"Man is disturbed not so much by things, but
by the view he takes of them."
Epictetus


"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome
evil with good."
Romans 12:21


8.
SEEING THE DANCE

The previous chapter reinforced the idea that to
sail the most efficient course, we need charts and
bearings which correctly reflect the world--and in
living our ability to succeed is based on how
accurately our beliefs and perceptions correspond to
reality. In our open-minded search for this reality
much can be learned from the ancient teachings of the
East.
Most people have a tendency to view the things
in their world, and often themselves, in terms of
conflicting opposites; something is either good or
evil, right or wrong, with little room for other
considerations. The origins of this tendency can be
traced to the conditioning created by their culture,
in which a large majority of people will share a
certain group of selective perceptions. These shared
perceptions result in a collective way of seeing
themselves and the world, which establishes the
group's overall sense of good and bad, right and
wrong. Usually these opposing qualities are also
viewed by the group as being in conflict. People new
to the group, especially children, pick up this sense
of conflicting opposites, and this perception is
carried from one generation to the next. However,
viewing things primarily in the narrow terms of
conflicting opposites can interfere with
understanding and appreciating everything in our
world.

NECESSARY CONTRAST
At the core of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism,
and in certain facets of Christianity, opposites are
viewed much differently. From this perspective
contrasting sides and forces are not regarded as
being in a battle in which one side should try to
completely subdue or eliminate the other. In their
underlying view of feminine and masculine, pleasure
and pain, positive and negative, good and evil, each
side is acknowledged as an opposite, but each is also
considered to be an essential part of the whole; one
can't exist without the other. Therefore every
opposing side has value, because for one to exist, so
must its opposite.
Instead of focusing on a struggle between
opposing sides, this view reflects the value of
approaching each side with a consideration for all of
its qualities. Every side has at least some aspect
that can be used to help foster harmony. By
recognizing the value in each opposite, we can better
use each one to create a healthy balance for
ourselves and the planet.
As the strengths of the opposing sides are
recognized, their weaknesses and limitations are also
accepted. Therefore, one side isn't pressured into
doing or becoming something that conflicts with its
inherent nature. If we try to use something in a way
that is contrary to its natural limitations, it is
more likely to create conflict. Such an understanding
promotes the balancing of opposites, instead of an
ongoing, destructive struggle that often results in
an overall weakening of both sides.
The influence of this more balanced approach to
opposites also extends into the classic paintings of
the Far East, in which space is as valued as
form--for it is realized that without space, form is
not possible. Such Oriental art often acknowledges
the important role of opposites by using a large
portion of open space to contrast with and heighten
the awareness of the painted forms. This empty, open
area isn't viewed as a waste of space, but as an
essential part of the whole picture.
Likewise, in personal relationships the value of
a space between two people needs to be recognized.
When two people are apart for a period of time, the
result can be increased strength in each person, as
well as increased meaning in being together. The
Eastern sages understood that too much togetherness
in a relationship could upset the balance and result
in disharmony.
This ancient Eastern view relates even to the
core of our existence, for it recognizes that good
and evil, like positive and negative, are necessary
twins that help form the whole existence. To destroy
evil and have nothing except good remain would also
destroy any balance between the two: the lack of
balance would then create another evil. In addition,
when a battle is waged to destroy evil, the struggle
for destruction easily becomes a negative that adds
another evil to the situation. Because of the
interdependence of the two, evil can't be truly
eliminated without also destroying what was good.
Rather than viewing the opposites as forces
struggling against each other, this ancient
perspective views opposites as just differing forces
in a cosmic dance that forms a larger picture, with
each force being necessary for the dance to continue
and the picture to exist.
The interdependent relationship of good and
evil, and how efforts to destroy evil also reduces
what was good, is probably the reason Jesus
instructed his followers to "Resist not he who is
evil." (Matthew 5:39) This verse can be very
puzzling, especially for those who can only think of
dealing with evil by fighting it. But understanding
the dance of the opposites is important for realizing
the best approach to evil; instead of resisting or
fighting it, we can confront evil better by creating
something good to take its place. Animosity and
hatred are not reduced by adding more of the same,
but by the power of active love. A negative in our
lives is better offset by adding something positive
which can replace it, rather than by simply trying to
destroy that negative.

THE INNER DANCE
This ancient view also acknowledges that in each
of us there is a capacity for both positive and
negative, good and evil. Accordingly, to condemn
people just because they have differences that are
perceived as "bad" or inadequate is to disregard the
capacity they still have for good. Doing so also
diminishes the quality of hope that is needed for
improving communities.
Perhaps even more significant, by rejecting
others because of their supposed faults, we inhibit
ourselves from dealing with our own dark side. When
we reject others due to perceived faults, we are also
more likely to reject ourselves if we discover faults
in ourselves. Therefore, to avoid such
self-rejection, we may then try to deny our own
faults, and consequently become blind to what we need
to improve.
In this view, a person who condemns others adds
to the overall amount of negative while contaminating
his or her own self. Furthermore, people who are
overly concerned with the negative sooner or later
reap the consequences of their negative thoughts.
Sometimes these consequences might not be readily
apparent to our limited range of vision; nonetheless,
they still eventually occur in some form.
In Hinduism and Buddhism this reaping of
consequences is expressed in the principal of cause
and effect, which affirms that everything is a result
of some cause (or causes) and everything we do has
some effect. The same principle was asserted by the
Apostle Paul when he wrote "As a man sows, so shall
he also reap," (Galatians 6:7) which leads us to the
premise that how we think and act is the primary
determining factor in how our life turns out.
Accordingly, the outcome of our lives is intimately
connected to all the thoughts and actions that we
produce, whether or not we accept responsibility for
them. But as we accept such responsibility, we will
more effectively control our course.
Put another way, what we get out of life is a
result of what we nurture every day in our lives. If
we focus on cultivating constructive and beneficial
thoughts, we will reap more results that correlate
with these thoughts. Likewise, if we focus on
pessimistic or detrimental thoughts, we will reap
results that correlate with such thoughts. Because
our thoughts have an overwhelming influence on our
feelings and actions, it is vitally important to
increase our awareness of what we are thinking.
"As A Man Thinketh," written by James Allen in
the 19th century, is a most convincing book about the
significance of the thoughts we select. Unfortunately
it's simplistic in its complete omission of some
uncontrollable elements (such as hereditary factors
and unforeseeable, freak accidents), and it is
conspicuously sexist. But the most significant
problem with this book is that it doesn't discuss how
to change what we think.
This problem was addressed by Albert Ellis and
Robert Harper when they wrote "A New Guide to
Rational Living," which has its roots in the maxim
that's at the beginning of this chapter: "Man is
disturbed not so much by things, but by the view he
takes of them." Ellis and Harper's book was the
forerunner for other self-help books on the cognitive
approach to personal change--and I encourage everyone
interested in improving their lives to read it. In
addition, this approach can also be used in
conjunction with the TA concept of the Adult ego
state in creating new tapes.

APPRECIATING THE DANCE
But can seeing "the big picture" of the cosmic
dance of interrelated opposites help us in our
practical daily living? Actually, this is one of our
greatest opportunities to grow. Meditation,
contemplative prayer, and enlightening books can be
quite helpful in grasping this larger picture, yet
for most people (including myself) finding time for
these activities is usually difficult. Throughout our
lives, though, we have the opportunity to use the
power Jesus referred to when he said "The truth shall
make you free." (John 8:32)
As in many other kinds of learning, our ability
to use this opportunity evolves gradually, and
sometimes we will stumble in our development or maybe
even fall back. Yet these problems don't mean we are
unworthy or not OK--they are a normal part of
learning that happens to everyone. And when we do
stumble, it is important to still treat ourselves
with respect and compassion; berating oneself only
interferes with making positive changes.
In the same context that Socrates proposed
self-examination as being fundamental to gaining
truly important knowledge, questioning ourselves
about unrecognized aspects of opposing sides in our
lives is important to realizing the truth and freedom
that underlies "the big picture." Just as we can be
sure that every coin has two sides, in every
situation there is at least one opposing side--and
through becoming aware of this other aspect we will
grow. Then as we become more adept at seeing opposing
sides, we can continue the process by becoming more
aware of the different facets that each side has.
Most situations, which usually are more complex than
the two sides of a coin, have several different
facets that create a variety of sides. But the
fundamental approach to expanding our understanding
begins by looking for another side to a situation.
Opportunities for this growth are plentiful;
they can be with a partner or friends, with our jobs
or hobbies, or even with our cars, homes, and
physical bodies. We may get a fortunate break or
suffer from a coincidental event; we can get married
or divorced, or hired or fired; we may have
continuing good health or develop a chronic illness;
a car or home may remain adequate for us or we may
long for a new car or home; a hobby may bring us
unexpected success or cause us many problems. In each
instance the usual tendency is to view the situation
in just one way, which also conforms to our existing
ideas. By doing so we exclude from our consideration
the opposing aspects of the situation--the other side
of the coin--that don't fit our preconceived ideas.
But ignoring other points of view causes us to see a
narrower and less balanced picture that leaves out
the contrasting benefits or drawbacks that exist with
any situation.
Most of us view good health as purely a
positive, but people who have always been in good
health often take it for granted; because of this
they may neglect their health. The same effect can
happen in relationships; people who have enjoyed the
positive of a good marriage or friendship can become
careless in what makes for a continuing good
relationship. This effect also occurs frequently in
people's work; if things are going well they may
relax in their performance, and if things go bad,
they will probably pay more attention and maybe even
work harder.
In each positive situation we can ask ourselves
what possible drawbacks could there be, what unseen
negative aspect are we not taking into consideration?
By becoming more aware of the drawbacks to things we
previously had perceived as only being positive, when
those drawbacks surface they won't be so unexpected.
In addition, there will usually be some drawback that
we could deal with more effectively if we were more
aware of it. Every situation has at least two sides,
and being blind to an opposing side prevents us from
dealing with it.
In a similar fashion, with every negative
situation we can ask what possible good might be
hidden in it, what benefit might we be able to
realize from it? Through this kind of questioning we
can gain insight and enhance our lives. Divorce, loss
of a job, and physical illness all can be bewildering
and painful, yet each can also be the start of
tremendous growth. In every negative situation there
is another side--some beneficial aspect that, when
realized, can make the situation more positive as
well as turn it into a learning experience that
enriches us.
Some people may reject this attitude of
"searching for the silver lining in every cloud" and
"making lemonade when life hands us lemons." But the
denial of this larger picture only reinforces the
overly negative, narrow picture on which these people
choose to base their lives. They habitually focus on
the negative, and therefore live less happily. To the
extent that we do not recognize and value the larger
picture encompassing opposing sides, we are robbing
ourselves of the richness of a more complete and
harmonious life.

A PARABLE
How the dance of the opposites can appear in
life is illustrated well by a Taoist parable. In this
story a farmer's horse runs away, and his neighbors
come over to sympathize with him over his loss and
bad luck. His response is "We will see." The next day
his horse comes back and brings with it six wild
horses. The neighbors come over again and this time
speak of what good fortune has fallen onto the
farmer. The farmer's response is "We will see." The
following day the farmer's son starts to train the
horses for riding, but is thrown and breaks his leg.
Once again the neighbors come over and offer their
sympathy for the farmer's bad luck. And once again
his reply is "We will see." The next day army
officers come by looking for young recruits to take
off to war, but because of the son's broken leg, they
don't take him. Finally the neighbors come over to
exclaim how well everything has turned out. The
farmer's reply again is, "We will see."
Although the supposed negatives and positives in
this parable are physically tangible, they compare as
well to the less concrete mental and spiritual
aspects of living. It's wise to be aware that in
every situation there will be eventual problems; then
when difficulties occur they won't be so unexpected.
Furthermore, attempting to foresee these problems
will help us to deal with them and alter their
outcome. And by realizing that in each negative
situation there is hidden potential benefits, we are
more likely to learn from such situations and use
them to our best advantage.

EASY DOES IT, AND MAKING IT EASIER
In becoming aware of the negative side of
positive situations, a problem can easily develop:
the negative can seem to overshadow the positive.
Maintaining a balance in our awareness takes
practice; moderation needs to be used, because
focusing too much on the negative will obscure the
positive and make us pessimistic and our own worst
enemy. We can help ourselves reduce this problem by
being aware of when we're feeling negative--if we
are, then we can check to see if we're concentrating
our thoughts too much on the negative while not
sufficiently appreciating the positive.
Sometimes, though, it's difficult to see the
opposing aspect of a situation or that we may be
focusing too much on one side. Changing our thinking
to be more open to other sides and differing ideas
will help us achieve a great deal of insight.
However, our growth can be significantly enhanced by
sharing our questions with a compassionate,
knowledgeable person who can be objective. He or she
will usually be able to see a perspective to our
situation that we were unable to see. Seeking such
outside assistance is an excellent way to gain
insight and speed our growth. Rather than a weakness,
it is an acknowledgment of our desire to grow.
We can also help ourselves develop by sharing in
a community of people who are on an active course of
growth. Although we need to be able to identify with
their course, it doesn't need to be the same as ours.
Actually, being involved with people who are too
similar to us can limit our growth; if their outlook
is narrow and restricted in the same way ours is, we
will be cut off from new ways of thinking that might
help us. In choosing a group to associate with,
striving to find one that leads us to expand our
understanding and use our capabilities can be a great
challenge, but it also can be tremendously rewarding.

LIFE TELLS US TO LEARN
Understanding the value of opposites helps to
reveal the opportunities for learning important
lessons. When we feel sadness, frustration, or
anguish--when our lives aren't in harmony--life is
telling us that we are doing something wrong.
Sometimes it may seem as though we have to be
repeatedly hit in the head before we learn what life
is trying to teach us. Yet it doesn't have to be that
way; we can create the conditions that foster
happiness by learning the lessons which accompany our
unhappiness.
A basic lesson of history is that those who do
not learn from it are doomed to repeat it. We can use
that same principle to learn from our unhappy
situations: by examining the history of how we
contribute to our unhappiness, we can discover what
we need to change in order to be happier. Sometimes
the same type of situation can happen over and over
to us. Though we may wonder why it keeps happening,
if we don't examine what we're specifically doing
that promotes it, the situation is likely to recur.
Once we learn how we help to create our unhappiness,
we can more effectively alter our lives.
Such learning can be aided by answering two
crucial questions: "What thoughts and actions of mine
lead to being unhappy?" and "On what erroneous
beliefs are these thoughts and actions based?"
We can narrow our search for the answers by
focusing on how we selectively perceive to form
beliefs containing overgeneralized conclusions,
personalizations, and psychic readings. Clues to
these are thoughts containing words such as never,
always, I must or I have to, or other absolute types
of statements. Other clues are ways of thinking that
unrealistically seem to know what another person's
thoughts are or that someone is doing something with
a specific intention against us; and negative,
self-defeating prophesies about our future.
To gain useful answers to these questions
requires courage and a real desire to improve our
lives, coupled with sufficient time and effort in
pursuing them. But perhaps the biggest problem in
answering these questions is the inherent difficulty
for us, as solitary individuals, to be objective
enough and to have the scope of vision needed to come
up with answers that are really beneficial. A
knowledgeable person who can be objective will
usually be able to help us a great deal when we are
wrestling with such questions.

NEEDS VS. PREFERENCES
Still more can be learned from an unhappy
situation by extending these questions to examine how
our expectations may be interfering with our
happiness. Upon examination our expectations can be
found to be either needs or preferences. Definite
basic needs of all people are food, water, shelter,
freedom from immediate harm, and some positive
interaction with others. But an expectation also
turns into a need if we can't be happy when it goes
unfulfilled.
Even though they aren't really essential to
being happy, expecting such things as a nicer car, a
bigger house, a better job, or a new mate often
change into being needs. Smaller expectations can
also become needs, like wanting our partner to do
some minor thing a certain way, desiring some new
gadget or adult toy, wanting the weather to meet our
wishes, or thinking that a person should act how we
believe is proper. All these expectations become
needs if we are unhappy when they go unmet.
Such expectations may not in themselves be bad,
and sometimes they can lead us to achieve goals. But
when our happiness is dependent on having unessential
expectations fulfilled, they then turn into
dependencies which can interfere with being happy.
The situation is similar to that of drug addiction,
in which people can't be happy unless their
self-created needs are satisfied.
A particularly detrimental expectation that many
times becomes a need is when someone expects the
entire, unwavering love of another person. Because
this is impossible for even a mature partner to
fulfill, it frequently creates strife and alienation.
In contrast to a need is a preference: something
we would like to happen or have, but different from a
need in that if it doesn't come about, we can still
be happy. Rather than controlling our happiness, a
preference just directs our choices.

TRANSFORMING NEEDS
The key to managing our expectations is
realizing when they unnecessarily turn into needs and
then interfere with being happy. We can help
transform our unessential needs into preferences by
asking ourselves, "Does this event have to occur in
order for me to be happy, or can I just prefer it and
still be happy without it?"
Often we erroneously think that something must
conform to our expectations or we can't be happy;
then our thinking contributes to being unhappy. But
by answering the above question we can learn what our
real needs are and alter those expectations that have
needlessly reduced our happiness. In doing this we
assume more responsibility for our happiness and
reduce our dependence on external events things.
Most people routinely do something that offers a
remarkable opportunity to practice the transformation
of unessential needs into preferences. Using this
opportunity will also help us later to make such
transformations in other areas of our lives. "Zen
Driving," by K. & T. Berger, is a book that deals
with how driving can be used as a form of meditation
in which we apply this transformation process.
Whenever we are driving and another driver acts
in a way that doesn't meet our approval, we may
become negative or even angry; such feelings often
intrude upon our happiness while clouding our ability
to appreciate the positive that currently exists.
When this happens we can ask ourselves, "Does that
person need to meet my expectations in order for me
to be happy?" When we decide that the answer is "No,"
we turn an expectation into being just a preference,
rather than a need. As a result of this question and
subsequent decision, we decrease the power of others
to control our happiness. At the same time we
increase our ability to see and appreciate the larger
world dancing around us.
This form of contemplation can be expanded to
other areas of our lives. Whenever we are unhappy in
our work, play, or loving we can ask ourselves, "Am I
unhappy because someone isn't meeting my
expectations, and does that person have to meet them
for me to be happy?" Whenever we decide that we can
be happy without our expectations being met, a need
is transformed into a preference--and therefore we
decrease our unhealthy dependency on others, take
greater control of our lives, and increase our
ability to appreciate the whole realm of life.
In dancing with each other the opposing forces
form the universe. If we open our minds to see this
dance, we can appreciate how it benefits us all.


Questions we can ask ourselves:

1. When do I see only my side to matters and then
feel that the world is poorly balanced and too
unfair? How can I strive to see more than one
side to matters and gain a greater understanding
and appreciation for them?

2. When something negative occurs in my life, do I
try to find what possible good might come of
it and then build upon that? Or do I dwell on
the negative and continue to feel angry or
sorry for myself, while not trying to do
something positive?

3. When something positive occurs in my life, am
I open to the possible drawbacks and do I try
to prepare for them? Or when something negative
arises from a matter I thought was positive,
do I usually have considerable difficulty
dealing with it because it was so unexpected?

4. What beliefs, thoughts, and actions can I find
in my history of recurring, unhappy situations
that causes such situations to recur? Do I
sometimes ignore what I might have done to
contribute to my situation? What can I do to
help myself learn from my history and change
how I think and act?

5. In what situations is my unhappiness based on
expectations I think have to be met in order
for me to be happy? How can I transform some
of my expectations from being needs into
being preferences?


Suggestions for further reading;

"The Magic of Conflict"
by Thomas Crum

"A New Guide to Rational Living"
by Albert Ellis and Robert Harper

"Learned Optimism"
by Martin Seligman

"The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity"
by Alan Watts

"The Tao of Physics: Exploring The Parallels
Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism"
by Fritjof Capra


Copyright 2001 by Keith L. Kendrick
E-mail: awaken@teleport.com
Url: :http://www.inner-growth.com
http://home.teleport.com/~awaken/lifebook.htm