While I wasn’t able to fully understand this as a young child, I eventually came to recognize that it is the ego’s wanting that creates enemies. Want implies lack – there’s something I desire which I currently don’t have. And there’s someone or something that stands in my way – the enemy. That might be a person, but it could also be a physical limitation, environmental factor, or some other inhibitor that I believe separates me from my ambition.
And I was struck by the realization that my enemy’s power was completely dependent on the weight I gave it with my ego thoughts. In the immortal words of cartoonist Walt Kelly, “I have met the enemy, and he is us.”
When I could give up the thoughts that my little brother stood in the way of my happiness, I felt wonderful. And when I realized that I was giving the Nike Gang so much energy with my negative thoughts, my anxiety disappeared.
Here was the key to not just freely walking the halls, but to a joy filled life: it all comes from my thoughts.
Every thought you have makes up some segment of the world you see. It is with your thoughts, then, that we must work, if your perception of the world is to be changed. (W-pI.23.1)
This concept is far easier to understand intellectually than it is to practice experientially. It feels like the Nike Gangs of the world haunt all our lives and seemingly stand in the way of real peace. But once we realize that the source of all unhappiness is simply ego thoughts, then we can begin the process of choosing different thoughts and experiencing completely different outcomes.
Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll learn how. I look forward to seeing you then.