Don't ask me where I first heard that phrase. Memory and the fossil record point to Harlan Ellison, who used it as part of the dedication to one of his books. "Deja vu," he added: what I am about to tell you is familiar, and not in a good way.
With time and discipline I notice when I step into the same elevators again and again. I am not talking about a specific, dismal situation, like waiting for a green light or doctor's test results. I mean the mindset that goes with that kind of limbo, the mindset of waiting for some information before you feel like your life can resume. It is a mindset to be identified and resisted. Life goes on despite your thinking about it.
I'm sure you know this one. It's the feeling of, "I can't do anything until X because Y." I can't get anything done until I hear back from so-and-so because then I won't know what's happening this weekend, and all my plans will be thrown around. Everything in that vein.
Stare at these things hard enough and they evaporate like morning dew. They are not made of anything except whatever need to fret you bring into a situation. And we do tell ourselves we need to fret; if we don't have a problem, we invent one, because otherwise we think we're going to fall asleep. Not remotely true, of course; it's just something we believe. But isn't it clear by now that beliefs, however trivial or banal, expand on their own to rule human lives?
One day, not all that long ago, I was in a situation where I found myself waiting for something to happen so I could give myself the go-ahead. I'd spent enough time examining my own mind to know this was not real, but I wasn't sure what came next. Then I thought: don't give yourself the go-ahead. Just do something anyway.
Sometimes if I sit down at the computer and open Word to work on a story, and I don't "feel like it", I have to trick myself. I say, just write one sentence and see where that goes. Then write another one and see where that goes. I can typically bait-and-switch my own mind into getting a day's work done that way.
But this is not about productivity alone; it's about an attitude towards everything. This feeling of "I have been in this elevator before" is everywhere if you look for it. Habits of mind spring up in response to everything — the good times, the bad ones, the indifferent ones, the moments when nothing at all seems to be going on. The circumstances themselves turn out to be far less important than how you say hi to them when they knock on the door.
Things in life are far more about how you respond to them than what they are in themselves. Cheesy as that sounds, it's true — and the problem is, people can't see it as anything but cheesy until they internalize it. Me telling you about it here does nothing. Okay, maybe almost nothing; maybe it makes some of your more curious about this business of looking-into-one's-self-uninhibitedly. But me telling you about it and you nodding your head is in no way the same thing as it actually taking root from the inside out. Still, as a Zen teacher once said, you have to say something.
The whole reason discussions about things like this always circle around to self-actualization is because I'm now dead convinced the only way anything really happens is because they happen from inside out. Not even bottom-up, and definitely not top-down.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind