By Seamus Anthony
Andy Warhol: “So What?” is the magic mantra to butt-kickin’ walk-on-water superpowers. It is the Holy Grail. Once you get it, you will become invincible.
“I was walking in Bali and I saw a bunch of people in a clearing having a ball because somebody that they really liked had just died.
And I realized that everything was just how you decided to think about it. Sometimes people let the same problems make them miserable for years when they should just say “So what?”
That’s one of my favorite things to say: “So what?”
I don’t know how I made it through all the years before I learned how to do that trick. It took a long time for me to learn it, but once you do, you never forget.”
– Andy Warhol
This quote by Andy Warhol is an awesome way of thinking that can really help you to get over, around or through whatever it is in life that’s holding you back. Seriously, when things are getting me down I just mutter the magic phrase “Andy Warhol. So What?” and instant superpowers are mine; I can deal with any trivial shit life throws at me.
Everything Is Just What You Have Decided To Think About It
I love the idea that nothing is inherently a happy nor a sad event in and of itself but rather things (events, ideas, people, places, etc) only become attached to any meaning according to what it is we think about the thing.
Consider these three statements:
- Oh, my friend has died – that is so sad it makes me feel like crying.
- Oh, my friend has died – I want to celebrate how awesome he was!
- Oh, my friend has died. That reminds me: I’m feeling tired, I should go to bed early.
While all three sound ridiculous written out like this, it still is true that death is neither something that makes you sad, celebratory, or sleepy unless you say so.
I am not saying that it would be easy (or healthy) not to be upset if someone close dies, that isn’t the point, the point is meaning is something we attach to events that inherently have no meaning.
The same goes for everything in your life. We all know people who get “sick” every second week and people who never get sick and despite what the former group may believe it is obvious to the rest of us that both these groups get what they decided to think about being sick. One group regularly thinks (and talks about) how they feel sick, so they experience “sick”. The other regularly thinks and talks about how they never get sick, so they don’t experience “sick”. And a lot of people say “Oh I don’t get sick much, but every spring one wipes me out at some point”. And then this is exactly what they experience.
When things happen, you get to decide what to think about that. You lose your job? You can either think:
- Shit! I have bills to pay! This is terrible! … or
- Ah man, what a pain, I’ll have a week off and then I’d better find another stupid job, I suppose … or
- Woo Hoo! I was sick of that job and now this frees up space in my time for something better!
Similarly, if you get dumped by your boyfriend, or you have a lot on your plate, or you accidently upset somebody over-sensitive, or you don’t get as much done today as you intended to, or your career (or lack of) is frustrating you, or you don’t have any extra money this year because of your credit card debt – or anything like this – you can think about this as something bad…
…or you can just think like Andy Warhol: So what?
Andy tapped into two great mechanisms for peace of mind here. One is “detachment” which is the ability to observe who we are and decide to untangle ourselves from our habitual, grasping, desiring, emotionally charged responses to people, events and things.
The other, closely related, is realising that in our heads we have voices and these voices tell us stories. And these stories, which we have often been telling ourselves for so long that we no longer realise we are telling them to ourselves, are not real. It is not real that you do not like your job. It is not real that “there’s never enough money to make ends meet”. It is not real that you hate the taste of anchovies. It is not real that you do not have a successful career. These are all stories that you tell yourself. Or in Warhol’s words, these are just the ways you have decided to think about things. We traditionally see death as reason to mourn but in Bali they see it as a reason to celebrate. These are just two different stories. Neither is true. Neither is false.
Knowing this is liberating but it doesn’t always make it easy to do, however when you can make the leap and when you do start to believe a different story about something, you can make life so much easier on yourself.
You have the power, baby. Next time you get the shits with stuff, just mumble the magic mantra: Andy Warhol. So what. Andy Warhol. So What. And before you know it you too will be a goddamn, water-walkin’, dead-raisin’, leper healin’ Rebel Zen Master like me.