On Embracing Disillusionment
Two weeks ago, I was listening to a monk share his personal journey into monasticism.
He explained how for most of his college career he was on a trajectory that would have likely led to a lucrative job, great family, and the fulfillment of the "American dream." Then, towards the end of his university years, through a few happenstance relationships and the wisdom held within them - his focus shifted dramatically, ultimately leading him to diverge from this path and become a monk.
What struck me in his reflection was his acknowledgment that he would have likely continued on the path, possibly indefinitely, were it not for these key relationships entering into his life.
An object in motion tends to stay in motion and without some sort of trigger, he was unlikely to move out of the comfortable existence presented before him.
In spite of this law of inertia, he ended his reflection marked with a statement of hope, saying:
"At some point, I like to think I would have become disillusioned and wondered if there was more."
It’s curious that disillusionment is a negative word in our culture.
We seek to protect people from becoming disillusioned, and we build complex rationalizations and distractions to protect ourselves from becoming disillusioned as well.
But maybe this is misguided. Maybe, we all need a bit of disillusionment from time to time.
To become disillusioned means quite literally that we are ridding ourselves of our illusions.
It means we are admitting that the things and people we have held up in our minds have been held up a little too highly. It means we have put our trust and our investment of energy into the wrong things. While deeply humbling, disillusionment can also be radically freeing and necessary.
When we get stuck as individuals or as a culture, we are often simultaneously stuck in some parallel illusion.
When we are able to break from our illusions, we can finally put things in proper perspective, seeing things as they actually are rather than how we would like them to be.
Our illusions get in our way, and we all have our illusions to a greater or lesser extent.
The path to full(er) living will always be marked by some level of disillusionment, followed by a recommitment to the things that truly deserve our trust and investment.
Here in the west, we live life with a sense of bravado and false security, like a teenager who has a deep confidence that they are, and always will be, invincible. For so long, we’ve had a sense that things will always be continuing on a perpetual upward trajectory towards more + more and better + better.
Until things suddenly change.
And then we see just how quickly everything we have trusted in can seemingly fall apart. We see the fractures and chinks in our armor. We are reminded that much of our security and sense of adolescent immortality is based on mere illusion.
Our current pandemic invites us into a collective period of disillusionment. An opportunity to see some things in our lives, our businesses, our culture as they actually are rather than how we would like them to be.
- Time to free ourselves from illusions we may have built around our ability to control things.
- Time to free ourselves from the illusion that our cultures and institutions are impenetrably secure.
- Time to free ourselves from the illusion that we are self-sustaining and don’t need to rely on one another and community.
- Time to free ourselves from a model of worth built off of output and measurement.
And out of this disillusionment, we have the great hope of rebuilding our lives around reality, rather than our illusion.
An object in motion tends to stay in motion. As we are all now at a point of slowing down, it is also a profound opportunity to reflect, reconfigure, and recommit to what is truly good for us.
This does not diminish the pain and loss so many of us have experienced due to this pandemic. But even this pain, and the pain we see in our brothers’ and sisters’ lives, can be an invitation to something deeper.
And in that depth lies a great amount of hope.
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