I remember when I was a young pup, in the glory days of Showtime, I used to be a huge fan of the Los Angeles Lakers.
You had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. You had James Worthy and Byron Scott. You had all these guys who were superstars in their own right, and they were all on the same team.
And then there was the arch-enemy -- the Boston Celtics. The ungainly (yet supremely competent) Larry Bird and his cohorts. Man, did I despise them.
Now I haven't had a TV for years, but sometimes when I'm out, a Lakers game is playing on a screen and I watch for a couple of minutes. Like right now, when the Lakers-Magic finals are on.
And even though I really don't follow sports anymore, sometimes a twinge of the old fanhood creeps in, and I want to root for "my team."
But now it's different people on the team. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. Oh wait, Shaq left to play for another team. Two other teams, actually.
So every person on the team now is different from 20 years ago. Heck, one of them, Luke Walton, is even the son of a former Celtic, Bill Walton. Unimaginable.
The uniform is also different. It used to be purple and yellow, and now it's just yellow. And they're playing in a different arena now -- the Staples Center, not the old Forum.
And nobody on the team is really from Los Angeles. And if a player were offered a better deal elsewhere, or got disenchanted with his situation (like Mr O'Neal), he'll skip out and go somewhere else.
So my question is: exactly which part of the Lakers is still the Lakers?
There used to be a time when the defeat or victory of "my team" had a great effect on my psyche. I'd get elated when they won, and seriously bummed out when they lost.
But now I'm realizing that "my team" did not really exist. The only thing that existed was a certain agreement I had made with myself to believe in this entity called "The Lakers."
This reminds me of the Buddhist concept of anatta, or no-self. At the bottom of it, nothing in the world has an enduring, fixed identity.
So I ask you this: how many illusory entities have you made contracts with to control your state of mind?
When you were a kid, you may have made a contract with Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. And woe betide them if they didn't show up when they were supposed to.
But you grew out of those. Right? You don't believe in that kind of fairy-tale stuff anymore. You're an adult now.
Well, how about the last time you lost when playing a game? Did you get a little bummed out then?
Or maybe you were waiting for a raise, or promotion. And it didn't come. How did you feel then?
Or maybe your pet did something bad. Or one of your relatives said something pointlessly nasty. Or you got left out of a party invitation. Or you lost your job. Or you got a parking ticket. How did you feel then?
Here's what every one of these events have in common: not one of them has a way of plugging directly into the back of your brain to make you feel a certain way.
If you felt crappy, it's because you consented to do so. You chose to do so. Now for most of us, it may be an unconscious choice.
But it's still a choice.
Here, try this on for size: Imagine that the cutest little 4-year-old kid just ran up to you. Someone you can't help but adore. For me, I imagine my 4-year-old niece. I'd do anything for her, and the clever little tyke knows it.
Now this kid is all smiles, hands you a hand-picked flower, and just beams.
Notice how you go "Awww," and your heart just opens wide. Perhaps you're even smiling now, and a certain sense of softness folds into your body.
That's called opening your heart. It took about 30 seconds to do. And there was no kid really in front of you. You did it all through the power of imagination.
This brings us to the utterly mundane yet utterly profound observation which is the crux of this article, and perhaps the crux of all Eastern wisdom and spiritual tradition.
Are you ready? Here it is:
As a human being, you have the unique gift of being able to think and feel independently of circumstance.
Most of the time, reality is a crutch. Sure, every once in a while a piano falls on your head, and man can that hurt.
But most of the time, the "problems" that are "out there" are manufactured by your own imagination.
In fact, all problems are problems of the imagination. And all solutions are solutions of the imagination.
In scientific terms, you possess the full manufacturing capability of the world's largest legal drug factory at all times. It's called your brain, and you can make happy juice, sad juice, thrilled juice, disappointed juice or any other kind of juice you want pretty much on demand.
My job's merely to remind you of that fact. So -- consider yourself reminded! In fact, let's do a fun little exercise right now.
A winning lottery ticket has no electrodes going to your brain to zap you into a state of delirious ecstasy. It's just your imagination.
So feel free to grab a scrap of paper right now. And imagine that it's got the winning lottery numbers on it. Holy crap! You just won 12 million bucks!
(C'mon, play along. I promise it'll be fun.)
Now imagine all the things you can do with that big stash of cash. Travel! Toys! Big home! Fancy cars! Do a little preview of all the excitement in your upcoming life.
And now realize that you have already won the lottery. It's called being alive. (And having a roof over your head, clean dry clothes on your body, most limbs intact, a computer in front of you, and enough leisure time to ponder how you want to spend it.)
You win the lottery the instant that you realize that you have the power to control your mind -- and use that power deliberately.
Reality's mostly a crutch. Asking it to conform to your particular wishes so you'll be happy is just another way of saying you're okay with being lazy and unimaginative. Which none of us is, of course.
When you take control of your imagination and choose to be happy and choose to have an open heart, it will be impossible for you to be sad or lonely. Great companions will flock to you from far and wide and will never want to let you go.
Why? Because you become the catalyst for their drug factory to make happy juices. Who doesn't want to be around someone who makes you feel great?
So break the illusory contracts. Instead, be the factory. Be the force. Be the fire that everyone wants to be around. I promise you'll feel a lot better that way.