Life On Autopilot Or Manual

An episode in the PBS series, Hacking Your Mind, addresses the question: How Do Governments Hack Your Mind. In it, host Jacob Ward cited studies that show “We are not who we think we are… We think our conscious minds make most decisions, but in reality, we go through much of our lives on “autopilot”—unconscious, engaged in fast thinking and gut feelings. And as a consequence, because we’re fallible, we often make mistakes and go off on tangents. To illustrate, the program gives examples of how marketers, social media companies, dictators and other government leaders take advantage of our being on autopilot, which is most of the time. 

One of the cited studies in the documentary found that everyday Americans are motivated less by money, prestige and status, far more by the values, preferences and habits of their neighbors. One of the interviewees said, “The multitude is the message. What the people around me are doing tells me what’s appropriate for me.” As social creatures, we want to be included whether our “tribe” consists of saints, sinners or somewhere in between. Marketers hack into minds operating on auto to favor their products and services by convincing us that everyone, particularly beautiful, talented, cool, wealthy, caring, healthy, successful people are using them. And politicians of all stripes promise to deliver what “the people” want, providing paid testimonials by citizens who look and sound like the targeted audience and citing poll numbers that subconsciously invite us to join their tribe. 

It was especially troubling to see how dictators are hacking the minds of their people. The documentary focused on China’s “Sesame Credit” game, an engaging process that promotes obedient citizenship by assigning and taking away points for obedience to government policies and practices. Although the game is voluntary, millions have opted-in using the full range of social media to show everyone else how good a citizen they are. And the government incentivizes the high scorers through an array of rewards such as ease in getting a loan and obtaining paperwork to travel. Without any overt action on the part of the government, people with high scores are choosing to disassociate with relatives and former friends who have low scores, because it brings their score down. So effectively, the Chinese leaders have created a system where conformity to the whole—Communist Party and values of the dictator—has become a competition for wealth, prestige and privilege. The net result—of unity by behavior conformity—appears to have achieved a largely stabilized social order. Of course, there are individual exceptions and these low-scoring people are ostracized as social deviants. 

At the beginning of the documentary, the question was posed: What is the best form of government? The host responded with the often-cited notion that American democracy may not be perfect, but it’s far better than anything else. One of the reasons for this is the Western world’s abiding belief in free will. It encourages competition, individual initiative and innovation. And it gives rise to the philosophy that social well-being will naturally follow from individual well-being. In the current era, we’re learning that in practice it doesn’t work. Because individuals are free to disadvantage others, a rising tide doesn’t float all boats; it mostly raises those who belong to the yacht club. 

In the East, it’s the other way around. And the lessons being learned there have to do with  diminished individual initiative which can lead to suppression, depression and limited variety— which is an essential quality for evolution as it promotes resiliency in the face of change. What the PBS program revealed is how easily both systems can and are being manipulated by those at the top. This is important to know so we can be aware of when and how we’re being manipulated. But there’s more to the story that wasn’t mentioned. 

There are countless numbers of people around the world who are preferring to live their lives on “manual” rather than “autopilot.” Their choices are being made, not by what others are thinking or doing, but by the guidance of their soul, the “still small voice” that knows what’s true and best for them in all circumstances. Typically, through difficult life experiences, they learn that the soul is the doer, the true pilot, and that it has a plan, a set of learning requirements that must be met, and every experience provides a context for the growth in consciousness—increased awareness of one’s true identity. Living on auto is reactive, stressful and counterproductive in terms of growth because the trajectory fluctuates depending on what other people are thinking and doing. What’s more, on auto the destination is undetermined, ignored or unclear, often the result of distractions.

We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value – the rapture that is associated with being alive – is what it is all about.

Joseph Campbell

To live on “manual,” to take hold of the controls and live purposefully, requires an understanding of the soul’s purpose. On page one of the Operating Manual For Human Beings, there’s just one question that’s asked to discover what it is. “Why am I here?” The instructions on the second page advise the “pilot” to go into a meditative state and ask the question framed as a state of being rather than doing. “What am I here to be?” Then to write what comes and edit the words to construct a sharpened statement of the soul’s knowing. If the statement is true at that level, it will hold until death. And every day will provide an opportunity to realize it, however minuscule or impossible it may seem.

It can take years to discover the soul’s intended reason for an incarnation. Some never even attempt it. I believe it comes naturally for those seek it, but ultimately the timing is up to the soul. As for strategy, I like what Winnie The Pooh said: “Doing nothing often leads to the very best something.” Jacob Israel Liberman put it more succinctly. “Your life is looking for you, continually guiding you through the process of presence so that you may fulfill your reason for being. This fundamental fact is not only true for humans but also for everything that exists. We are being guided – not occasionally – always! The key to our awakening, freedom, contentment, and highest potential is all the same. Do what you love, love what you do, and the world will come to you. This is because doing what you love is the same as following your guidance, creating a foundation of authentic trust, unconditional love, absolute integrity, and unquestionable respect for the wisdom of life and your own sense of knowing.”   

Because the knowing comes from the soul and is therefore fundamental, it calls for integrity to it in every thought, decision and act that follows. Staying on course, not be distracted by anyone or anything and preferring to seek guidance from within may seem impossibly difficult. But if the soul is the doer, the true pilot who knows the flight plan and destination, the task become less about doing and more about allowing. Ironically, “free will” turns out to be the capacity to either heed or ignore the true pilot’s guidance. And for that, there’s no need of an operating manual.  

The universe is operational. We need to align with what life is doing in the whole.

Alan Hammond

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