During the boring Orange County years, I was looking for anything to add a little excitement to my life. One of the things I did there for few months was taking flying lessons. Like many others, flying has always been a dream for me. Back in Iran, I tried paragliding for few months, but after one of our classmates crashed into the mountain in front of us, broke his neck, and died a few days later, all of us stopped jumping. A few years later, when the image of that accident lost its power, I wanted to try paragliding again. But Orange Country is as flat as the life there; there’s no hill to jump off of it! My second option was flying an airplane, and I did it for a while. It was not as exciting as paragliding, but it was interesting. My instructor had a small single-engine Piper, but he kept talking about another aircraft that he wanted to buy. One of the features that he was looking to have in his new airplane was “autopilot”. I asked him a couple of times that if he flies for fun, why would he want to have an autopilot, and his answer was to be able to concentrate on the other stuff. I never got what that “other stuff” was.

Most of the time I think our life is on autopilot mode. First I thought it’s only daily routines; waking up, taking shower, going to work, eating, coming home, going out, having fun, sleeping, all the routines that we have in our lives without really thinking about them, it all seemed “autopilot” to me. But then, I realized it’s not only the things I do but also the things I say. I, on autopilot, talk about films, music, books, computer, work, travel; I, on autopilot, react to other people, answer their questions, pay attention to them, like them, and dislike them. With new people, I autopilot-ly talk about my hobbies and interests to find some similarities, and I already have all the answers to their autopilot-questions. With old friends, we usually have reached a mutual autopilot situation, and that needs even less thinking. Every now and then, a new thing pops up that makes me think, but as soon as I figure it out, it becomes part of my autopilot-ed life.

But then, as soon as I try to do something that is not defined in the autopilot-handbook, things go strange. Do something that people don’t expect, or don’t play along with their games, and they will become either scared of you, or they will hate you, or both! This can get very frustrating and draining; it makes me tired of me, of fighting, and of life.

For a while, I wanted to fight with this autopilot life. I’ve found my own group of people that I feel comfortable with, people that I think are not on autopilot mode. I’ve formed very deep friendships and have connected to many people in a very precious way. But there’s a bigger problem here: I’ve learned my own “style,” and I’m autopilot-ly fighting with being on autopilot mode.

I realized it’s even more complicated; it’s not just limited to my actions and thoughts, it also includes my feelings and tastes. Why does everyone think the sunset is pretty and romantic? When it comes to music or movies we have different tastes, but why do we all (or most of us) love the sunset? Why do we all (or most of us) think committing suicide is a bad thing? Isn’t it just deeply programmed in our minds by our culture, our history, our parents, our teachers, our communications with the others, by the books we read, by the stories we hear?

The main question is how can we separate ourselves from all these values that we have learned in our life? For example, everybody knows “success” is a good thing. You may not be able to handle it, and that’s another problem. But success is a good thing, and a successful person is much more attractive than a failure. No one likes you when you’re down, weak, and broken. They may feel sympathy, empathy, compassion, or pity, but they won’t admire you for that. Our autopilot mind says we should admire and envy successful people. A couple of nights ago a friend, Malijak, was telling me: “I see you and I read your notes, and the only thing I feel is a pity. Look at you, you’re tall, you’re handsome, you’re intelligent, you’re smart, you’re good at what you do, you’re at the best age, you live in the best place in the world, and instead of enjoying your life you waste your time thinking and writing this gibberish… I really feel sorry for you, man!”. I don’t want to say he’s wrong, but I can’t accept that he’s right either! What does “enjoying life” mean anyway? Driving a Porsche? Being a CEO? Being a Darvish? Having young and pretty women? Being a monk? Not questioning life? Smiling all day long? All of them? None of them?

We spend our lives learning things to have an easier life, to be able to put our life on autopilot mode, rest, and concentrate on the other stuff. But I don’t want that. I want to unlearn things that I’ve learned. I want to reevaluate everything again. I want to find out what MY joy is, not what Malijak or others say. I may get to the same conclusion as the others, or I may not, I don’t know. But I don’t want to have an autopilot-ed life. Even if I’m going to the same destination, I want to control my plane; I have no “other stuff” to do.

Tao Te Ching says:

In the pursuit of knowledge
every day something is added
In the practice of the Tao
every day something is dropped.

I’m trying to drop things that I’ve learned (or I think I’ve learned) in 35 years (including Tao Te Ching!), look at them again, evaluate them, and then pick the ones that “I” want, that “I” like, that “I” think are good for me, and I don’t even care if I’m wrong! As a friend says, “My own wrong way”! I know, as Zahed told me the other night, there’s no compassion for the others in this (or my other notes), but that’s fine; I want to reevaluate compassion as well.

Maybe this is just another dream, a dream of dropping everything, a dream of becoming like a child, a dream of weightlessness, but as they say, dreams are true as long as they last.

 

–San Francisco