05/16/2011 12:07 am ET | Updated Jul 16, 2011

Creating Our Own Reality: An Evolutionary Responsibility

"Do you know what hurts the most about a broken heart? Not being able to remember how you felt before."
-- Cassie, from Skins

It was probably fifteen years ago when I first heard the phrase, "We each create our own reality." I'm fairly certain a follower of Jane Robert's "Seth" first spoke it to me, then it was quickly reinforced by a compelling Richard Bach publication. I'm also fairly certain my initial reaction was, "Screw that." Whose wouldn't be? If life is going great, then it's a different story. In that case, of course, I would want to claim some level of responsibility for my success. But what if it isn't? I mean, what if it really isn't going well due to a chronic mental/physical health condition, PTSD, or being victim of some event that was beyond control? At most points in life there falls a darkness so devastating that not only do we not want to feel any connection to its cause, we don't want to connect with it at all. Where do those events fit into creating one's own reality?

It boggled the mind. Having found peace on a shamanic path, a fairly self-governed and ongoing spiritual quest, I just couldn't hear that any harm-filled facet of my past was due to my own creation. To me that's right up there with the concept of original sin, or victim-blaming, both of which subversively imply that it's our fault that we're all damned and if we don't figure out how to get un-damned, that's our fault too. I found no salvation in those age old projections, and I found none in the New Age evangelist gurus who more or less implied the same thing. Better yet, not one of these sages supplied further information on how this self-mastered creation process worked. Indeed, it was a well-kept secret.

Some point down the line the message clarified, stating that our thoughts create our realities. The new edict was backed by references to theories on causality and synchronicity posited by Carl Jung, and even facets of quantum physics relating thought with energy, thus manifestation. I decided to think about being happy. Driving down the road, eating my lunch, doing my job, sitting in staff meetings, and chatting at dinner parties, I thought about being happy. I let the thought of being happy consume me, which by current translation was expressly what the latest APB from the gods said I was supposed to do. But I didn't feel happy. In fact, I started to feel guilty that with all this positive thought I couldn't think myself happy, a fact that left me feeling ...sad. I couldn't figure out why I felt more isolated and down when I was doing the higher consciousness-sanctioned "right thing."

All of that changed when Abraham-Hicks leapt into modern awareness with the Law of Attraction in the early 90s. Essentially the Law of Attraction is, "Like attracts like." Subtly more informed than "We create our own reality," Abraham-Hicks put forward that the internal focus is the outcome. In short, what you feel is what you get.

Finally I understood why I couldn't think myself happy. Trying to talk myself into a state of being that I didn't feel made as much sense as convincing my empty stomach that it wasn't hungry. Talking the mind into a state of being requires more than just commanding it to be so. It requires an inventory of feelings that include already having a sense of the desired state of being. I was telling myself to be something I had no frame of reference to feel. How do you create an outcome for which you have no repertoire of feelings? If someone has always been hungry, how does that person manifest a sensation of fullness and nutritional satisfaction? If a person has always been in poverty, how does that person manifest the secure assuredness of having enough? How was I supposed to manifest happiness when I didn't know what it felt like?

Admittedly, having puzzled that out I didn't immediately jump for joy. No, in fact, I went on to feel terribly guilty about the fact that I couldn't solidly identify swaths of joy and delight in my past. That was the point that I realized I had to start smaller. If I couldn't find eras of pure contentment with my life, then I had to find moments, split second snapshots capturing finer details, splashes of rapture -- being a child sitting in my mother's lap and listening to her sing, roving the county fair and spending all Summer riding bikes all over the county with my cousins, frolicking with my roommates and sister in college, traveling with my lover. Those were the fragile, sheltered moments of happiness that I found. Like my 'thought' experiment, I began taking time throughout the day to remember those moments, specifically to feel the way I felt in those moments. Right away I began to notice that my mood improved, and inside a week I found similar beautiful moments unfolding in my present. By feeling those past joys I was creating happiness in my present.

A hallmark of the shamanic path, whether ancient, indigenous, or modern, is self responsibility. Its center is the ability to deconstruct what is usual, regardless of what "usual" is and observe, experience, and become something Other. In that truth I realize now how harmful those incomplete early messages about creating reality were. Because they couldn't tell me where to focus they taught me to create more of what I didn't want. Even now in this New Age, many such gurus still teach that we are all at fault for the harms that befalls us. In the phrase, "We create our own reality," what most people really hear is, "It's your fault your life is shit, and anything that happened to you to cause you to feel like shit is your fault too." The responsibility of self-creation doesn't lie in analyzing who is at fault for our past, but who is responsible for our present. Only we are. Creating reality is about looking at ourselves differently and being willing to shake it up in favor of something better by reaching into the places we have most hidden from ourselves to do so.

We have one shot at being who we are in this life. Because of that fact, it's not an option to make it the best life we can, but our responsibility.