My hands gripped the steering wheel tightly. My mind tight and fixed, thinking of how unbelievably rich are the people that come here. Families, with the patriarch standing by the fireplace of the massive ski chalet they own, staff scurrying to ensure everything is perfect or run the risk of being fired. The son, brought up with so much money, fighting and arguing because he wanted a better Ferrari. A strong image of horrible people focused entirely on money.
As I drove through this small town in the mountains of Colorado, I thought about how rich you have to be to live this lifestyle, with your staff, lots of cars, ski instructors, and multiple properties. And how horrible all these people are as a result.
It’s a ski town, but this is summer – the sun shone on the grassy verge of the wide road as I drove, vistas of the mountains and empty ski lifts everywhere. The town was clearly built to handle far more people than were currently here – the empty wide swathes of curbside parking as evidence.
I went around and around with this picture, thinking of all the stories that I’ve heard about this town of Aspen, Colorado. Looking out with hatred at all the infrastructure built to support these horrible people and their crazy levels of material wealth.
Then suddenly it hit me. Where the hell was I? I certainly wasn’t in the same physical reality that my body was in. I realized in a flash that nothing about what I was thinking had anything to do with MY life. The one I was living here and now. Where I was driving on a fun jaunt through the mountains, looking out the window at a little town.
Suddenly it was like a thick veil was withdrawn, and I saw for the first time the bright green of the grass, the clear, sharp outlines of the mountains with snow atop even in summer. The delightful little town out the window as I drove through, a bus passing by helping people get where they want to get.
It hit me so clearly how I had wholly invented an alternate reality based solely on bits and pieces of stories I had heard over many years – a mishmash of movies, books, other people’s experiences and inventions. I had concocted a horrific mental landscape. It allowed me to be all sorts of self-righteous, giving free rein to that part of me that loves to judge people.
These realities were entirely distinct! What was in front of me was grass, sunshine, a paved road, my red car. I was on my own adventure exploring the mountains and this stunningly beautiful Colorado landscape. There were no chalets and no Ferraris. I have never encountered these people I had invented; it was pure fiction.
Looking out at the sunny mountain, I realized the mental bubble I had created. How dim and dark and hateful it was compared to the brightness and directness of the actual world around me. This sacred world that gets hidden from view, crowded out, when we live inside mental bubbles.
I’ve meditated for years now, and so I have practiced many times jumping out of mental bubbles back into being present to what is here – that’s exactly what meditation is. This practice kicked in, and I came completely out of it while I was still there in the town. This was such a sharp demonstration of how we do this *all the time*. A stark contrast between the mental world constructed from bits and pieces of stories that had nothing to do with my life, and the actual one I was driving through.
What breaks my heart on a daily basis is seeing this play out all the time amongst us. Fragments of all the stories we hear endlessly on the news get pieced together into mental constructs that enable and give free rein to the parts of us that love to judge, blame, label and separate.
There is a much more direct physical world right at hand, that our fingertips can brush, our eyes can see if we develop them to be able. Loved ones and community right around us. Popping out of our fictional mental bubbles into this real world, the one that we can touch if we outstretch our arms – this is where joy lies waiting to be experienced, the joy of the present moment.
Meditation is the best path I’ve found to this. There are a million resources available for you to try. I lead a guided meditation practice twice a week for free on zoom – come join me! I also have many recorded sessions available. You can get info on joining me and access them here.