We often talk about the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”, the hope that our current ordeal will end soon. It is a turn of phrase to help get us through difficult times.
I think the idea of the light at the end of the tunnel, although helpful in its way, can also be dangerous. It is like the sentiment, “just around the corner”. The danger is that it is circumstantially-centered. And especially that it is centered on this circumstance.
Here is the thing they never tell you. The ad campaigns and the politicians and the preachers. They never tell you that the light at the end of the tunnel leads to another tunnel. Around the corner just leads to another street (and the longing for another, and another, and another, etc…).
A Change in Perspective
One of the most important ideas I have ever come across is that the key to life is not getting to the light at the end of the tunnel but being the light within the tunnel. The key to happiness is not the circumstance just beyond our grasp. It is within our stewardship of today’s reality. Trusting in circumstances is a mirage. Hoping for the pacification of some specific situation is a mistake. It sets us up for a pattern of dependence on circumstances, a roller coaster of things outside our control.
So often, the true light at the end of the tunnel is a mirror. The key is not to get to a certain destination of circumstance but to a consistent standard of character.
See and Be
A few years ago, I was standing on top of The Empire State Building, admiring the view. It was my favorite spot in New York City; grand views of the sprawling concrete jungle, the outline of Manhattan Island, and big sky all around.
I didn’t realize something was missing.
During another trip to NYC, I went to a brand new observation deck in another part of the city. Immediately, I realized that I had been missing something significant all those times I went to the Empire State Building – namely, I couldn’t see the Empire State Building from atop the Empire State Building!
There is a light within us and we so often take it for granted. It can be as bright and prevalent as The Empire State Building, but we don’t see it because we are perched atop it.We are looking out, putting our hope in things external, underappreciating the power within.
The key to perseverance is to find and exercise that power within you. A circumstance is just a circumstance. It can be a trial or a reprieve. Both are temporary. Who you are is the thing you have to carry around with you. And the vehicle you are driving has headlights. There is a light within you.
And it is time to look for it instead of the end of today’s unique tunnel.