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SURPRISE The Unexpected Gateway

Oct 02, 2018 10:39PM
by William Arntz

Surprise! Twenty of your nearest and dearest shout the word as you walk into a restaurant on your birthday. Or maybe your mom unveils the cool red bike you’ve been drooling over for months. Or … maybe your boss hands you your severance notice. Surprises run the gambit from fabulous to horrifying. But no matter what they bring, they always grab our attention. For a few moments, our minds and our brains and our reality are in suspension. Anything is possible in those initial minutes of surprise, which is why surprise is such an amazing gateway for transformation.

When Eckhart Tolle thought, I can’t stand myself anymore, and decided to end his life of deep depression, a surprising question instantly arose in his mind: Who is the “I” that can’t stand “me” anymore? He experienced an awakening so profound that it would take him two years of living on park benches to integrate what happened. Surprise! When another author friend of mine had her awakening, she laughed for weeks—in fact, she’s still laughing— because enlightenment was not what she’d expected (or desired). Surprise!

Surprise is the hallmark of Enlightenment, and it’s not just for the Lofty Ones. Everyone can be surprised. And since transformation is the name of the game, and moving from “who I am” to “whatever I’m gonna be” is transformation, it’s easy to see that transformation is always a surprise.

So how did I come upon what I like to call the Tao of Surprise? By accident, of course. I was reading transcripts of my wife’s teachings, pulling quotes for our book, The (not so) Little Book of Surprises, and the quotes that tickled my fancy had one thing in common. They all said something old in a new way that surprised me. Like this one:

That Mystical World—that’s where we find the light. But it’s also the chrysalis of coming undone. If you’re going to embark on a journey of coming undone, you damn well better have your ducks in a row, because it could be like “splat” on the windshield.

Eckhart went splat. My other friend went splat. Then I remembered the research I had done for my film What the BLEEP Do We Know!?, and how the brain and our whole chemical nature change with a surprise. I realized that in those moments of surprise, our brain’s ability to rewire, known as neuroplasticity, skyrockets. Which means surprises are gateways to instantaneous transformation.

Using Surprise As a Gateway to Change

How can you consciously employ surprise? In Carlos Castaneda’s book Journey to Ixtlan, the sorcerer teacher Don Juan talks about the importance of “disrupting one’s routines.” Simply put, we are all a collection of habits. By disrupting our habits, we can evoke surprise and neuroplasticity:

  • Instead of having your regular coffee in the morning, drink tea.
  • Forget the usual peck on the cheek as you leave for work. Sweep your mate off their feet and kiss them passionately.
  • Use chopsticks at lunch.
  • Spontaneously drive home from work a different way than usual. Try it. Who knows? Your old self might just go splat on your windshield.
William Arntz has been a research laser physicist; has written software still used by most Fortune 500 companies, and created, produced and directed the film What the BLEEP Do We Know!? Recently he created The (not so) Little Book of Surprises with his wife, Deirdre Hade, and photographer Endre Balogh. For more information, visit See ad on page 17.
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