Michael Pollan has a book called “Food Rules.” In it, he explains that he read a bunch of books about nutrition, and the root of it all came down to this little phrase. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He then spent the rest of the book explaining that.
So I’m going to try to do the same with enlightenment and freedom from pain and how to appreciate life. I’m a gestalt learner, so it is coming together all at once and I’m seeing a lot of connections. Some of it is from child-rearing books, some from autism books, some from books about how to deal with being part of an abusive family or a co-dependent relationship. Some comes from Jesus, from Buddha, from Eckhart Tolle, from Lao Tzu. Sadly, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to quote anybody on any of this, as it is a synthesis.
I suspect you’ve heard most of this before, but perhaps not in this way. If you are like me, you have to hear things several different ways before something clicks and it goes in and sets up shop in your head. Hopefully some of this is helpful to you. So let’s begin.
Here’s my synthesis.
Give up the idea of control. Give up deciding what is “good” and “bad.” Be thankful, right now, for what is. Learn as much as you can about everything.
Here’s my explanation of that.
Resistance is futile. That which you avoid must be faced. Run away and it only becomes bigger. Face it, and it gets smaller. It is a normal human reaction to avoid pain. But by not facing painful things, you don’t get rid of them. You just delay dealing with them.
Yes, it is hard to face your fears. Nobody wants to. But strong people were those folks willing to try, step by step, to face what they were afraid of. It is worth the effort. It gets easier the more you do it.
Everybody and everything wants to be noticed. Notice, fully. See every person as if they are God in disguise. See every situation as an opportunity to learn and grow. It is all in your perspective.
What you focus on expands. (I think Oprah said that.)
Love is indeed the answer. Don’t judge anything or anyone. This includes people, ideas, and events. The more you decide what is “good” and what is “bad,” and the less you accept things just as they are, the better things will go for you.
Hate is another name for fear. Face what you are afraid of. Learn all about it. Lean into it. Study it. Then you will learn it isn’t what you thought it was. Fear is often ignorance in disguise. Learn as much as you can and the fear goes away.
Nothing is ever what you think it is.
Don’t make up stories about why people do what they do and what they are thinking. Ask them. When you make up stories, it is always going to make the situation worse, and you’ll often be wrong.
Try not to use the word “why” when you are asking people what their motivations are. “Why” causes defensiveness. One way is to say “I was wondering if you could tell me more about…” or “Could you help me understand about…”
Two people who have gone through the same experience will have different reactions to it. Just because you have lived through a car crash doesn’t mean that your friend who did the same has the same emotional reaction to it. They have a different history and a different emotional makeup.
Tell people how their actions make you feel. Feelings are very important.
If you don’t know how you feel about something, it is helpful to journal. You don’t have to be a great writer. This isn’t the great American novel. This is for you and you only to read, and it will be messy. Writing is surprising – you learn stuff while you write. It isn’t about putting things down on paper. It is about receiving as well. Pray while you write for insight.
We are a product of our environment and our conditioning. Often we do it that way because we’ve always done it that way – but that isn’t a good reason to keep doing it that way.
If someone (or an institution/authority figure) doesn’t like you asking why they do it that way, then dig harder. You are onto something.
The more resistance you encounter, the bigger the sign that is something you must work on. This is true with every situation.
Our need to label things good and bad causes a lot of our distress. It just IS, without a label. (Look in my “Resources” section under “Prayers and Stories I like” for the Rumi poem and the Chinese story for illustrations of this.)
Don’t even judge your healing. You are moving, and you have identified the disease. You are on the path to a cure. Every time you catch yourself falling into your old habits, don’t focus on the habit – notice the fact that you caught it and are changing it. Change takes a long time, and habits take a long time to undo. Be patient with the process.
There is something to be said for enjoying the right now, for not waiting for the future to bring relief.
Jonah prayed to God, gave thanks to God, while in the whale. He was thankful in the middle of a terrible situation. It was only then that he was freed. There is something powerful in this. It isn’t about praying and going through the motions of being thankful so that you will get some future goal of happiness. It is about actually being thankful in the moment. This is opposite what Western society teaches, so it isn’t easy to learn but it is worth it.
There is so much dis-ease, or lack of ease, with the 21st century Western way of thinking. It is about getting more and more. This is why people suffer from depression and heart problems and high blood pressure and chronic pain and bankruptcy. They are filling in their holes with the wrong things. They are unhappy, so they eat more. They are unhappy, so they comfort themselves by buying more. It is hard to change this cycle, but it is essential. It gets easier the more you do it.
I think there is a lot to be learned by the fact that Jesus often says to people that their faith has healed them. He didn’t heal them. They were seeking healing. They asked for help. Something about the seeking and asking worked. Jesus tell s us “Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you.” All of these require action on your part. It isn’t passive. You have to make the first step.
Like in the story of the prodigal son, he started to return to his father. When his father saw him, far off, his father ran to greet him. But he still had to start on the journey to return. So you have an impact on your situation. You don’t have to wait to be rescued.
Life is about focusing on the can, rather than the can’t. The more you focus on what you don’t have or can’t do, the less you will notice what you do have, and what you can do. Regret never built a raft.
Life is about being thankful for what you have, right now. If you can’t appreciate what you have, then how are you going to appreciate what you will get in the future?
Even “bad” things need to be appreciated. They are ways in. They are excuses and reminders to pray to God. They keep us awake and paying attention. And sometimes the “bad” thing is a blessing – we just don’t know it yet.
Part of loving God is trusting God. Know that all things are within God’s hands. Everything comes from God. God has a plan bigger than you could ever imagine. We humans don’t have that perspective. We think “Why is this happening to me?” while we forget to be thankful for all the blessings we get. (We learn this in the Book of Job).