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

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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

~A Quest for Sublimity~

With all the feel-good messages about pursuing our bliss and visualizing our dreams in order to make them come true, we oftentimes forget that even though life is and should be joyful and happy, there is an inherent pain in being human that nothing will ever diminish. We can have the best intentions and the most wondrous goals, but even when we seem to be making what we feel in our hearts are the “right” choices, torment and emotional suffering can still exist.

For me, there is pain in not being able to live up to the image of myself that I want the world to see. To speak highly of virtues such as kindness, compassion, honesty and integrity is one thing. But, to consistently demonstrate behavior that embodies these character traits is sometimes another matter entirely.

We should never attempt to regard ourselves as being more loving, thoughtful, or considerate than we actually are. And yet we do. I find myself making judgments about other people and the choices they make even though I continue to regard a judgmental attitude as one of the greatest causes of suffering in human existence.

What is the difference in suffering and pain? This is a question I am still examining. For now, I will simply say that for me, at least, the concept of suffering seems less transitory than pain, which can be over in mere seconds.  Yet is it not from the soul that has suffered that the well of eternal hope springs? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Know how sublime a thing it is to suffer and be strong.” Sublimity is not always achieved through joy and bliss. It can also come through intense anguish, pain, sorrow, and grief.

When I speak of grief, I am not talking about merely deeply traumatic events such as the illness or death of a loved one. I am also speaking of the type of grief that comes from having your dreams seemingly shattered into pieces from a wrong choice or a missed opportunity . . . the kind of grief that you feel when you are in an unresolved relationship in which effective communication seems to have become impossible. Grief can be experienced on so many different levels. And the suffering that comes about from this grief cannot ever be measured, even by those who must cope with it.

We will never comprehend the anguish and pain that others experience. And most of the time we find ways to escape from our own pain and sorrow. Do we somehow think that in ignoring pain it will disappear? Or is it that we find the idea of connecting with our pain to be so formidable that we dare not close enough to it to truly feel it?

Life is a gift, but we were never told that it didn’t have a high price tag. We may wish to see ourselves as entitled to the best of everything. But only when we understand that what we get out of life is in direct proportion to that which we give to life will be experience authentic happiness and fulfillment. It is never in possessions, material success, or recognition that we will find joy. We only think that these things give us happiness because they satisfy us on a superficial level.

We want to believe that diamonds or shoes or dinners at five-star restaurants actually lift our spirits. However, oftentimes we are just seeking ways to fill the void within ourselves. But a soul that is hungry can only receive genuine nourishment from food that has substance. In order to be physically healthy, you would never feed your body nothing but candy bars, cookies, and cake. So, why feed your soul, mind, and spirit with material riches that have no eternal value?

If you’re serious about becoming the best you that you can be—if you sincerely do want to live a life of purpose and significance—you’re going to have to develop a level of self-awareness that will enable you to see yourself as you really are. You’ll have to be tough enough on yourself to recognize your weakness while simultaneously treating yourself with a level of gentleness and compassion that enables you to hold fast to your dreams. In releasing yourself from the need to please others, you must make a stronger attempt to please yourself.

Rather then worrying about whether or not you live up to the expectations others have of you, create an image of yourself that you can be proud of and work towards becoming that person. You will find that you have acquired a new level of freedom when you start focusing on your journey and stop trying to control anyone else’s journey. We may choose to define the need to judge any way we choose, but ultimately it’s both a subtle and an obvious way to control other people.

Admittedly, there are many areas of life in which the tendency to make judgments seems so prevalent, so common—and even, to a certain extent, so understandable—that we find the idea of overcoming it to be nearly insurmountable. Yet, if each of us makes the effort to stop judging, although our individual impact may appear to be negligible at first, the lasting impact of our joint efforts might prove to be far greater than we might ever imagine.

There is already enough pain and suffering in the world without our adding to it through cruel, insensitive, and thoughtless words and actions. When we understand that in judging others we are coming from a place of fear and personal insecurity, it puts a different spin on the whole process of judgment. It no longer becomes about just tearing down other people. It becomes a process by which we tear down ourselves.

The world will always find a way to present to you a reflection of your true self. You may see an idealized image of yourself when you look into the mirror. But life will not let you get away with holding onto this fabricated self-concept forever. When you start to notice that the way others react to you doesn’t match up with how you want them respond to you, it may be time to take a long, hard look at who you really are. Similarly, when you find yourself pointing fingers and finding fault with those whom you know, attaching labels to them that represent some feeble effort on your part to define their behavior, just make sure that you are not defining yourself instead. 

Life has a way of giving us back what we have given out, whether it be in a positive or a negative way. Don’t imagine an existence that is centered mostly around you will ever bring you the dividends you seek because it won’t. You must understand the simple law of cause and effect in order to make your dreams a reality. A life that is strictly or even mostly about you may bring you what seems to be happiness right now. But ultimately, you will experience a level of emptiness, sadness, and loneliness that words may be inadequate in conveying.

Many times over the course of our lives, we may be faced with a situation in which we must decide between obtaining immediate gratification or attaining long-term satisfaction.  And developing a strong sense of self-awareness is what will give us the strongest possibility of not making a choice that we ultimately regret.  At the same time, there are probably few mortals who haven’t made a choice at some point in their lives that did not appear to be an irremediable mistake.

Yet, for every fall we take, if we manage to profit from the unwise choice or choices that led to our temporary defeat, we will discover that we are stronger than we were before. To borrow words from the captivating silent film actress Mary Pickford, “If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start at any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

Unfortunately, in this world in which we live, we are not always encouraged to get back up when we fall. This is why we must always remember that we are the ones who see our dreams most clearly and that we are the creators of our own destiny. The reasons behind the lack of encouragement and support that others exhibit may not be something we will ever comprehend. 

In many cases, those whom we might have expected to stand behind us feel threatened by our determination to keep going in spite of obstacles. They assume that if they desert us in our time of need, we will give up out of hopelessness and despair. It isn’t necessarily because such people are malicious or vindictive or hateful that they behave in this way. Rather, it is oftentimes because they are so deeply insecure that they are simply incapable of supporting those whom they perceive might have a greater chance of success than they do.

It isn’t always easy to accept the concept that there is enough success in the world to go around. Some people subscribe to the erroneous idea that success is like a piece of pie and that, in order for them to get their slice, someone else must forfeit his or hers. But ideas such as these are rooted in fear. And there can be no freedom where fear exists. To release ourselves from all fear is to give ourselves true freedom. When this occurs, we will rejoice in the accomplishments of those around us. We may even look for ways in which we can help others achieve their goals more swiftly.

Reaching this level of personal security and self-assurance will enable us to stop competing with anyone but ourselves. It will thereby provide us with the opportunity to become the best version of ourselves instead of a copy of someone else. The more you cease to compare the less inclined you will be to judge for you will embrace your own individuality. You will understand that you are every bit as exceptional as any other human being on the planet.

Why try to hinder anyone else’s journey when you are fully engaged with your own? If you see yourself as exceptional, there is no reason to be envious of anyone else. If you don’t agree with another person’s choices, stop to ask yourself whether or not it is up to you to agree or disagree. For in either agreeing or disagreeing, are you not moving from a place of mere observation into a place of judgment? Since the only thing any of us really has power over in this world is our own life, how can expending time and energy assessing the choices that others make benefit us?

In many ways, life is complicated. If your personal journey is anything like mine, there are plenty of things you have to concern yourself with on a day-to-day basis that pertain to your own life. So, why worry about other people’s lives, too?  The environment that best fosters a sense of self-awareness is that in which everything extraneous is let go of. 

In cutting away that which is not essential you will find both peace and clarity. In this way, life is a lot like love. When you bring yourself out of a place of need and release yourself from all expectations and conditions, you will discover what is genuine and what is false. Even if you experience pain and suffering, the joy you will eventually find in allowing into your life only that which is true, deep, and meaningful will surpass even the most excruciating heartache.

Don’t continue to clutter your life with the rhinestones of temporary bliss when you can have diamonds of happiness, joy, and lasting contentment instead. Allow yourself to acknowledge your pain and to gain strength from your suffering. Release yourself from the need to judge others and embrace the beauty that exists within you.

Be joyful. Be extraordinary. Be the best you that you can be . . . .

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

(“A Quest For Sublimity” is dedicated to my extraordinary friends Scot Conway and Dawn Marie Knott) 

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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.

The present is yours

gift2

 

 

I have been very personal with everyone so far. In fact, I have gone out of my way to present everything from a personal perspective. This means, of course, that I share a lot about myself with all of you—some of you being people I have never met and probably never will meet. So, why am I sharing so much so freely?? It’s because I care about every one of you, even if I don’t know your name. The fact that you are reading this blog lets me know that you want to change your life, and this means that you and I have a lot in common. We are already what some people would call ‘kindred spirits’ whether you realize it or not. I use that phrase knowing that it is used too often and that sometimes it is not regarded with enough sincerity. If you loathe that phrase, forget this diva ever used it.

In keeping with sharing so many of my personal thoughts and feelings with all of you, I have a confession. There has already been more than one day this very month that I would call “one of the worst days of my life.” Yeah, we all have them, don’t we? And sometimes, after a good night’s sleep, we’re fortunate enough to view the world once more as a place that feels the warmth of the sun. Then again, there are times in our lives in which we have several bad days in succession. These are the really tough times, aren’t they? The times when even lots of sleep and eating your favorite flavor of ice cream doesn’t seem to help. Even watching one of your favorite films—a film that would usually make you laugh or cry or inspire you—leaves you feeling numb. I tend to think that there is a state of despair that is beyond sadness. Sadness can be dreadful when it is severe, and crying for several hours can wear you out. But what is worse than that, I think, is a feeling of numbness. It’s a feeling where you have reached your threshold of emotional or mental pain, and your body just closes down. Nothing really even moves you because nothing can—you have shut off your emotions. At times like these, even the death of a loved one might not affect you. In fact, the death of a loved one can actually bring about a feeling of numbness. The thing that’s frightening about that numb feeling is that you wonder if you are still fully alive. You wonder if a part of you—something that is essential to who you are—has died. Do I sound like I am fully familiar with this feeling? If so, it’s because I am.

You know, there are times when I know I am not having the right attitude towards life, and I have the idea that many of you have experienced this, too. Have there not been hours, days, and maybe even weeks when, rather than feeling grateful for all the blessings in your life, you have chosen to focus on all the problems instead? If there haven’t been, I admire you! In fact, I rather envy you. I would very much like to be one of those persons who always, without fail, had a wonderful attitude. The exceptional motivational speaker and author, Keith Harrell, wrote a book called Attitude Is Everything. I have recommended the book to strangers before—that is how impressed I was by it. It’s actually been a few years since I read it from cover to cover, but every now and then I pick it up—usually when my own attitude leaves a lot to be desired. I do think Keith Harrell has a point, but sometimes. . .well, isn’t it just almost impossible to transform a negative attitude into a positive one? Well.  .  .I think it can certainly seem impossible, particularly when we don’t stop to analyze why our attitude is so negative. Obviously, if our beloved pet has just died or our fiance/fiancee has broken up with us, we know why we’re feeling lousy. But are there not times when a bad attitude just seems to come out of the blue? I’ll admit that generally the cause is right under our nose. . .and right before our eyes. We also tend to have a tendency to take our less-than-wonderful attitude out on other people, usually people whom we know will love us no matter how badly we act. The problem is, of course, that inflicting our own pain on other people is only going to make us feel worse. Or haven’t you noticed? *wink* Truly, you do feel worse when other people are as miserable as you are. For one thing, you feel guilty. So, in addition to feeling depression or discouragement or hopelessness or anger. . .well, you also blame yourself. So, by that time, you have so many destructive emotions on your plate that there’s no room for the emotions that would nourish you, such as hope, faith, gratitude, and joy. Imagine if you were at a buffet and you decided to pile your plate high with nothing but foods that were laden with heavy sauces and gravy. How would you feel after you finished eating? Would you feel good? Might you not feel sluggish and lethargic? Well, life is like that, too. You must find a way to get rid of those emotions that are making you feel like giving up on yourself and on life if you’re ever going to feel brave and hopeful and happy. Doesn’t that make sense?? When a theatre has a sold out performance, there are no empty seats. When your freezer is packed with so much food that you can barely close the door, you aren’t going to be able to fit another carton of ice cream or another bag of frozen peas in there. It just isn’t going to happen. This is why I suggesting ridding your life of as many toxic people as you can. If you don’t, what’s going to happen is that there won’t be space for those people who will uplift you, inspire you, and make your life more marvelous.

I know my thoughts may seem to be more scattered than usual, but your diva is not in a mood to worry about how tidy her thought patterns are today. If it seems like I’m talking to myself almost as much as I’m talking to you. . .well, what can I say? I watched too many videos of Glenn Gould playing Bach over at You Tube. For those who are not very familiar with Glenn Gould, he often mumbled and hummed to himself while he was performing on the piano. Actually, I am talking to you. I’m just sharing with you the thoughts and ideas I share with myself on a constant basis. I continually berate myself for not having enough of what I call an “attitude of gratitude”. I realize that life is a gift, and I understand that allowing one day to pass in which you let yourself thrive on negative and destructive emotions is the same as not thanking someone who gives you a beautiful bouquet of flowers or a book you have always wanted for your birthday. I remember once when I wanted a copy of Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell for my birthday. I was 16 years old at the time, and I had always loved the film adaptation of the book. For one thing, Vivien Leigh has always been my favorite actress. At any rate, I let it be known—in a very subtle way, of course—that I would really love to have a copy of Gone with the Wind. One of my girlfriends, who had always made a point of trying to give me presents she thought I would like, seemed like the most likely person to give me a copy of the novel. Well, imagine my surprise and my disappointment when she gave me William Bennett’s Book of Virtues instead. To this day, I have never read much of the book. It wasn’t because I had anything against the book. In fact, I’m sure it’s an excellent book, and it would probably benefit me in some significant way were I to read it from cover to cover. It is supposed to include stories about such laudable virtues as responsibility, courage, self-discipline, perseverance, honesty, faith, and compassion. However, I really wanted to read about Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. I did not care about being morally enlightened. I have always been what people would call a ‘good’ person, and, although I realize I am in some ways very much flawed, I didn’t see that The Book of Virtues was something I need to own. Let’s just forget that everyone who read it at Amazon seems to have given it 4-5 stars *wink*. Hey, maybe it was what I needed. Perhaps I should even pull it out now and start reading it. Who knows? What I do know is that it wasn’t the present I wanted on my sixteenth birthday.

Of course, there could be a lesson here, couldn’t there? It is only at this moment that I am seeing the lesson. . .so, please know that I am sharing this with you at the very time that it has become clear to me. I am very spontaneous in most of my writing at this blog. I do not consciously plan what I am going to say nor do I have lots of books here that I am gathering thoughts from. I am what you might call my own diva. There are other experts on success and happiness who know more than I do, I am certain. But you have chosen me—not them. So, you want to hear my own personal ideas, not the ideas of another person even if that person is more of an expert than I am. The revelation I have just had is this. My girlfriend giving me The Book of Virtues, a book I didn’t want, instead of Gone with the Wind, a book I did want, is a lot like life. How?? Well, aren’t we oftentimes getting something different than what we want? Haven’t there been men or women whom we have found attractive who were not interested in us? And have we not decided to go out with someone whom we originally thought wasn’t “our type”? Yet, are there not some of you who have ended up realizing that the person who wasn’t your “type” was more your “type” than that other man/woman who rejected you? And haven’t you ever been in a restaurant and found out that the entree or dessert you wanted wasn’t available? I have. Last October, on my birthday, I went to a French restaurant. My heart was set on trying the cherry claufouti. However, when I got there, I was told that they had already run out of that particular dessert earlier in the evening. So, what did I do? Well, I ordered a banana and chocolate crepe with whipped creme. How was it? Well, let’s just say I forgot all about the claufouti once I had devoured the crepe. I think life can be like this, too. I was trained to be a classical musician and spent years thinking that I would never find any other career that I felt so passionate and enthusiastic about. Indeed, if you had asked me, when I was 12 years old, what I would do if a concert career on the violin or the piano didn’t work out, I would have told  you, “It has to work out. It must work out.” You know what, though? It didn’t work out. Yes, I had a plan for my life. . .but, you see, life had a plan for me. And the two plans didn’t match up. Carson McCullers, one of the greatest writers that the Southern part of the United States has ever produced, also wanted a career in classical music. In fact, that’s what she trained for, too. But life clearly had other plans. I never knew Carson McCullers. . .so, I never had the chance to ask her how she felt about the career in music not working out. Yet the chances are that at some point she saw it as a blessing. By the time that her career as a writer was flourishing, I would find it hard to believe that she was looking back over her shoulder, feeling an enormous amount of regret.

So, as you see, some of the things that we are given in life may not be just what we want when we get them.  . .but sometimes they’re what we end up needing. As I have been writing this, I feel as if another window has been opened in my life. That window needed to be opened, and I want to thank those of you who support your diva for making my life so much richer by allowing me into your world. I am looking forward to the rest of the day, whereas there was a time during the early morning hours when your diva, much to her chagrin, was looking upon this day as merely a certain period of hours to get through. Now, though, I see it as an opportunity. . . and as a gift. Thank you.

Life isn’t just one gift. . .but a series of gifts. Each day is a present, and I don’t know about you, but these aren’t presents I want to return to the store.

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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Am I just another self-help guru?

When I started this blog, my intention was to present everything from my own personal perspective. That is, I didn’t want to rely on the information I had absorbed from the books on success, creating the ‘life of your dreams’, and other similar topics that I’ve read through the years. Now perhaps it’s inevitable that some of the insight this diva shares with you has been influenced by the motivational books she’s read and the tapes and CDs she has listened to.  But. . .I will say that I’m not directly or intentionally ‘borrowing’ other people’s ideas. To truly live life fully and richly, I think each of us has to be a ‘sponge’ to a certain extent. That is, I believe that we must absorb as much as we can from the information and knowledge that others pass on to us. Don’t you agree? If, for instance, we are able to walk into a meadow covered with red poppies and yet we fail to notice the color and beauty of the poppies. . .I would have to ask, are we observant enough? If we can look at a rainbow in the sky and not be struck with its radiance, what has happened to that child we once were? Do you remember the first time you felt the rain against your skin or the first time that you saw snow fall from the sky? How old were you? A cousin of mine had to help her daughter with a school paper a couple of years ago, and the subject of the paper was her daughter’s ‘first snow.’ What was interesting—and yes, also a little sad—is that my cousin couldn’t remember the first time her daughter had seen snow. She could remember when the family dog had gone out for the first time in the snow because she had taken pictures of him wallowing in it. But the memory of her daughter walking or playing in the snow had clearly vanished from her mind. How many of us truly do fail to remember some of the most important moments of our lives?

The Success Diva got a message from someone who had happened upon her site this afternoon. It said: “In response to whether or not I am living the life of my dreams, what I am living is the lie of my dreams.” The first question I wanted to ask this person was, And are you happy living a lie? Is that what your dream is, a life of lies? However, I chose not to respond at all, for I understood long ago that there are only certain people who will be open to the advice I share. Some people have already closed themselves off from certain things. They have chosen the frame for the painting that is their life and they are unwilling to look around for a larger and more beautiful frame. Generally, these same individuals have also chosen the colors that they will make use of to paint the picture of their lives.  And no matter how limited that palette of colors is, unless they come to the point where they want to experiment and try new and different colors, they will be limiting themselves to painting exclusively in those colors.  Have you ever looked at a painting by an artist such as Monet, Chagall, Gaugin, or Van Gogh in a museum and wondered how many different shades of blue, and yellow, and red, and green it must have taken for them to create a masterpiece like that? Do you know anything about the life of Jan Vermeer? Have you, by any chance, seen the film “The Girl With the Pearl Earring?” Are you aware of what great pains Vermeer took to create the shades of paint that he wanted? For example, lapis lazuli was used to obtain a specific shade of blue. Vermeer was never wealthy, but because he was living his life with passion and pursuing that which brought him fulfillment he was able to create the life of his dreams. Having money, fame, and fortune is not something that anyone can ever promise you. And, no matter how many changes you make in your life or how open you are to the Success Diva’s suggestions, wealth and international renown are things that are never guaranteed. Many of you probably would say that you wouldn’t even want such things as you are not interested in material possessions or public acclaim. However, some people do deny that they desire that which they secretly yearn for. When the world mourned the death of pop icon Michael Jackson, they were also mourning the fact that they no longer had another person’s fame to be a part of. As difficult as it might be for some of Jackson’s fans to admit, the reason that his life and career had such an impact on them was because the part of them that had been unfulfilled was living through Jackson’s accomplishments. To look at someone like Jackson and see that he is living what you perceive to be the life of his dreams can make you feel both admiration and envy, even if you are unwilling to confess that you feel the least bit envious. And, of course, there are those people who have already reconciled themselves to the life they’re living right now, no matter how unhappy or unsuccessful it is. For these people, immersing themselves in the fame and glory of celebrities like Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Tom Cruise, and Madonna is a way to distract them from the fact that they have so many dreams that they have already chosen to push aside. In a way, focusing on the lives of those who are living the sorts of lives that most of us only fantasize about is a way to escape our own inner discontentment. But as you probably have guessed, trying to escape from the pain, emptiness, and unhappiness you are feeling inside is only a temporary antidote. Sooner or later, you will have to face that pain, that emptiness, and that unhappiness.  And the longer you wait to do so, the more difficult it will be to do so.

Sometimes I feel like the things I am telling you must seem as if they come from others who have tried to inspire people via through books, seminars, tape programs, and so forth. Hence the title of this blog post, Am I just Another Self-Help Guru? To be honest, I easily could be just that. However, I often get the feeling that some of those people are more interested in the benefits that the advice they are sharing with others will bring them—such as money and fame—than they are with truly helping other people. I do see why there might be a certain amount of skepticism in regard to anyone who says that her mission in life is to reach out to others and help them create the life of their dreams. In a world where so many people are only looking out for #1 (i.e., themselves), why shouldn’t someone be looking for the Success Diva to have a hidden agenda? All I can say, in response to the cynics and skeptics is that every bit of advice and insight I am sharing with others comes straight from the heart of this diva. If I didn’t completely believe everything I’m telling all of you, I wouldn’t have created this blog in the first place! I’m certain that many of you think that the Success Diva must have a life that’s pretty much in keeping with what the life of her dreams would be if she is going out of her way to share her suggestions and the wisdom that she has gained from her experiences with you. Well, the truth is that the life I am living now and the life that I want to have are two entirely separate things. However, I have made the choice to build the ship that will steer me to that other side of the ocean where the life of my dreams awaits me. You see, whether we like it or not, our lives are going to pass whether we make the most of them or not. If we choose to let opportunities pass us by. . .if we decide not to opt for happiness or love when it comes our way. . .well, the only person who is going to miss out on anything is us. Although it would please me greatly if I knew that all of you were living happy, fulfilled, and successful lives, whether you make the choices that will make this possible or not isn’t something that will directly affect me. I do know some of you, but there are many of you whom I don’t know and never will know. To imagine that my life will be impacted greatly whether you live the life of your dreams or not is not logical or realistic. Yes, it will sadden me to think that you have chosen to deprive yourself of the happiness, love, success, and joy that could have been yours for the asking. . .but knowing that I have done all I could to help you bring these things into your life will be enough to leave me with a feeling of contentment. As I have said before, nobody, including your Success Diva, can change your life for you. You have to do that. And to all those detractors and naysayers, all I can say is that if you are truly happy living in the box you have chosen to place yourself and your life in, then continue living exactly as you are now. Who’s going to stop you? Not this diva! She’s busy enough sharing her insight and input with those who are genuinely open to receiving it.

Live today with passion. . .make every moment matter!

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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