The Wisdom of Disillusionment
and the Way of the Two Mountains
Humanity is having a collective Midlife Crisis.
For hundreds of years, we’ve been obsessed with the great Pursuit of Happiness. It has motivated us to hustle, grind, claw and crawl our way up the monolithic peak of progress named Success.
In the U.S., this Pursuit is even immortalized in the Declaration of Independence, though it is not a uniquely American idea.
In many ways, the Pursuit has become our religion and its various expressions—money, status, power, possessions, relationships—are the gods we pray to, live for, and look to to tell us who we are.
None of this is wrong, but it simply doesn’t work. That may be the worst kept secret in history because the evidence surrounds us.
Read the news, spend 60 seconds on social media, or look around you (or, better yet, inside yourself) and it’s clear that the pursuit of happiness itself is what keeps us from being happy.
As the Taoist master Chuang Tzu said some 2,500 years ago:
Happiness is the absence of the pursuit of happiness.
Yet, we chase hard for what can’t ultimately be caught. It’s not our fault. It is what we were all born into and have been conditioned to do.
As happens in an individual’s midlife crisis, the Pursuit hasn’t delivered on its promises on a collective level because it can’t. Our prayers have fallen on the lifeless ears of plastic gods, who were never what the prophets in designer suits claimed they were or believed them to be.
We have all, collectively and individually, reached the top what writer David Brooks calls the “First Mountain”. It’s the one our culture tells us to climb—the mountain of happiness through achievement. At the summit, we were told, awaited the fulfillment of the Pursuit’s promise.
It’s a stark realization to reach the summit and discover the truth. We stand there, look around and say, “Is this all there is?”
Then the truth sinks in.
We have climbed a mountain, but it isn’t our mountain. It is someone else’s idea of who we should be, what we should want, and what’s important.
I’ve seen it play out over the course of 25 years in my work with people from all walks of life, not only the rich or famous. Everyone I’ve ever counseled experienced a deep kind of disillusionment with the First Mountain.
But this disillusionment, I tell them—all disillusionment, in fact—is a gift. It is the first step toward a life of clear purpose. And purpose, I remind them, is being and living in truth in every moment.
Disillusionment is the prelude to all purposeful living.
It is the first teacher you encounter on the path of rewilding.
At its core, disillusionment means waking up. It’s moving from ignorance to wisdom.
By disillusionment I don’t mean despair, though the awakening triggered by disillusionment is often accompanied by a sense of confusion, depression, or anger.
I think disillusionment is better understood as “becoming de-illusioned” or “un-illusioned”. Simply, it is seeing the illusion for what it is.
Imagine being at a magic show, watching an illusionist perform. Now imagine your friend beside you, who is also a magician, leans close and whispers in your ear how the trick works.
In an instant, you’ve become de-illusioned. You see how the trick works and are no longer being fooled by its misdirection. You understand the trick because you see clearly.
It’s not that the illusion isn’t real. What is happening on stage is very real. It’s just not what it appears to be.
Now magnify that to a civilization-level scale.
In recent years, we have all been de-illusioned by much of our everyday world as the curtains have been thrown back on how politics, business, and the general controlling of humans through fear that shapes our everyday world.
We have come to discover, through the events of a global pandemic, financial meltdowns and bailouts, and corrosive politics that we were living in a planet-sized house of mirrors, which distorts reality at every turn.
We suspected as much, but weren’t totally sure until life launched a barrage of stones at the collective glass house. Then we began to see how everything actually works.
We saw the magic trick, the illusion, for what it is.
We saw how the many are controlled by the few using fear. How the collective “We” has been carved up into “Us” versus “Them” tribalism for so long we don’t know if another way to live is possible. How we have been conditioned to climb someone else’s mountain because it makes us productive, predictable, controllable members of society.
And, like I shared in the parable of the elephant, the belief in the illusion is also what keeps us small.
These revelations have made many angry, as they should. This is the other side of the de-illusionment coin. Anger can be constructive and a wonderful teacher. It will get you busy. It will rile you up enough to take action and take responsibility for yourself and your choices.
It will motivate you to leave the First Mountain behind to find the Second Mountain, which is your mountain. Your purpose. Your way of being in the world truthfully and authentically.
But you will not begin the descent from the First Mountain into the valley and borderlands of Soul without first passing through disillusionment.
There is no shortcut or safe passage way around. You wouldn’t want to bypass it anyway because its lessons are precious gold.
Change requires a catalyst, and throughout human history one of the greatest is dis-illusionment. Waking up to the truth, however reliant we have become on the illusion and its comfortable lies.
Consider any revolution that has ever unfolded. How did it begin if not for disillusionment of the status-quo?
Think of your own inner revolutions and the quiet cataclysms that put your life on a whole new path. How much of the change in your own life has come because you saw the path you were on for what it was—a road to somewhere you didn’t want to go?
Do not avoid dis-illusionment. If you feel disconnected from a sense of clear purpose or happiness in your life, embrace the dis-illusionment that simmers right now inside of you. Invite it to be your ally and teacher. Ask it what it has to tell you.
Everyone passes by way of the First Mountain, but you don’t have to settle for there. In order to discover the new, the old must be abandoned. If you’re standing on the summit of the First Mountain feeling unsatisfied, good. You’re not meant to stay here.
You can become a Second Mountain person, someone who climbs the mountain of their own choosing because it calls to you, and whispers a dare to come find your Self in the wildlands.
But to get there, you must pass through the valley of Soul, where the first Path of Rewilding awaits. And that’s where we go next.
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