In Search of Ourselves

When the word purpose is used in conjunction with existence, people oftentimes assume that one is religious. There is a tendency to assume that unless you view the world as the result of creation as opposed to evolution, you cannot possibly believe that any of us has a specific destiny or reason for being here. We are simply living, oftentimes with no clear-cut sense of direction or meaning. Thus, we drift, like rudderless ships on a vast ocean of nothingness, perpetually in the present or in the past, failing to make adequate or effective plans for our future.

The question is: is this realism or are we trapped in a cycle of self-deception? Is it possible that in ceasing to think we have any purpose for being here, we are actually providing ourselves with an excuse for living exactly as we please? If we define living as we please as freedom, then the answer might be yes. To imagine that we have no obligations to anyone can be alluring for it provides us with a justification for not taking responsibility for anything, not even ourselves.

But how lasting is this type of freedom? And how much happiness does it bring us? When we fail to connect with those around us and develop a capacity to share in their pain and suffering, what have we become?

We see ourselves as beyond personal vulnerability. Yet it is our frailties and inadequacies that make us fully human. In turning our back on the dark side of human existence, we deny the innate courage, resilience, and strength that we possess both to cope and overcome these things.

The human will has infinite power, depth, and tenacity. We were not born to crumble under the tyranny of pain and suffering. And, in order to honor ourselves and humanity, we must be willing to bear the truth of all experiences, whether they be painful or joyous.

Ernest Becker, the noted anthropologist, scientist, thinker, and writer once spoke of the incapability of suffering as “obsessive denial of reality”. A few months ago, I wrote an article that encouraged you to create your own reality. I now perceive how dangerous this advice could have been. In choosing your own subjective reality over the reality that is part of all our lives, you can too easily subscribe to beliefs and opinions about yourself, other people, and the world that have no basis in truth. This does not mean that I do not support the idea of having faith in yourself or in trying to improve your life in every possible way.

What it does mean is that no matter how tempted we are to allow imagination to expand our minds, we must never let illusion substitute for reality. When we refuse to acknowledge that certain experiences are genuine or do not allow ourselves the freedom to express our own frustration about life, we are asking ourselves to live a lie. Children enjoy fairy tales because they enable them to escape into a world of fantasy where they imagine themselves as fanciful figures who have magical powers to overcome the everyday stress and tedium that mere mortals experience.

Trying to escape the monotony of existence is something that we learn to do early in life. Yet, as we grow older, if we continue to attempt to run from reality, what are we accomplishing? To face the truth takes strength. But what is more difficult than acknowledging truth is finding it. We manage to cast our own veils over Truth, much as we might cover the face of a statue that we are afraid to look at.

We fear that Truth will force us to see ourselves as we are, rather than as we wish to be. And that is something that many of us are not prepared for. The logic behind this rationality is difficult to fathom when you begin to understand that until you see yourself as you are you will not be able to take the steps necessary to become what you want to be.

Why it is that seeing ourselves as either less or more than we are is easier than seeing ourselves as we are?  Is it so difficult to accept our true selves? Perhaps, our narcissistic society is somewhat to blame for our inability to see ourselves clearly. We choose the ideal self—the image—over the reality of who we really are.

We may even manage to convince ourselves that we will bring this ideal image into existence by holding it in our minds. But isn’t there something terribly irrational about that concept? If we do not see and embrace our true selves, how can we create genuine change? Can we live authentically and yet see ourselves as being different than we are?

If the answer is no, do we then choose to live without authenticity? And how meaningful would such a life be? As children, we were intoxicated by fairy tales, and, perhaps, many of us still are. There will always be something deeply alluring about entering into a magical land of make-believe where we may have a chance to “live happily ever after”. But would we choose that if we knew that none of it could ever be real?

Would we rather live outside of reality and create wondrous experiences in our minds. Or would we rather enter into the realm of being and accept both the good and the bad that life has to offer us? We cannot have it both ways. Our own reality can be created. But unless it exists within truth (which is not possible as our own reality is, by its very nature, purely subjective), it remains part of an illusion that will only lead us further along the path of self-deception.

For awhile, self-deception can seem harmless enough. It enables us to believe whatever we want to about any given circumstance within our lives. Moreover, we can choose to ignore anything unpleasant, too. We can even deceive ourselves into believing that life is nothing but a series of positive experiences for when we imagine that we can create whatever reality we choose there are no limits. Unfortunately, such thinking tends to promote narcissism. We begin to see others as being here to serve us and our purposes. As a result, we lose sight of the fact that it is actually the other way around—we are here to serve others.

It has been said before that the love you give away is the only love you really get to keep. Then, might it not also be said that the life that is spent in service to others is the only life that is truly meaningful? Or do we dare to imagine that giving could be more important than getting?

Our consumer-oriented culture wants us to believe that the more things we have, the happier we’ll be. But what is the truth? How many of  us will come to the end of our lives wishing that we had more clothes or a more expensive car? Will it matter how many trips around the world we took or how much jewelry we own?

Perhaps, I have it wrong. Maybe it is more important how much we have than who we are as people. But, if so, why is it that so many people who have everything they could ever ask for remain so unfulfilled? If getting and having do not bring us satisfaction, is it possible that the more we have and get, the more dissatisfied we become? In our attempts to diminish our inner thirst with that which will never quench it, it would seem that it’s possible we may actually be making ourselves thirstier. It is akin to trying to nourish our body with food that has no nutritive value. Eventually, we will starve.

This is why pulling ourselves out of our own reality and into the light of Truth is so crucial to having a life of purpose. In the words of philosopher Harry Frankfurt, “Our success or failure in whatever we undertake, and therefore in life altogether, depends on whether we are guided by truth or whether we proceed in ignorance or on the basis of falsehood.”

Frankfurt believes that we need truth not only to understand how to live effectively but even in order to survive. When we look at the state of the world we live in, we have to wonder whether or not the fact that the search for Truth has been replaced by a desire to believe whatever we want to hasn’t contributed to the collapse of humanity. We may talk of creating our own beliefs, but stepping too far outside the truth can affect not merely us but society, as a whole.  

Even though we may not want to acknowledge it, we have responsibility in this world for more than just our own lives. We have an obligation to humanity. It’s not really all about you anymore, nor is it about me or any other single person. It is about us. Our journey is both personal and part of a collective journey that all of us are on. It is the experience of being human, and each of us can has the ability to make of this experience anything we choose. We can either accept the pain and the joy and make the best of each, or we can allow ourselves to lose sight of our collective purpose as we get immersed in ourselves and our narcissistic realities.

Whether you are religious or not, imagine, if you will, the impact that Christianity would have had on the world if we had been told that Jesus came only to save a few select individuals who were in some way set apart as being “special”. Rather than being seen as a figure of eternal selflessness and self-sacrifice, we would perceive Jesus as the ultimate elitist. Yet, much of the time we set ourselves apart as being exempt from the human experience—as having a purpose that is somehow more unique or exceptional than anyone else’s.

Then, we wonder why it seems as if we are unable to establish relationships of any true significance. How can we when we are so absorbed by ourselves and our own lives? The irony is that in spite of our all-encompassing self-absorption, we have not necessarily ever really “found” ourselves. Often, we are absorbed by the false image of ourselves that we hold within our minds and the things we feel that others should be doing for us and/or that the world should be giving to us.

However, beneath all of the superficiality, we still want something deeper . . .  something more, whether we admit it to ourselves or not. We are seeking the purpose that we say we don’t believe in—the reason for living that we say doesn’t exist. For, we are oftentimes so out of touch with our authentic selves that we cannot discriminate between that which we think we want and that which we truly need.

Perhaps the brilliant and contemplative philosopher, Jacob Needleman, sums it up perfectly when he says, “We human beings are in search of meaning, in search of our selves. Very little of what we already are and already have brings us deeper meaning or happiness. We are  born for meaning, not pleasure, unless it is pleasure that is steeped in meaning. And we are born as well for sufferings, not the suffering that leads to madness but the suffering that leads to joy: the struggle with ourselves and our illusions. We are born to overcome ourselves, and through that overcoming to find great harmony and being. We are born for that . . . We are searchers: that is the essence of our present humanness.”

Maybe we have failed to learn one basic truth that would have illuminated our paths from the beginning had we been cognizant of it. We find true meaning not in lives of pleasure and contentment but rather in overcoming, in struggling, in surviving, and not merely in living. For in order to be part of the collective journey—the journey that is not just about us but rather about humanity—we must experience these things.

When we do not expand our minds to see beyond the now, the pursuit of pleasure may remain a permanent quest. In turning our backs upon Truth, we can convince ourselves that our own gratification is all that really matters. Why should we work harder for that which is evanescent, and, in many ways, seemingly indefinable? Unlike money, sex, food, and material possessions, Truth remains elusive . . . always slightly outside our  grasp. And yet, until we are courageous enough to let go of the superficial, the only self we will ever discover will be rooted in subjective reality instead of truth and freedom. 

What will you choose? The fairy tale that will never be anything more than a dream or a reality that is rich with meaning, purpose, and significance?

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

(dedicated to Armina Evangelista, with much love)

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This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. (C) Copyright 2010 by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva. All Rights Reserved

The Power of Love

Life is the most valuable gift that any of us will ever be given. Yet,  how much of it do we fritter away in needless worries and petty concerns? One thing the world has never yet truly comprehended—in spite of all the positive messages of love, peace, and harmony that are sent out—is this simple truth. An end to suffering and the beginning of healing will only come through love.

We relegate love to the compartment of romance or measure it out to our family members and those friends who are closest to us. But must we give out love as if it were no more essential than the salt and pepper with which we season our foods? Is it not more than something to add flavor to our lives?

Indeed, love is much more than that. It is the very essence of humanity. It is the one emotion that is powerful enough to defeat  the pain, anguish, sorrow, and suffering in this world of ours.

When I finished my article “A Quest for Sublimity”, I was faced with criticism and opposition from those who believe that suffering is not a key component of our lives . . . that we can somehow limit the pain we experience by denying that it is “suffering” or by defining suffering as “complaining” instead of what it is—a genuine experience.

There are several things about this invalid reasoning and the lack of logic behind it that I wish to address. Suffering oftentimes is used interchangeably with the word “pain”. Although we may differentiate between the two words, since each word we write or speak is nothing more than a string of letters that each of us defines in our own terms, it is important to keep in mind that the words we use are part of our subjective reality. And, so are the concepts we attach to those words.

It may be that pain and suffering are both difficult concepts to focus on. But when you release yourself from the need to escape from them, you will find within yourself a new level of serenity.

In the words of Eugene Kennedy, psychologist and meditative thinker, “We cannot run away from this pain without running away from ourselves. We are ashamed of it only if we misunderstand it .  .  . In this same way, this existential pain is ‘our’ pain, the proof of our being human together.” Is there any reason why we should make ourselves ashamed of any emotions we feel, whether positive or negative? Must we be happy all the time in order to be worthy of love and respect? Are those of us who are the tortured souls branded with the words “pain” and “suffering” upon our brows? Are we to hang our heads in shame over acknowledging our suffering?

I will leave you to answer these questions. Your replies will indicate how deeply you have experienced life and how intensely you are willing to continue your life experience. When we speak of healing, if there is no pain, no sadness, no anguish, and no suffering, what is there to heal? Why is there such a need of love, kindness, and compassion in the world if there is not so much trauma connected with simply being human?

If we take a moment to remember the monumental tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2000, in New York City at the World Trade Center, we will understand that bad things can happen to good people. And we are yet again reminded of Harold Kushner’s purpose in writing his wise, touching, and insightful book called When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, they do.

Never deny the obvious, hoping you will miraculously make it untrue. Hard truths don’t disappear just because we don’t like them or because we don’t want to accept them as part of our lives.  There may be many paths to wisdom, but when we fail to discern that which is true from that which is not, the path we are on will only lead us to ignorance.

When I say that love will heal us, I am not speaking of the kind of love that brings about sexual union or the kind that exists merely between ourselves and those who are closest to us. The love I speak of being so powerful is that love that can bring all of us together—if not as one, then at least as joined links in a world that is well on the road to self-destruction even as we speak.

Love and life are two words that have always been intertwined. And when we cease to love or close ourselves off from giving and receiving love, we cease to be entirely human. Even though we may believe that we are protecting ourselves from being hurt or from experiencing pain, we are actually cutting off  ties with those around us. Indeed, we are creating barriers around our souls from which our body and mind cannot escape.

The psychologist Erich Fromm once said, “Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” Why is it the only sane and satisfactory answer? Quite possibly because all other answers would only exist as part of our own subjective realities. Yet love binds us together and brings us into a spirit of oneness, of connection with our fellow men. Even when we’re deeply wounded and fear that opening up our hearts will only end up injuring us further, understand that the wounds we  already have will only heal by loving and through receiving love.

One does not have to be religious to appreciate the fact that the core essence of all of the most important religions have been founded upon the doctrine of loving one another. In Christianity, when the Law passed away and the Old Testament of the Bible was no longer relevant, the one command that Jesus gave is to be found in I John 13: 33-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” What could be more antithetical to this command than the legalistic, self-righteous attitude of many of those who call themselves Christians? How is it that people are able to justify the perversion of religious texts that they say they subscribe to? What is so difficult about persons obeying the command of a God whom they say they worship?

Whether you are an atheist, a Christian, or subscribe to another faith, it seems impossible to get away from the simple truth that love has the power to heal, to bless, to strengthen, and to transform life itself. Where love is lacking, there is ugliness, pain and misery. Yet, where is there not a lack of love? We complain, judge, criticize, argue, and debate—but, we hesitate to love. Why? There are many possible explanations for the thoughts of fear that some of us begin to attach to love.

Aside from being afraid that we will be hurt, some of us have a tendency to regard love as a subject fit for poets and sentimental writers. Love is such a universal term that rather than acknowledging the many different ways that it can be expressed and received, we choose to make some futile attempt to define it. Perhaps, defining it makes us feel more in control of whom we let ourselves give love to or receive love from. It also enables us to justify our behavior when we fail to demonstrate love to another person. The need to define it is often directly correlated to the need to judge, restrict, repress, and withhold.

I did not grow up in a household where I felt loved. My childhood was such that I also was unable to express freely the love I felt for others. Because I was young, I was not able to comprehend the reasons behind the lack of love and affection that I experienced. I was inclined to take the unloving words and actions personally. I believed that there was something deeply unlovable about me—that I was somehow not deserving of being loved and that the love I wanted to show others was not good enough for them.

It has only been later, as I have been able to detach myself from the psychological scars of my past, that I have seen that those who withhold love and affection from us are usually coming from a place of personal fear. As difficult as it may be to fathom, even a lack of love that takes the form of cruelty, manipulation, and abuse is rooted in fear. Does fear excuse these things? Certainly not. But, it does give us some understanding, however tenable, of the behavior of those who either cannot or choose not to love us.

There are those individuals who are so damaged that, at a certain point, it is no longer possible for them to love anyone. Oftentimes, we imagine that such people love themselves. But the reality is that what appears to be ego-driven or narcissistic behavior is oftentimes the product of hatred that is primarily directed inward. Although this hatred may be exhibited towards others, too, the negative image that these damaged people hold of themselves in their own minds prevents them from being able to love or accept themselves. In viewing others as not being worthy of their love, they also see themselves as not being worthy of self-love.

It is not always easy to discern when genuine self-hatred exists. Sometimes it is disguised by haughty and even bombastic declarations about specific gifts, talents, and abilities. Yet, in spite of all of the grandiloquence, there is usually no definitive sense of self-worth. Thus, the inability to love is part of an attempt to reinforce what is a negative and dysfunctional self-concept.  One of the problems that has come about is that as time has gone on and  people have become more obsessed with having and less focused on being, the inability to love has become not an occasional or even general problem. It has become a tragic epidemic.

The type of narcissism that is spreading through our world now is the very opposite of the dignity and acceptance of the individual. It clings to the accumulation of things, the concept of achievement and success, and the desire for mass-conformity, all of which make it impossible for each person to hold onto his/her own sense of self-worth.

Thus, rather than less pain, less misery, and less suffering in the world, these things are all flourishing. And as long as we continue to promote commercialism, materialism, and conformity, these things will continue to proliferate. Why is that we do not see what is right before us—namely, that things will never bring us lasting happiness?

Please realize that I’m not saying that things are bad in themselves. In fact, having certain things undoubtedly makes our lives a great deal more comfortable. But when we end our lives, our use for these things will have ended, also. What will be left is the impact that we had on the world and on the lives of other people. So, as long as our lives are centered around things instead of values such as love, compassion, kindness, and empathy, we will remain unfulfilled. That is the message I am conveying.

Money and material possessions are not to be despised within themselves. It is the importance we give these things that determines whether or not they have a positive or negative influence on each area of our lives. A love for material objects, no matter how lavish or exquisite they may be, must never replace the love we feel for our fellow human beings.

Even author Oscar Wilde, who was known for his taste for the finer things in life asked, “Who, being loved, is poor?” It may not always be easy to see that wealth and abundance can come from love when you barely have enough money to buy your most basic necessities. But once you awaken to the powerful impact that love can have, you will see that its value exceeds that of anything else. 

Through my own personal challenges, I have seen the difference that love can make. I have seen it bring about miracles. And I have seen the lack of it create a level of grief and anguish that words are incapable of expressing. Although the possibility of there coming a day when suffering and sorrow do not exist is difficult to fathom, there is only one thing that gives us even the slightest chance of bringing an end to the physical, spiritual, and psychological devastation that people throughout the world are experiencing. And that one thing is love.

What is harder than many of us will ever conceive of is the capacity for forgiveness that many of us must reach in order to begin loving. For, it is not simply anyone who has ever hurt us whom we must forgive—it is also ourselves. Perhaps, you don’t think that you need to forgive yourself for anything. But you do. Whether you are aware of it or not, there is some part of you that blames yourself for the wrong choices you have made and the people whom you have hurt, whether intentionally or not.

And, until you forgive yourself for both your mistakes and your perceived mistakes, you will not be able to forgive others. “How do I know?” you may be asking. Well, I have lived with self-blame for much of my life.  And the weight of this burden has brought me nothing but unhappiness. No matter how much we might want to go back, we cannot erase our past mistakes. The words we have said that were unkind or the choices we have made that were foolish are all part of a closed chapter or chapters of our lives.

In order to move forward, the past must remain where it is. Bringing it into the future will only trap us in the cycle of pain, doubt, fear, and bitterness. In Buddhism, it is believed that we create heaven or hell in our lives through our own responses to the circumstances that life brings us. If this were so, how much more aptly can we create a hell on earth for ourselves than by continuing a cycle of emotional and psychological anguish? Suffering is real, and pain is genuine. But that does not mean that we are incapable of diminishing both things in our lives.

To incorporate forgiveness, love, and self-acceptance into our daily lives is an excellent place to begin. The remarkable author and Jungian psychoanalyst Polly Young-Eisendrath summed up the subject of suffering and what can come from it very eloquently when she said, “When suffering leads to meanings that unlock the mysteries of life, it strengthens compassion, gratitude, joy, and wisdom. When suffering leads to barriers and retaliation and hatred, it empties you of hope and love.”

It does appear that there is a clear choice. You can either choose to allow your pain, fear, sadness, and suffering to close you off from being loved and from loving others or you can let it make you more willing both to give and receive love. The wounds and scars from your past can either serve as a way for you to experience life on a deeper and more profound level or they can hold you back from ever experiencing anything other than shallow emotions and superficial satisfaction.

Do you see how, yet again, it’s entirely up to you? Your life is yours. You can either relish it, appreciate it, and make the most of it or you can cast it aside like a useless present.  What choice will you make?

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

(for Tracey Fielder, with lots of love)

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This message and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. (C) Copyright 2010 by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva. All Rights Reserved

Reclaim Your Power!

I think that sometimes we must experience the deepest misery in order to give birth to a renewed self. Self-renewal is not a concept that has merely been promoted during the past couple of decades, when the self-improvement industry has overwhelmed the world with a plethora of books and audio programs that have been both worshipped and ridiculed. Renewal of ourselves—of our souls, our bodies, our minds, and our spirits—is a concept that dates back to both the Bible and the ancient philosophers of the past. German author extraordinaire Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.”

In a way, I think that life attempts to force us to renew ourselves when we rebel against the idea of doing so.  Why doesn’t it occur to us when we experience the tempests that overwhelm our spirit that if we but hold on and ride out the storm we may well sail more smoothly than we ever have before? At the moment when our souls seem to be screaming in pain, we have the ability to either fight the turbulence or to find a way to use that tidal wave of grief, depression, and/or unhappiness to rediscover ourselves. You can either reclaim your power or you can give it away to those people or circumstances who attempt to take it from you. Unhappiness is, in many ways, a circumstance. It can also be a choice.

I know I have a reputation of being somewhat controversial in many of the ideas I share and promote. But I want you to stop for one second and see if I may not be onto something here. If we have the ability to choose our thoughts and we’re feeling unhappy, is it not possible that we are making a choice to be unhappy? Don’t be upset with me if I’m rocking your boat or turning your world upside-down.

I was recently told by a friend who is a Carl Jung devotee that she is uncertain that we choose our thoughts at all. Well, being a deeply inquisitive person by nature, I couldn’t help wondering . . . if we don’t choose our own thoughts, who or what is choosing them for us? Is it a reincarnation of us? Or is some unseen force putting various thoughts in our head at random? And, if you think any of these scenarios is a possibility, I must ask you this:  how will you ever be able to take control of your own life? If you don’t possess the power to control your thoughts, then you must not have the power to control your actions. Thus, you are at the mercy of a mysterious “fate” . . . or of  The Fates . . . or of mere chance . . . or of other people and unforeseen and unexpected circumstances.

For me, the idea that I do not have control over the thoughts that enter my mind is unacceptable. But hey, if you want to believe that somebody else is putting those thoughts in your mind, that’s obviously your prerogative. However, I do question whether or not you will ever be able to design a life worth living. I also think that reclaiming your power won’t be possible since you are already giving away a large portion of it to unseen forces and random events. But still, the choice is yours.

When I think about circumstances, I tend to remember the words of the witty and brilliant playwright and author, George Bernard Shaw. How do you like this quotation? “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”
I realize that it is much easier for us to lie to ourselves and blame other people, past experiences, and events in our lives for the fact that we are miserable, unsuccessful, and/or unfulfilled. But what possible benefit comes from not accepting responsibility for ourselves? I don’t know how it would work for you, but taking ownership of my life has given me more strength and power than I have ever experienced before.

One of the first steps in reclaiming your personal power is letting go of your dependence on the approval and acceptance of other people. In my opinion, this may be the hardest accomplishment of all, and yet I suspect it’s the most crucial. The world really is made up of a lot of foolish and ignorant people, and, if you allow these people to mold your thoughts, your actions, and your decisions, you will be living someone else’s life instead of your own. People actually choose to remain ignorant of that which they do not choose to understand. Such manipulation has been used by those in power for centuries, and, even now, conformity is encouraged as opposed to seeking knowledge and forming our own individual views and opinions. If the opinions of others are more important to you than truth and wisdom, then you will find yourself receiving the approval of others yet living without the approval of yourself. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

What saddens me a bit is that nearly everyone has the power within himself or herself to transform his/her life and to create an authentic self that he/she is content with. However, many people get into the habit of giving their power away and/or denying that they have it in the first place. Thus, after a while the power seems to diminish and, at least, that little spark of energy is lost amid the ashes of conformity and mediocrity.

Although, the legendary phoenix bird rose from the ashes, it is very hard to resurrect your spirit and soul from a heap of what is essentially dust. Do your realize that, in a way, those who are living the lives that others tell them they should be living are already half-dead? They are only one step away from being cremated, and, rather than living freely outside of a box, they are enclosed in a vase of their own ashes. Have you allowed the divine essence of you to be turned into ashes?  If you have, would you prefer to continue to exist only partially from now on ? Or do you think you might consider taking a lesson from the phoenix bird who resurrected itself from its own ashes? It’s your call, and I suspect you know that.

I enjoy reading philosophy, as you might have gathered, and I have noticed that some of the concepts that philosophers promote are antithetical to the very idea that any of us can achieve happiness. I both agree and disagree with this theory. I don’t think that happiness can be achieved. Rather, I think it is a choice. I did caution you that you might not like what I was going to be telling you. The situation is, I would prefer to upset those reading this blog post than to compromise myself by not sharing my true beliefs.

While I was nursing my mother through advanced stage ovarian cancer, I happened to pick up a book by Barry Neil Kaufman called Happiness is a Choice. If you wish to stop reading this article now, go right ahead. I promise I won’t morph myself into some familiar spirit and try to cause chaos in what is undoubtedly already a rather miserable life.  Whether or not you subscribe to any of my ideas is  your choice alone. At the same time, if you wish to be challenged to examine your life and your vantage point towards life, you might want to keep on reading.

Barry Neil Kaufman’s book is not for those who wish to remain in their comfort zone. At one point, he actually is straightforward enough to say, “We become our beliefs. We get stuck in our heads.” He even suggests that we do not have to be miserable to be intelligent. Now, this will come as a blow to the intellectuals who believe that faith and hope are only possibilities within the minds of those who do not “understand” life. If we want to be “smart,” we are told that we must be atheists and existentialists. Science transforms faith into merely “wishful thinking”, and those who reason are supposed to see that hope, rather than being “that thing with feathers that perches in the soul” (as Emily Dickinson so eloquently put it), is on the same par with God, whom I recently heard referred to as “the pixie in the sky”.

So, what are we left with? If there is no God and we don’t have power over ourselves, who does have all the power? Could it be the politicians? But, wait, being human, like us, they wouldn’t have the power to control their thoughts, either. Goodness, I really don’t know who has all the power on this planet, but I am suspecting it could be Santa and his crew of frisky elves. No wonder people do all they can to convince children that there is no Santa Claus. If the truth came out, where would any of us be? Speaking of Santa, I think that December is the ideal month for us to be examining all these things since it’s the last month of the year and so many people like the idea of making New Year’s resolutions.

I have just one quick question about those resolutions: what happens between now and the first day of January? If you wait until then to reclaim your power, won’t you have a few extra pounds to lose and a few more unwise choices to bounce back from? I realize that we’re nearing the end of December, and many of you probably don’t think a few days of letting other people and outside forces control you could possibly do much harm. However, if Santa has all the power in the world, won’t he be at the height of his power on December 25? If so, it seems that reclaiming your power right now might be the smartest move on your part.

Even though many of us have a habit of putting off what should be done today until tomorrow . . . or next week . . . or  next year, I tend to think that taking action now is still the best policy. I was listening to portions of Jim Rohn’s audio program, “The Art of Exceptional Living” over the weekend, and he says that a combination of faith and action is what will give us a life that is fulfilling and satisfying. Yes, I realize that the word, “faith,” is going to make  you cringe if you’re an atheist and/or an existentialist, but if you convert the concept of faith in a God or a “Higher Power” to faith in yourself, I think it still works out. 

As I said before, I’m not here to “fix” your life. Even if I wanted to do that, I wouldn’t be able to for we are the only ones who can “fix” ourselves. If our wounds require stitches, we are the ones who must make a choice to get those stitches. And this is true whether we are speaking of physical wounds or psychological injuries. Applying bandages is not what I’m here for. If you want bandages, you’ll have to fetch some from the store and apply them yourself.

I’m here to offer you my thoughts and ideas, and you make the decision as to whether or not you’re open to receiving them. It’s sort of like a spiritual conversion, in many ways. When someone converts to Christianity, for instance, they make a choice to do so. God doesn’t tap them on the shoulder and whisper in their ear, “Believe in me.” Nope. He has better ways to spend His time. And even though I’m not comparing myself to God or even a goddess (all right, I’ll admit that is a beguiling idea, and I recently blushed to my heart’s content when someone referred to me as “The Goddess of Facebook”), I also have better things to do than to ask you to believe what I’m saying. As Barry Neil Kaufman so aptly points out, “No one can be inside our heads pulling our strings. We do that for ourselves.” To me, this is encouraging news as the idea of some invisible puppeteer pulling my strings for me makes me feel like I’m nothing more than a wooden marionette.

What I do have time to do is to challenge you to think through the beliefs and thoughts you are holding in your head right now. Which ones were adopted by you from other people and outside sources? If you had spent all of your life on a deserted island out in the middle of nowhere, how many of the thoughts that you are currently subscribing to right now would have ever entered your mind in the first place? You understand my point, I’m sure. In order to reclaim your power, you’ve got to be willing to be honest with yourself. Even if you lie to everyone else, the one person you need to be completely honest with is you. Are you willing to do it? Is reclaiming your power worth it to you?  Food for thought, is it  not?

Until soon. . .Live Without Limits, SuccessDiva style!

Your SuccessDiva

I dedicate this blog post to my friend, Kate Anderson, who has given me the support I have needed to reclaim my own power. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, beautiful Kate. ~your Diva

This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All Rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate. The SuccessDiva

It isn’t just about you. . .

meerkat-team spirit2

 

Sometimes I think we have to make happiness. . .you know, like making a batch of cookies. Yes, it sounds easier than it is (now you know I’ve admitted that most things seem that way, right?). Admittedly, you cannot manufacture happiness like a chocolate factory manufactures candy bars. Happiness is not a commodity that is mass produced. And I haven’t seen any available for purchase at the local discount store, either. What I have seen, though, is that it’s almost impossible to find happiness if all you focus on in life is yourself. Have you noticed this, too?? Now don’t get me wrong—I am not saying that you aren’t the star of your show or that the title of my first post here, “It’s All About You” didn’t mean that it is, in fact, all about you. The thing about it is it’s not just about you. Does that make sense?? It’s like saying that you can have anything you want (and you can!), but not everything you want. For one thing, acquiring one thing in your life may automatically make it impossible for you to acquire something else. If, for example, you want a new car and you want both a BMW and a jaguar,  you probably aren’t going to be able to get both, unless you are a millionaire.  Now this diva couldn’t afford either car, but that’s beside the point *wink*.  Let me give you another illustration. If you go into a restaurant and you order a slice of cheesecake, the chances are that by making this choice, you will have to forfeit the chocolate cake and the apple pie. So, as you see, we make choices. We also make a choice as to whether we want a life that centers exclusively around us, or whether we would like to have a cast of supporting players. Having been a theater actress for a few years, I can safely say that one of the very worst things you can do, when you are starring in a play, is not realize that the entire cast of the play is a team. Competitiveness can be a positive thing, but if it means that you don’t want the best for someone else, especially someone whom you’re working with, it can become very destructive. In a way, life is the same way as a play. I’ve mentioned before that there are a lot of similarities between the world and a stage and between people and actors and actresses. The American author Nathanael West, in his bleak but brilliant novel, The Day of the Locust, presented the pessimistic theory that life is essentially like a Hollywood sound stage. There is a scene in the book that I found particularly painful. Oddly enough, it involves a cock fight. On my initial reading of the book, I failed to see the significance of this brutal scene. Reading about two roosters brutalizing each other seemed as if it hadn’t much of a point. But now, on reflection, I’m wondering something: was Nathanael West trying to make a point about life and what some people do to other people? Was he not basically saying that the world supports and promotes the idea of the “survival of the fittest”, so to speak? Was he not saying that if you’re weaker than someone else, they will take advantage of that fragility? West himself had to witness other writers succeeding who certainly didn’t possess his genius, while he was forced to sell Hollywood scripts just to have enough money to eat and feed his family. Maybe his own experiences are what shaped his oppressive worldview. But what West failed to see is that just because the world is attempting to promise this “you win/I lose” mindset, it doesn’t mean that we have to buy into it. Society and “popular” culture will always try to get us to buy into what they say everyone is doing, thinking, saying, or experiencing. However, let me ask you: when you go into a clothing shop, do you buy everything you see? If one of the sales assistants comes up to you and tries to persuade you to buy a dress or a suit by telling you about how many other people have bought it, do you automatically go into the dressing room and try it on? And if you try it on, do you purchase it, even if you don’t like how it looks on you?? Well, if you answered “no” to that, then why are you purchasing the opinions and ideas that society promotes?? If you believe in God but society tells you that you shouldn’t, why would you listen to them?? Similarly, if your best friend is a Christian, but you have no interest in becoming one, are you going to let him/her convince you? I’m not saying that having faith in a power beyond ourselves cannot provide us with solace in our darkest hours. Your Success Diva believes in God. But she doesn’t try to push others to believe in Him just because she does. Why?? Well, you see, here’s the way I look at it: only those who feel a weakness within themselves would feel it was necessary to alter the opinions and beliefs of those around them. If you have full confidence in your convictions, you don’t feel you have to persuade others to share them nor do you feel that you have to defend them or disguise them.

I have a great many friends who are atheists, and we all get along beautifully. On the other hand, my grandmother, a religious fundamentalist, tends to alienate those who do not believe exactly the same way she does. In fact, her best friend, whom she knew for several decades, didn’t feel that she could share personal things with her. She knew my grandmother would judge her for any conduct that she didn’t approve of. It’s funny how so many people who believe in God want to adopt the role of God for themselves. Rather than allowing everyone to have the freedom to believe the way they like, they somehow feel they have the right to interfere and control the lives of those around them. What I feel would be so much more beneficial is to merely share the positive qualities that others might associate with religious faith with your friends and acquaintances. Could there be a better testimony than that? I daresay not. Of course, whether you are Jewish, an atheist, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Mormon, or someone who hasn’t ever made up his/her mind what you believe, you will probably see at some point that making yourself the only focus of your life isn’t going to leave you feeling very content.  We are not made to be solitary creatures. If you will note, birds tend to migrate in flocks more often than not. And if you have the cable channel, Animal Planet, you might have had the chance to watch the fascinating and entertaining show, “Meerkat Manor”. If so, did you notice how the meerkats supported and cared for each other?? Yes, they had misunderstandings and quarrels and so forth. Yet, ultimately, they bonded with one another and saw that living in harmony with each other provided them more benefits than braving it out by themselves. “But I’m not a meerkat, dear diva,” you say. No, of course you’re not. You are a living, breathing human being, and my guess is that you need to give and receive love and affection a great deal more than any meerkat in existence does.

One of the most difficult things to do, though, is to reach out to others when you are in the depths of despair. How do I know?? Well, I have often isolated myself when I have been experiencing deep depression. I have shut people who cared about me out of my life by refusing to return phone calls and/or answer e-mails and letters sent to me by post. It was not a conscious decision on my part—or, at least, I didn’t think it was at the time. The problem is, the more I isolated myself, the more depressed I became. The fact that I wasn’t willing to give affection to others made me even less able to give myself any affection. The more I withdrew, the more I disliked myself. The less love I gave, the less I received, and the less I was able to give to myself. Even now, when I am feeling extremely sad, I have a habit of closing myself off. It often seems like such a formidable task to talk to others about how you are feeling, when all you really want to do is sit in a chair and/or cry for a few hours. You also fear that no one will really understand. To be honest, there are plenty of people who won’t understand. They’ll tell you things like “Pull yourself (or your act) together,” or they are sometimes even insensitive enough to say, “Snap out of it.” Does this mean that they don’t care about you?? No, it doesn’t. What it means is that they haven’t yet learned how to respond to the needs of other people. To them, depression is merely a state of mind, and they probably think that a state of mind can be changed as easily as a pair of shoes. It’s very easy to resent such people and to blame them for their uncaring attitude. But what I think will benefit you the most (and remember, you are the most important person in your life, even if you aren’t the only important person) is to not allow yourself to give way to resentment and bitterness. The moment you start feeling yourself getting angry at the people who don’t understand, ask yourself this: if I let myself be driven by a negative emotion because of this person, who is in control of me and of my life—me or them?? Do you see that the answer is “them”? I hope you do because it is. Anger can be used positively, but more often than not it is used destructively. Reacting in anger to something another person says or does is the same as saying: “Hey, I want you to know that you have had such a powerful influence on my life by what you said or did, that I am allowing you to make me angry, even though I know that anger is a destructive emotion and that I am hurting myself more than anyone else.” Is that what you want to do?? Is anything that anyone does or says worth it? Have you noticed, too, that anger, even if it seems to lend you energy at first, usually exhausts you in the long run? I have. Emotions such as love and compassion and generosity will actually give you energy, but resentment, frustration, anger, and hate will take energy from you. Now it’s one thing to remove toxic people from your life. There are indeed times when you simply must walk away from someone. However, never do so out of anger, even if ridding yourself of the anger you feel towards a particular person seems impossible. Always keep in mind that the last impression you make on someone can be every bit as important as the first impression. Wrap your mind about that thought for a moment, and tell me whether or not you want a person’s final impression of you to be of someone who has no control over his/her own emotions.

Now that you’ve heard your diva’s thoughts about anger, I will return to the subject of reaching out to those around you. Have you ever noticed that when you get intensely preoccupied, you forget about other things that are going on in your life?? For example, let’s say that you love foreign films. Well, if you go to the video store and rent a couple of movies directed by Federico Fellini or Francois Truffaut or Ingmar Bergman or another foreign filmmaker who is among your favorites, even if you just found out that your boyfriend or girlfriend has been cheating on you, are you focusing on that when you sit down to watch the films? Sure, you can’t exactly forget about it entirely. I mean, it’s a real situation—it does exist. But if you’re watching Fellini’s muse, Giulietta Masina, light up the screen in “La Strada” or “The Nights of Cabiria,” are you thinking every second about your unfaithful “significant other”? I doubt you are. To give another example, if you have a headache, but you love ice cream and decide to stop by the ice cream shop to get a scoop of your favorite flavor (whatever that might be), are you thinking about your headache as you enjoy the ice cream? If so, are you thinking about it as much as you were?? Are you sure?? Come on now, you know you weren’t.

Well, the emotional turmoil that comes from depression is not unlike the pain that you would experience if you found out that the man or woman you love has been involved with someone else at the same time he/she has been romancing you. It’s also not unlike a stomach ache. Sure, stomach pain is usually the result of a physical ailment, but it’s still pain, isn’t it? Next time you’re feeling blue or having a bad day, try reaching out to someone else. You don’t have to do anything that requires a lot of time and/or effort. Your act of kindness can be as simple as a short phone call, a brief e-mail, or a greeting card sent by post. Also, you don’t have to say much. I emphasize this because often, when a person is hurting themselves, they are unsure what to say and have difficulty communicating. What I would suggest is a simple message such as “You are in my thoughts” or “I’m sending you a hug” or “I just want you to know that you are one of the special people in my life.” You don’t have to worry about being eloquent or profound or charming. Just be sincere. A simple and small gesture can often mean as much to another person as an expensive gift, a bouquet of roses, or a lengthy letter or e-mail. And a phone call just to say “hello” can make the difference in both how you feel and how the person on the other end of the phone feels. You can make it a situation that is mutually beneficial. Is there anything better than that? Our competitive and fast-paced society is repsonsible for the “What’s in it for me?” attitude. But you know what? If you adopt your diva’s suggestion, you will find that there’s always something in it for you when you show caring for someone else.

I must provide one word of caution, though: not everyone is receptive. Why? Well, it’s easy for people to be skeptical when people do nice things for them or say kind things to them. They tend to think that you must have a motive behind your actions and/or words. This is why being completely sincere is essential. If someone is a friend but not a close friend, don’t pretend they are. It will probably make them suspicious. And when you tell another person that you love them, make sure the words are coming from your heart. And don’t expect them to say that they love you, too. Love is something that must be unconditional if it is to be at all genuine. Perhaps they are at a place in their life where they feel they must withhold affection. Maybe they have been rejected so much that they are afraid to freely give love. Or maybe they usually associate love with romantic love, and feel that saying they love you wouldn’t be appropriate. Whatever the case, don’t worry about it. You have done yourself a favor by verbally expressing your love. Love happens to be one of those emotions that has no negative consequences. Even if it isn’t reciprocated, it will not harm you or anyone else. Indeed, it is the only emotion that can fully heal someone.

That being said, I urge you to open yourself up to the love that others demonstrate towards you. In accepting the love you receive, you will be able to pass it along to others. What is essential is that you not count on the fact that the love you give to others will necessarily be returned to you from those specific people. You will get the love back, but it may come from other sources. Life is an odd thing, really—it’s incredibly complicated, utterly unpredictable, but ultimately fulfilling. But it can only be fulfilling if you let yourself be fulfilled by it. Now, it’s going to be complicated and unpredictable whether you want it to be or not. Those are two things that you haven’t any choice about. Personal fulfillment is something you do have a choice about, though. And although you should never look to others to fulfill you, I think you’ll find that in reaching out to others, you will be enabling yourself to experience a significant feeling of fulfillment.

To all of you, I send love, peace, joy, happiness. . .& loads of success!

Your Success Diva

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(photo: a group of meerkats show what team spirit is all about)

This page and all written material at The Success Diva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright Alexis Wingate. The Success Diva