That moment in the Matrix when Morpheus offers Neo the red pill or the blue pill is probably one of the most quoted and referenced moments in modern film. Why? I’d say that it acts as a symbol, a reference point for an instinct we all have of that one thing: the one pivotal decision we can make that transforms everything else. All of us have an instinct that there is an elusive switch, which when activated will light up all the lights on the Christmas tree, all at once. The desire to find this master switch, and the instinct that it exists, in my experience is almost universal.
The decision about what that might be varies enormously. For example, the 1980s and 90s were characterized, at least in America, by the belief that money could buy you everything. We glorified celebrities and lingered at the checkout line at the supermarket, staring at glossy magazine covers that displayed large mansions and yachts. By now that particular myth has been mostly debunked. Research from the Center for Positive Psychology at Penn State University has fairly conclusively proven that having more money will increase your well-being if you are making less than about $75,000 a year. After that it makes very little difference, and… here comes the shocker… Martin Seligman and his team have actually demonstrated that an increased income of above $200,000 a year actually will actually lower your well-being. Who would have guessed?
Another popular myth many of us have subscribed to is the idea of the soul mate or “calling in the one.” Now the magic switch is not connected to your bank account, but to intimate relationships. Somewhere out there in the confusingly endless sea of humanity, there is Mr. or Mrs. Right, and if I could just find her, well, we would live in an endless honeymoon forever more… What can I say? Divorce rates, percentages of couples needing therapy, and percentages of people who have secret affairs… doesn’t really look like the soul mate myth stands up to reality.
Yet another stab we take at finding the key to everlasting happiness is to focus on health and longevity. The Internet is overflowing with websites that will tell you which of the latest supplements to take, not only to live in perfect health, but also to feed your brain in such a way but you are peaking all the time. This particular solution has proven to be quite effective for the manufacturers of nutritional supplements, but for the rest of us the jury is still out.
So now we come to the big kahuna of pivotal life-changing interventions: Spirituality and the quest for enlightenment. This was the particular drug that had me hooked for a good part my adult life. It is based on the idea that you are “trapped in your ego” and if you just meditate enough/retreat enough/sit with a teacher enough/get mindful enough, you will finally reach the giddy peaks of Nirvana, and then you can relax and be blissful and free… all the time. But the thing is, the great majority of people who identify themselves as spiritual have this state of arrival projected either onto a time in their own future or onto a teacher who they don’t actually know personally. For many people, making spirituality the center point of the life can become something like a hamster on the wheel: You’re working hard, working hard, working hard, but still not quite there.
That’s just a small selection of the myriad formulas we have all adopted in search of the master switch. Having debunked even the enlightenment myth, you might be feeling quite despondent and ready to give up in a Jean-Paul Sartre style malaise. But hold your horses, because the truth is there are lots of extremely fulfilled, happy people in the world for whom just about everything is working. At the risk of sounding a little self- aggrandizing, I would count myself among them… and my wife… and most of my friends for that matter. There are in fact lots and lots of people today for whom everything is working: marriage is great, health is not a problem, money flows in and out quite well but it’s not an obsession, and spiritual practice and experience has its role in these balanced lives, but is not actually the centerpiece.
So was there a magic switch? Is there one thing that, if you actually attended to it, everything else falls into place? And if so, what is it?
Now I will tell you: for the one-time price of $99.99 you can subscribe to…
No, I’m kidding. I will tell you right now. I call it brilliance. It means the irreversible, deep, abiding, recognition that you are not actually here on planet Earth to get something for yourself at all. You are not here to get money, or love, or sex, or pleasure, or fame, or power. No. The acquisitive relationship to life is one big misunderstanding. You are actually here to give. Imagine that planet Earth is one enormous potluck celebration: everybody has been allocated a dish to bring, and if everybody complies and shows up with their offering, it creates the ultimate, all-time greatest potluck that could possibly be.
But here’s the rub: Although I have no doubt left in me whatsoever that everyone has a unique, sparkling, extraordinary gift to share, actually very few people manage to create a life in which their gift can shine. A few people, like Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs, and the Canadian singer Alessia Cara, (who I just discovered) knock it right out of the ballpark and amaze us all. But many people just live lives of quiet repetition and imitation. Why?
Most of the current literature about genius assumes that living brilliance is luck or genetics. I beg to disagree. I have been coaching people for 25 years now, and I have discovered there are certain, very specific components which need to coexist in order for a life to light up and become brilliant. Each and every one of these components can actually be switched on through conscious and deliberate practice. That’s the subject of my next book, which is almost finished and will be released this spring: Radical Brilliance. It describes the four essential components of a brilliant lifestyle, explains how brilliance gets blocked in specific ways, and most importantly, it explains simple, short, easy-to-adopt practices that will unblock the flow of brilliance again.
Well that is enough from me rabbiting on about it now. If you happen to be near Basel in Switzerland or Berlin in Germany, I will be teaching introductory Radical Brilliance weekends in both these cities. I’ll also be in Corfu, Greece, this summer for a one week Radical Brilliance intensive.
If you’d like to hear more from me about Radical Brilliance and ask questions live, I’ll be on Facebook this Saturday, March 4th. at 10 am Pacific Time to talk about the specific components of the Brilliance Cycle and to dialogue with you. If you miss the live event, you can watch the recording.