Seinfeld has long been one of my all-time favorite television shows. And one of the best episodes, in my humble opinion, is Serenity Now.
Admit it. You clicked on the link, didn’t you?
Serenity now….Insanity later. There’s some truth to that.
And here it is. Affirmations work. But they’re not a magical spell. Sometimes you’re just angry. And it’s ok to be angry. Pretending you’re not angry when you are is not going to work very well. That’s not what affirmations are for.
Affirmations are about working to change core beliefs. And core beliefs usually exist in the subconscious mind. Walking around bellowing “Serenity now,” while amusing, is not likely to lead to much except, well, insanity. At the very least, it’s creating quite a lot of cognitive dissonance.
Someone I know who works with affirmations regularly once likened the use of unbelievable affirmations to putting sprinkles on dog poo. If you can’t make rent, repeating “I am wealthy” is really not going to do you much good at all. Putting a few sprinkles on the dog poo might pretty it up a little, but it still stinks. We’ve all been there.
Any affirmation that you decide to use is going to be more effective if you find it at least 50% believable to begin with. So, for example, if you are working to improve your finances, perhaps “My wealth is increasing” is a more believable option.
I’d love to tell you that you can change your life overnight. The truth is that real change takes patience and dedication. But the rewards span your lifetime.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu
Take the first step today.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – Stephen Chbosky
As I look through my last few posts, I notice a theme: books and movies. Welcome to winter in northern Indiana. Last weekend I watched a movie I’m still thinking about: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. When I rented it, I thought it would be just your typical coming of age teen movie. A little funny, a little raunchy, and good for about 90 minutes of entertainment. What a wonderful surprise that it turned out to be so much more.
The quote above features prominently in the movie (and I presume also the book, though I reluctantly admit I haven’t read the book. Yes, my former English teachers are no doubt gravely disappointed. Watching the movie before you read the book is a cardinal sin.)
We accept the love we think we deserve.
In the context of the movie, it’s about struggling to understand why people we care about choose romantic partners who don’t give them the love that we think they deserve.
Sometimes it can be hard to accept that other people are going to make their own choices when it comes to setting the standards of behavior for those close to them. It’s especially hard when it’s someone we care about.
They accept the love they think they deserve. Not the love we think they deserve.
Relatively speaking, though, it’s easy to look outside of ourselves and see the ways in which other people are not living up to their potential. But it’s a little harder to turn that lens on ourselves. To ask tough questions, and not merely about romantic relationships. “How is my own limited perspective keeping me from getting the _____ that people who want the best for me think that I deserve?”
When we step outside of the box in our own thinking, imagining ourselves as an observer in our own lives, the things we learn may come as a surprise to us.
I just finished watching Season 1 of HBO’s Enlightened, starring Laura Dern and recently released on DVD. It’s an ambitious show that attempts to tackle the complexities of the inner landscape, and what happens when we are in the process of re-shaping core beliefs.
The main character, Amy, has just returned from a stay at a treatment facility following an emotional breakdown in the workplace. At Open Air she learned a variety of meditation and positive thinking techniques which were presented as coping strategies for life’s difficulties. Now thrust back into the real world, with a smattering of new age thinking, she faces the challenge of navigating her “new” life.
For starters, she’s been demoted. And she’s not especially well-liked at work. She also lives under the same roof as her mother. She has a complicated relationship with her ex-husband. Further, with her effusiveness and new age-isms she quickly alienates quite a few people.
To me, the most interesting aspect of this show is the portrayal of someone starting on a spiritual journey. Amy has all of the intensity and excitement of a new practitioner. She wants to share her newfound knowledge with everyone she meets. The trouble is, not everyone is interested. But Amy’s not self-aware enough to see that she’s offending people.
Moreover, she has trouble staying in the mindset because her core beliefs haven’t yet changed. She is in the stage of “talking the talk.” She has this veneer of kindness and acceptance covering up a lot of anger and resentment; she hasn’t quite gotten the hang of letting go. She’s also in the process of learning that it’s not always possible to “follow your heart,” especially since most of the non-profit jobs she applies for don’t pay a living wage.
While I do wonder if the show will appeal to a wider audience, I applaud HBO for attempting to deal with such subtleties, as the screen doesn’t lend itself well to complex relationships and inner dialogue. Those interested in the process of spiritual awakening will likely find the show both heartbreaking and entertaining.
Read Part I of this entry.
Wright’s book included a substantial discussion of forgiveness, and he made several interesting points. I’ve noted that there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the concept of forgiveness, and that it’s often mis-understood, first and foremost, because forgiving is often equated with forgetting: “Forgive and forget.” But they are not the same thing.
Second, it’s simplistic to think about forgiving someone as “letting them off the hook,” or to see forgiveness as something that only benefits the alleged perpetrator. And, Wright further points out that forgiveness does not equate to tolerance, inclusivity, or indifference. “Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we don’t take evil seriously after all; it means that we do.”
Wright favors the concept of “restorative justice”. A bringing together of the offender and the victim, their families and friends, and the larger community, to determine a way forward. Forgiveness is, at its core, is about freeing both parties. Forgiveness “releases not only the person who is being forgiven but the person who is doing the forgiving.” Moreover, “forgiveness can mean not only that I release you from the threat of my anger and its consequences, but also that I avoid having the rest of my life consumed with anger, bitterness and resentment.”
Forgiveness, while it’s not about forgetting what happened, is a striving to act as if it didn’t happen. It is a way of repairing the relationship.
As an extension of this idea, Wright says that forgiveness is not about clearing an “emotional overdraft.” He adds, “If you try to love someone simply in order to be loved in return, what you are offering isn’t love, and what you get back won’t be love either.”
And finally, he points out that love is not a feeling, as so many of us mistakenly believe. It’s a choice, a call to action. “What ‘love’ means first and foremost is taking thought for someone, taking care of them, looking ahead in advance for their needs, in the way that you would take careful thought about, and plan wisely for, your own life.”
I think what Wright is trying to point out is that love and forgiveness are linked. Perhaps it is because in making the choice to love, we open our hearts and thus pave the way for forgiveness.
Easier said than done. But well worth the effort.
I just finished reading Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright. It was both more and less than I expected. While a relatively short book (less than 200 pages) surely cannot hope to tackle the topic of evil in its entirety, it did present some ideas and definitions which I think merit further discussion and reflection.
Wright’s basic point about evil is that many of us no longer believe in evil at all. If we do, it often exists as this vague, nebulous force that we pretty much ignore until it shows up right in front of us – at which point, we are surprised, and then react in a ways that are immature and dangerous; thus Wright cautions us against what he calls “unthinking moralism.”
While it’s easy to think of evil in the manner of a personified, cartoonishly distorted force operating in opposition to goodness, Wright’s basic definition of evil invites us to think about it differently, and with less of a dualistic mindset. It is, rather, the absence of something, a rung missing halfway down the ladder in the dark. “Evil is the moral and spiritual equivalent of a black hole.”
I wonder then if the absence of a working conscience, or a strong inner compass qualifies as evil under this definition. Perhaps then selfishness (selfish thinking and acting), as a manifestation of the lack of love, also qualifies.
It has long been my assertion that there’s very little malevolent evil in the world. But that most evil is the result of people’s inner confusion and lack of clarity about their own values and thoughtless action as the extension of it. Perhaps this is just another way of saying something very similar to what N.T. Wright has said, in terms of the definition of evil. The challenge, then, may be to know ourselves, to act on what we know, and further, to do so while maintaining an awareness of how our actions impact others.
More on this topic in part II.
How do we know when to let go, and when to hold on?
Sometimes when presented with a challenging person or situation in our lives, it can be difficult to determine what constitutes right action.
If what we’re facing is unlike anything we’ve experienced before, can we evaluate it on the merits of our previous experiences? If we do so, we run the risk of devaluing it, or of evaluating it based on a set of outdated criteria.
When something, or someone, so different from our previous experiences comes into our lives, it’s an opportunity for learning about our ingrained beliefs, habits, and patterns. And an opportunity to reflect upon whether or not these are serving us. Sometimes they are, and other times they are not.
That’s the funny thing about identity. We construct it over time, and we can deconstruct it as well. But if we throw out everything we know to be true every time someone comes along with a new idea, we run the risk of losing ourselves entirely.
On the other hand, if we are so concerned with building castles within ourselves that we cannot allow anything new to come in, we are closing ourselves off to growing, to experiencing our lives – and ourselves – more fully.
And the difference is not always easy to discern.
Sometimes (actually more often than not) there are no easy answers. Through remaining in a space of watchful awareness, and cultivating a heart of compassion for everyone involved in a situation, we can ease the discomfort that is often so much a part of being in the midst of not knowing. When the turmoil within us subsides, we may discover a space of calm, quiet, and peace which holds the answers we seek.
At the end of part I of this entry, I said that really easy things are rarely worth doing anyway. But, let’s take that a step further. Does it then follow that all difficult things are worth doing, just to prove a point? Should I dedicate my life to proving that oil and water can mix?
But seriously. It seems to me that it’s important to discern which difficult things are worth committing our very best to, and which ones go against the grain of who we really are, and what we really want our lives to stand for, lest we become a modern-day Sisyphus.
And beyond that, it’s also worth reflecting on why certain tasks may be difficult. If we are, for example, invited to confront our biggest fears, or called to heal old wounds in the process, we are faced with a great challenge, and an even greater opportunity for growth.
On the other hand, if we are motivated primarily by the desire to prove a point, we might simply have uncovered another variation of triumphantly declaring our own right-ness, with the added bonus of grueling experience.
Right action outwardly is meaningless if it lacks the heart as a foundation. Compassion, both for ourselves and for others, is an integral part of choosing and acting in ways consistent with our true calling. If we let our choices – and our actions- be motivated by love, we may surprise ourselves.
“So, any new year’s resolutions?” The cashier at the grocery store asked me today. I laughed, “No one ever keeps those anyway.”
If you happen to be someone who has made, and kept, a new year’s resolution, then I want to hear from you! You might just be the first – at the very least, you’ll be the first person I know who’s done it.
The problem with resolutions is that most of us are thinking too big.
That’s right, too big.
And while it’s good to dream big, the practical reality is that big changes don’t often take root in our lives the way we might like them to. Or the way that we hope they will.
So, I’m not against resolutions. Not at all. But, if you’re making one, I encourage you to think small. Here’s why…
It may be a new year, but you are still you. You have the same job, the same schedule, and the same habits you had last year.
So, for example, if you want to get in shape this year, rather than planning to hit the gym every morning at 5:30 and completely overhaul your diet, try keeping it real. Start with a couple of small changes that you can manage and feel good about. (For example, you might stop drinking soda and start walking thirty minutes a day, three times a week.) Create a foundation of new, healthy habits, and then build on that success.
It takes time for new habits to take root, and it’s also important to celebrate small victories along the way. Utilizing a reward system when you reach important milestones can help you stay motivated.
“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Photo by Virginia Olson © 2012
All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players:/ They have their exits and their entrances;/ And one man in his time plays many parts. – Shakespeare
There’s a belief common in spiritual practice that all the people who play important roles in our lives, from our parents, to our friends, to those who hurt us the most, signed up for their roles to teach us something that we came here to learn. And that those who love us the most are the ones who hurt us the most, because in being hurt we have the biggest opportunities to learn and grow.
And, when we exit, we will meet all of them again as their authentic selves, not in the role they played on the stage of our lives.
As a dear friend reminded me recently, we are all acting out plays that were written a long time ago. He was referring to our behavior patterns and thought patterns, which can become ingrained at an early age.
Except we forget that it’s a play. We get invested. We think it’s real. This is like believing the funhouse mirror shows us the real picture.
If our lives are pure fiction, what stories are we telling and re-telling? More to the point, what stories are we buying? And what stories are we re-living?
The challenge is to see the play for what it is. To recognize the players in our own mythology. The heroes. And the villains.
And the bigger challenge? To re-write the story and change the ending. To become the heroes of our own lives. To rescue ourselves instead of looking for someone else to do the heavy lifting.
We shall not cease from exploration/and the end of all our exploring/ will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot