The Freedom of Truth

There comes a time in our lives when we want to believe that we have discovered, if not all the answers to the meaning of existence, at least a few of those answers. We may even manage to convince ourselves that we have, at long last, found “what works for us”—our personal truth. It seems inconceivable to many of us that we could have reached a certain point in our lives and still know so little. But is it not when we are willing to acknowledge our ignorance that we begin to learn?

I was asked a few days ago how it is that I “verify” my beliefs. My answer was, “I don’t because I can’t.” What did I mean? Am I admitting that I have many beliefs that I question the validity of? In a way, yes. I have had to develop a willingness to examine each of my beliefs in order to discriminate between those which make sense to me and those which don’t. And while I have not abandoned those beliefs that I consider to be part of my core self, I nevertheless understand that I may not be able to prove the validity of those beliefs to anyone besides myself. Fortunately, it isn’t important to me whether I do or not, for I believe that each of us must find our own truth for ourselves.

It is only those who live in fear and ignorance who believe that trying to push their own views and ideas on someone else is going to achieve any effective result. Even if we think that someone whom we know is making all of the wrong choices in his/her life, it is not up to us to point that person in another direction.

Out of kindness and love, we should always attempt to prevent someone from making a decision that might bring him or her harm or endanger the life or well-being of another person. But aside from that, we should give others the freedom to choose for themselves in every area of their lives (I’m speaking of adults, of course—not children).  Each person’s journey is unique and personal, and, whether we understand the individual choices someone makes or not, we must respect their right to choose for themselves.

Unfortunately, even though our world promotes the idea of individuality and personal freedom, most people are no longer thinking for themselves. The illusion is created, through various persuasive techniques on the part of the media, that we are all free to form our own opinions about everything. However, the criticism, ridicule, and outright contempt that are demonstrated towards those who dare to step away from the masses indicate that freedom is merely a concept—not a reality. We have become a nation of “feelers” rather than thinkers, basing our decisions on intuition and “gut feelings” rather than on solid evidence, facts, and proof.

Intuition does play a role in the life of a thinking person. But the fact that our feelings are so capable of being manipulated makes them much less reliable than our intellect. Socrates once said that he was the wisest man on earth because he realized he knew nothing. He believed that all of us must submit to the authority of reason. For him, the “stamp of truth” is that which remains independent of us and our own subjective realities, including our own needs, wants, and desires. Although indulging in dreams and wishes may not be a bad thing in itself, if doing so prevents us from gaining and sustaining a clear view of reality, then it can be dangerous.

Francis Bacon summed up  our tendency to confuse our own reality with true reality when he said, “The assertion that the human senses are the measure of things is false; to the contrary, all perceptions, both of the sense and the mind, are relative to man, not the universe. The human understanding is like an uneven mirror receiving rays from things and merging its own nature with the nature of things, which thus distorts and corrupts it.”

Perhaps, it sounds as if Bacon was encouraging us not to use our senses at all. But a man as clear-headed as Bacon would never subscribe to such an inclusive philosophy. There is no reason to suppose that we cannot use both our intuition and our intellect. However, we must develop a level of self-awareness that enables us to ascertain when are making a choice based on instinct versus critical thinking.

To know when to use one’s abilities in a certain realm can be even more important than whether or not one possesses those abilities. There is always a time to go forward and a time to hold back, a time to feel and a time to think, a time to let go and a time to hold on. Rarely, is anything ever completely final. And yet, some things are.

Being able to accept that is crucial as a failure to do so can result in living in bondage to the past. I don’t agree with those who say that the past should never be examined for I think that analyzing the choices we have made and understanding the reasons behind those choices can be helpful. But, if we remain trapped in the past because we cannot move on, as opposed to re-visiting the past in order to learn more about ourselves, we will not be able to bring all of ourselves into the future.

Freedom is more a process of detaching than it is of attachment. The more freedom you allow yourself, the less dependent you will be on anyone else. And this lack of dependency will enable you to give others their freedom as well. Because our society is so narcissistic and has a habit of nurturing insecurities in us by promoting unrealistic ideas about romance, beauty, youth, and social status, it is only natural that we develop a tendency to look towards others to build up our self-esteem.

We all want to feel loved, cherished, and appreciated. And because society doesn’t allow us to give ourselves these feelings (how can we when everyone else’s lives seem to be so much more perfect than ours?), we seek these things from other people. The problem with this is that no matter how much praise and admiration another person gives us, if we feel inadequate or worthless deep within ourselves, we’re still going to feel that way regardless of what anyone else tells us.

And, if we are dependent on anyone else to validate us, then we have given up our freedom. Just as happiness must come from within, so also must freedom. This does not mean that you won’t ever end up in situations that in some way inhibit your freedom. What it does mean is that you will always maintain the freedom of your own mind.  Even when you feel tempted to turn your back on reality in order to foster a sensation of certainty, if you choose freedom, you will resist the temptation.  You will doubt rather than trust, and, even when it is easier to believe a lie than to disregard it, you will be willing to seek Truth.

If all of us were able to cast off the shackles of preconceived ideas, assumptions, and erroneous beliefs, the world would look so different to us that we would barely recognize it. Yet, we would have found both Truth and Freedom, both of which oftentimes seem to remain just beyond our grasp. When we speak of the misery of existence, we fail to give ourselves credit for creating much of the misery that exists in our own lives.

Our fear drives us to make choices that are not for our highest good. Oftentimes, rather than accepting responsibility for those choices, we either blame others or allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by guilt. Why? Because it seems to be the easier path to take. And in a society that promotes the easy over the difficult, we are conditioned to make the decision that appears to require the least from us.

It is much harder to admit that we’ve made a grave error than it is to attribute one of our mistakes to someone else or to an outside cause. But what does reason dictate? Does evading the truth alter the truth in any way? No. Truth remains the same, whether we acknowledge it or not. Moreover, it may be more difficult to find the truth if we avoid it persistently and for an extended period of time. Yet, not acknowledging something that exists will never negate its existence.

Similarly, pretending that something is real when it isn’t will not make it so. The True is the Real. We can close our eyes and pretend that we’re living in a fairy tale. But at some point we’ll have to open them again and face the reality of our everyday lives. And when we face this reality is when our authentic lives begin.

The only part of you that will ever encourage you to live outside of truth is your False Self. Your True Self, that self who is capable of creating a life of meaning and purpose, fully understands that fulfillment can only come from within Truth. Only Truth is eternal. And, in the end, nothing else will remain.  When each of us comes to the end of our lives, the lies we have told ourselves and others will no longer matter. We will be faced with the results of a life that was either lived in freedom and in truth or in falsehood and imprisonment.

Does it sound like this is yet another matter in which making a choice is the preeminent factor?  Well, in a way, life does consist of the choices we make. We may think we’re being clever when we make choices that bring us pleasure at the expense of bringing pain to others. But the person who will pay the price of all the choices we make is us. And there is always a price to pay, whether we see it immediately or not. If nothing else, we pay the price of selling our soul and freedom to lies and self-deception. We pay the price of betraying humanity by choosing what we thought was best for us over what was right for others.

It is so easy to forget that we are all as connected as we are separate. And yet, the moment we forget that is when we cease to be fully human. It is also the moment when we think we have more answers than we do. There are many who imagine themselves to be smart enough to live successfully by their own rules. But those who make an impact on the world and who lead lives that are of consummate value will never be the many but rather the few. They may not acquire fame or fortune, yet they will have gained something of far greater merit—the freedom of Truth.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “He who knows not who he is, and for what purpose he exists, and what is this world, and with whom he is associated, and what things are the good and the bad, and the beautiful and the ugly, and who neither understands discourse nor demonstration, nor what is true nor what is false, and who is not able to distinguish them, will neither desire according to nature, nor turn away, nor move  upward, nor intend, nor assent, nor dissent, nor suspend his judgment: to say all in a few words, he will go about dumb and blind, thinking that he is somebody but being nobody.”

What will your choice be? Is it better to be a nobody who thinks he is a somebody or a somebody who is humble enough to regard himself as a nobody? There is no reason to underestimate ourselves. Nevertheless, it will always be in humility that we find Truth, for Pride is a veil through which knowledge and wisdom cannot penetrate.

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

(for Mark Stephen Levy, with love, happiness, and much respect)

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

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

Be Extraordinary

I believe that we are all connected to one another. But I also think it’s important not to lose sight of our own individuality. We can be extensions of one another in terms of being fellow human beings. However, you are not a direct extension of me, and I am not a direct extension of you. 

There is a danger in identifying ourselves so closely with someone else that we imagine they are like us in nearly every way. Although we may find ourselves relating more quickly and easily to those who are similar, we need also to understand that our dissimilarities are what make the world the colorful, exciting, remarkable place that it is.

No, I don’t see our universe as being a cold, bleak, brutal place. I have  a vision of a different world. And I think that the more we honor our own individual selves, the more beautiful our world will be. I want those who read my words to feel more freedom than ever to be their true selves.  Oscar Wilde once said, “Society exists only as a mental concept; in the real world, there are only individuals.”  

The problem is that our concepts become our reality. Eventually, there may come a time when we find that we are unable to discriminate between the concept we hold in our minds and what is really there. Yes, we do create our own reality, and this is not some off-the-wall New Age idea.

If you actually imagine that the way you see the world is the way anybody else sees the world, then you are allowing yourself to fall into the trap of self-deception. This is why making judgements about other people can bring about so much injustice. Just because you value certain things—such as money or material possessions—it doesn’t mean that another person also should or that something is wrong with that person if he or she doesn’t.

I have noticed that my own lack of materialism appears to make people feel the need to find reasons behind my not caring about accumulating possessions or becoming rich. I have been accused of being “afraid” of money or of having a sense of guilt associated with money. Quite honestly, these assumptions are too ridiculous for me to even respond to. How could I feel guilty about having too much of something that isn’t important to me? And how can I be afraid of something that I don’t care about? While I do want to have my basic needs taken care of and would like to also have enough to take care of those whom I love, my recognition of the fact that money does not bring any lasting happiness prevents me from having a significant interest in it.

At the same time, I give you the freedom to love money and to pursue having lots of money because I give each person his/her freedom to take his/her own personal journey. We must stop imagining that we have the right to criticize or interfere with another person’s journey. When each of us was born, we were given the most precious gift of all: our life. It is only when we allow another person to take parts of our life from us that we are in some way failing to appreciate this priceless gift. This is why I encourage individuality and non-conformity above all else. To reach the point where you understand that your freedom is your birthright is to also reach the point where you feel no desire to take anyone else’s freedom away.

Why is it that so many of us feel the need to criticize those who are choosing a path that is completely dissimilar to ours? Do we have a habit of trying to control other people and how they live their lives? Is it not because we feel so powerless and helpless at times?

Circumstances come about that leave us feeling as if we are at the mercy of some unnamed and perhaps undefined fate. Thus, we seek ways to control our lives by seizing the power that rightfully belongs to others. There are subtle ways to do this, too. One of the most discreet I have seen is the chipping away at the self-concepts that other people hold of themselves. When we belittle, ridicule, or demean another human being, what we never seem to understand is that we are only giving the world a reflection of the person we are.

I see people trying to tear down other people in ways that completely astound me nearly every single day. For example, whether it’s a thoughtless comment about a person’s appearance or a criticism of a book, movie, or TV program another person likes, we often cut people down without even realizing it. Then,  in our same state of mindlessness, we wonder why we feel so unhappy with the person who we are. 

Yet, the clue is right before us if we stop to pay attention.  I don’t believe that people are basically mean, cruel, or thoughtless. What I do think is that thoughtlessness and cruelty can become a habit. I also think that these traits in one person tend to bring them out in others. But does that justify the fact the traits exist in the first place?

I remember what actress Jodie Foster said when she accepted her Best Actress Oscar for “The Silence of the Lambs”. She said that cruelty was very human and normal,  yet still completely unacceptable.  The problem is that we tend to subscribe to conceptualized thinking when it comes to cruelty. We have a rather structured idea of what cruel behavior constitutes. Because of this,  we don’t notice the little ways in which we may be cruel to others on a monthly, weekly, and even daily basis.

Until we get to the point where we recognize the lack of compassion and kindness that we show the world, we will never be part of the change that the world needs to experience. It is a spiritual change, even though it has nothing to do with religion. Hate must be replaced with love, misery with joy, violence with peace, and selfishness with compassion. Do you think this is impossible? I’ll agree that it sounds somewhat idealistic. But if we stop believing in possibilities, we give up any hope of change.

Always remember that I do not see myself as an expert, a role model, or someone who has all of the answers. My articles are written for you and for me for this is a journey we are taking both separately and together. We are both acknowledging our individuality yet also learning about ourselves from each other.  If you find yourself resisting some of the ideas and concepts I set forth, before discarding them completely, at least ask yourself why you are resisting them.

There is something very liberating about letting go of the desire to resist those ideas, thoughts, and concepts that do not agree with our own. For resistance helps nourish fear. And fear prevents us from growing and transforming ourselves into the people we can be. We are already in the process of becoming ourselves at this very moment. Yet with each decision we make and each thought we hold in our minds, we are influencing whether the process will be positive or negative.

Who do you want to be? Do you want to be a person whose life has been one of significance? Do you want to make at least one person’s life a little better from having lived? These questions are not as simple as they may sound nor are they profound. However, they are worth thinking about. 

If you are living a life that is centered strictly or even mostly around you, think about whether or not this type of existence will ever bring you any true happiness or fulfillment. Can’t you be extraordinary without living  just for yourself? And must everyone be simply an extension of you in order for you to let them into your world? The minute that we find ourselves closing our lives off from people whom we perceive to be too different for us to be able to relate to, we are once again resisting.

In an article I wrote awhile back called “Releasing yourself,” I didn’t mention all the things that can prevent us from releasing ourselves from that which is holding us back. Two of the things that will always hinder us are restricting and resisting. For, when we restrict ourselves from experiencing an emotion that we need to embrace, and possibly even express, or when we resist the desire to express our thoughts and feelings—or, at least, to acknowledge them to ourselves—we are creating barriers in our soul that will prevent us from being all that we can be. You can’t keep walls around your heart or fences around your mind and expect to live freely or intensely nor can you allow others to have this freedom.

We run from words like “love” and “affection” and use them with discretion because we fail to understand the meaning of these words.  We put words like this in little boxes in our minds, and then we waste loads of mental energy wondering whether or not it’s okay to use them with someone. We are so convinced that another human being has the power to make us feel less valuable than we are that we repress emotions and feelings in order to protect ourselves. But don’t we see that nobody can make us feel a certain way unless we let them?

Before you decide that you don’t agree with me, think about what I’m saying. Nobody besides you can make you feel a certain way about yourself. If you don’t agree with that, you’re essentially saying that another person has the power to make you feel a certain way. There is no in-between. While it’s true that the environment you grew up in and the level of emotional deprivation you received can and does have a tremendous impact on how you respond to the world and other people, you must embrace the power you have within you.

You need to  understand that you are the person who controls what you think and what you feel. This is where the concept of choosing to be happy originates. People have gotten angry or upset with  me for promoting this theory. Yet, if you think about it, if you don’t choose whether or not you’re happy, you’re giving the power away to other people or the circumstances around you. And why would you want to do that?

It is a tremendous responsibility to think that we make the choice about whether we’re happy or not. But isn’t it better to accept responsibility than to give away your freedom? What would you rather be—just another member of the crowd or a unique and extraordinary individual? When you accept responsibility for every choice, even the choice of which emotion you choose to feel at any given moment, you are embracing your individuality. But, what you also must be willing to do is give everyone else the same freedom, too. 

What does this mean? It means honoring the thoughts, opinions, and ideas that another person has, no matter how dissimilar they may be to yours. It also means not needing to identify yourself with anyone else.  It is only when you doubt your own power that you have to identify yourself with another person.

This is why people look up to movie stars and other celebrities. They are choosing to run from their own insecurities by identifying themselves with someone else. Personally, I think this habit is much more common than we think. Otherwise, we wouldn’t constantly be looking to form friendships and connections with those whom we perceive to be a lot like us. It is when we can stand alone, honoring ourselves as completely unique individuals, that we will be able to tap into our true value, power, and strength.

Who do you want to be like? Why not make a vow to yourself that on this day you will free yourself from the need to compete with any other person and simply be your extraordinary self?

Be the best you that you can be.

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

(this article is dedicated to my wondrous friend, the extraordinary Adriana Sassoon, with love and blessings always)

Want to find out more about me? https://successdiva.wordpress.com/about/

Read my Personal Creed and Thoughts I Live By: https://successdiva.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/thoughts-i-live-by/

Is there such a thing as being too extraordinary? Of course not! And these thoughts will empower you towards Being Extraordinary in An Everyday World: https://successdiva.wordpress.com/2010/02/28/on-being-extraordinary/

This Diva’s Thoughts on Love: https://successdiva.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/thoughts-on-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.