Chapter 4: First Tool for Going Back to Walden – True Thought

Part 1: Our Inner Dummy

When many of us talk to ourselves, we tend to reason like Groucho Marx did when he declared, “I would never want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.” Thus we allow our egos to hoodwink us into every mistake we make, think, blurt out, or believe. In that sense, we’re all in a club we don’t want to belong to because it accepted us as members. It’s called the human race.

Poster from Marx's brothers movie Horsefeathers

I would never want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member

By listening to our egos, we often make ourselves victims of our own delusions, anxieties, fantasies, ambitions, rationalizations, angers, resentments, and misconceptions. That’s how the ego handicaps us into becoming perennial losers in the human race.

As you might recall, when I write about the human ego, I’m not talking about the psychoanalytical meaning of it: that part of the mind that mediates among the animalistic instincts of the id, the moralistic values of the conscience, and the demands of the environment. Nor am I talking about the popular notion of ego as a puffed-up and vain self-image. I’m referring to the Buddhist interpretation of ego, meaning the kind of ignorant, self-centered attitude that makes us commit the same mistakes over and over again and prevents us from developing compassion for all beings. In the Buddhist sense, ego is a bad attitude that’s the source of all negative thought.

Thoreau and other American Transcendentalists were well aware of the negative current running through human nature. Which is why they challenged us all to raise the level of our consciousness, our intellect, our spirituality, our state of being.

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life through conscious endeavor,” Thoreau wrote. “It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very medium through which we look, which morally we can do.”

Emerson expressed this idea of elevating your thoughts as a revolution in human consciousness: “So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes!”

Without “new eyes,” we view, interpret, and thus experience the world in a very negative way, indeed, as Lama Surya Das has so astutely pointed out in Awakening the Buddha Within. This is the naked truth about flawed and downbeat thinking. When viewing the world through an opaque film of unhappy thoughts, there can be only one way you experience your life. As bad news, Bix.

If you see everything through the eyes of Scrooge, you’re not going to live it through the mind of Pollyanna.

The ego talks to each us by taking over our interior monologue. This hostile takeover is not unlike ventriloquist Edgar Bergen putting words into the mouth of his puppet, Charlie McCarthy, back in the 1930s and 1940s, even before my time (ahem). It was one of the most celebrated acts on the radio. Think about that for a second. Millions of people listened religiously every week to a ventriloquist not moving his lips while he spoke to the radio audience through his wooden alter-ego. 

This is also a perfect metaphor for how we talk to ourselves: All of us have a ventriloquist, the ego, projecting words into the mouth of our own inner dummy. And like millions of people listening to ventriloquism on the radio, we suspend disbelief. We let the puppet master inside put depression, hurt feelings, disappointment, unrealistic ambitions, bad decisions, anger, distrust, false pride, self-absorption, self-defeat, and many other sad states into our hardwood heads. We let the ego rationalize our own irrationality. And all without moving our lips!

This ventriloquist act, our interior monologue, is the single most common reason why the common person is so uncommonly unhappy. What a waste!

The resolution to this problem is extremely obvious. Yes, extremely obvious, but extremely hard! As Emerson advised, look at the world through new eyes. True eyes. You must understand that by actually changing the way you view reality, you actually change the reality you view.

In that regard, what if you could edit each of your thoughts like a professional fact-checker preparing a book for publication and cross out anything that isn’t absolutely true, non-judgmental, uplifting, generous, fair, reasonable, loving, or kind? What if, instead of doubt and double-dealing, you could regularly instill inspiration into yourself?

In fact, my lovely reader, you can. Acting as your own fact-checker, you can become the editor of your own life. To find out exactly how, please stay tuned to the next section.