May I always know
The time of business is no different
From the time of prayer.
And in the noise and clatter of my kitchen
May I possess you as peacefully
As if I were on my knees
Before the Holy Sacrament.
~ Andrew Harvey,
inspired by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection
Remember the 1980 film, Airplane?
The protagonist, played by Robert Hays, drove several other passengers to suicide with unending narratives about his troubled history. I bet most of us have endured versions of this torture ourselves when confronted by someone who won’t shut up about themselves and how terrible their life is.
It often starts with an innocent question: “Hi, how’s everything?” Usually you get something like, “Fine, how about you?” However, sometimes it goes more like this: “Not good. I lost my job yesterday and I’m broke. Man, my wife is freaking out and the kids are on drugs.”
Here’s a tactic that can save you hours of verbal waterboarding over the course of your lifetime: Interrupt. Interrupt him or her with a one-word question: “And?”
I do this frequently and it always stops them in their tracks. Eyebrows shoot up and eyes glaze over. “What?” It’s called a “pattern interrupt,” which some readers will recognize is a neuro-linguistic programming technique used to quickly alter thought patterns and behaviors.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION?
“What’s your vision?” That’s what I say next to explain what “and” means. Now things get really interesting because virtually no one has a vision, at least not specific to the circumstance they’ve been over-describing.
Notice that the word is “and,” not “but.” Using “but” tends to invalidate what came before, for instance, “I love you but I’d like you to change.” True love is unconditional so there’s no “but.” The word “and” plays differently. “And” acknowledges the value of what came before. “I love you and I’d like to discuss some possible changes.”
Every situation in life has an “and.” One side is the way things are, the other side is the way you want them to be. “And” is the edge. “And” leads to balance.
After seven months in Ashland, Oregon we are ready to buy a house. My wife scours the papers, circling possibilities, making over forty phone calls, enlisting realtors, and touring homes for sale. One day, she shows me an ad. I barely read it before feeling and saying: “This is the one.” We immediately drive to the address. At that same moment, a car pulls up in the neighbors driveway; it’s our realtor. She lives next door!
We are able to look inside and decide we want the home. Our offer is submitted before other realtors tour the property so we avoid a possible bidding war. When friends visit and applaud our magical find I remind them that it was more than luck or fate. My wife did the hard work. Usually both are necessary. And ...
THE SECRET... NOT
I’m a cautious fan of Barbara Ehrenreich’s exposé on delusional optimism: Bright–Sided, How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. She writes about this country’s epidemic of optimism as a formula for escaping reality.
She also slams The Secret, a 2006 documentary film that went viral. The Wiki entry describes it’s message this way: “...everything one wants or needs can be satisfied by believing in an outcome, repeatedly thinking about it, and maintaining positive emotional states to ‘attract’ the desired outcome.”
I remember watching The Secret with friends, increasingly nauseated by the silly fluff parroted by one spiritual entrepreneur after another. Feel-good phrases abounded, reminiscent of what I just mentioned: Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich and Henry Ford’s maxim, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”
There was no “and.”
All we need to do, apparently, is to believe we are wealthy, repeat some positive mantras, and then welcome in the abundance that surrounds us and magically converts into money and expensive stuff.
If the formula fails to work, that’s due to limitations in our thinking, our “scarcity consciousness.” To break through, we need to remain relentlessly optimistic, to believe our way to riches and success and happiness and spiritual enlightenment.
This nonsense commercializes spiritual principles for greedy gain and is championed by those who should know better. The idea that “thoughts become things” is not an immutable, inevitable, eternal law in every instance. “I can fly, I can fly, I can fly” doesn’t work. I’m not going to prove that by jumping off a bridge.
BOTH SIDES OF THE COIN
As much as I admire Ehrenreich’s much-needed and long overdue takedown of the positive thinking movement — and I don’t doubt her compassionate intentions — in the end she cheats us of a balanced understanding.
Yes, ungrounded optimism based in denial of hard facts results in delusionary ruination. It’s just a matter of time before those dream castles fall. I share her deep concern for the millions who have been hoodwinked by this philosophy and suffer because of it. And... our thoughts do make a difference.
In fact, vision is vital, if we are going to solve our problems with new thinking. Ehrenreich champions practicality on its own which, I believe, is insufficient.
She concludes her book this way:
Happiness is not, of course, guaranteed, even to those who are affluent, successful, and well loved. But that happiness is not the inevitable outcome of happy circumstances does not mean we can find it by journeying inward to revise our thoughts and feelings. The threats we face are real and can be vanquished only by shaking off self-absorption and taking action in the world. Build up the levees, get food to the hungry, find the cure, strengthen the ‘first responders!” We will not succeed at all these things, certainly not all at once, but – if I may end with my own personal secret of happiness – we can have a good time trying.
Here is what I disagree with: “The threats we face are real and can be vanquished only by shaking off self-absorption and taking action in the world.” Is that the “only” way? What is creating these threats upstream?” A certain kind of thinking. That’s the deeper cause.
What’s the long-term result of ignoring causes to wrestle with effects downstream? Precisely what we are experiencing on the planet right now. Without vision, we just flail around with good intentions. Actions have their essential place but they are never enough on their own. A bird with one wing flies in circles.
Notice how much time you devote to worrying about a problem vs. how much time you devote to developing a vision for the solution. I’m referring to your inner dialogue, the thoughts that stream constantly in that conversation you have with yourself.
Mark Twain famously said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” We have rehearsed those impending disasters in our heads many times, then we talk about them and invite a listener into our delusion.
“And” shifts focus. “And” invites us to consider the other side -- positive or negative. “And” opens possibilities to adapt the way nature does. Of course, nature has an advantage: no committees!
NEW THINKING, A TEST
Years ago I heard a story about a college student who received a failing grade for his answer to this test question: “How do you determine the height of a tall building using a barometer?”
His answer: “Take the barometer to the top of the building. Tie a string to it and lower it to the ground. Measure the string. That’s the height of the building.”
His professor argued that this didn’t really utilize the barometer in the way the question required. But the student objected to narrow thinking and convinced his prof to consider other “and” solutions he had.
“Stand the barometer on the street and measure its shadow. Take it to the top of the building and measure again. The difference will help you determine the answer.”
And, my favorite: “Find the superintendent and promise to give him your barometer if he tells you the height of the building!” The professor relented and gave his student a passing grade for ingenuity!
There is always an “and.”
The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin,
“is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails.
You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies,
you may lie awake at night
listening to the disorder of your veins...
You may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics,
or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds.
There is only one thing for it then–to learn.
Learn why the world wags and what wags it.
That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust,
never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust,
and never dream of regretting.Learning is the thing for you.
~ T. H. White
Copyright 2016. Natural Wisdom LLC.
Reprinted with permission of the author.
Now or Never: A Time Traveler's Guide to Personal and Global Transformation
by Will Wilkinson
Discover, learn, and master simple and powerful techniques for creating the future you prefer and healing past traumas, to improve the quality of your personal life and help create a thriving future for our great grandchildren.
About the Author
Will Wilkinson is a senior consultant with Luminary Communications in Ashland, Oregon. He has written and delivered programs in conscious living for forty years, interviewed scores of leading edge change agents, and pioneered experiments in small scale alternative economies. Find out more at willtwilkinson.com/
Books co-authored by Will