"The thing psychologists can count on the most is that people talk to themselves, and that the things people say to themselves is the dominating factor that determines the things they do and the outcome of their life." I. E. Farber "To get the most out of your Life, plant in your mind seeds of constructive power that will yield fruitful results. Acquire the habit of substituting positive ideas for negative ones, and gradually your life will become more and more successful." Grenville Kleiser 9. REALIZING OUR POTENTIAL Each of us has a great potential for experiencing love and happiness on the voyage called life, yet every person follows a course unique to him or her. To summarize the preceding concepts that we each can apply in our own distinctive way to help achieve this potential: 1. QUESTIONING ONESELF: A fundamental way of learning is through questioning, and frequently the most relevant questions are those about ourselves. The greatest benefit in honest self-examination occurs when it leads us to alter our beliefs, perceptions, and patterns of thinking to more accurately reflect reality. Furthermore, in learning about ourselves the occasional assistance of an objective, knowledgeable person can help us achieve a more direct course of growth. 2. DEVELOPING INNER HAPPINESS: Recognizing the different types of happiness can lead us to focus inward and develop the qualities that promote a deeper happiness. Along with increasing our appreciation of life, doing so will also enhance our contribution to the world, thereby creating more personal fulfillment. 3. INTERNAL BARRIERS: Understanding how our inner barriers occur will help us overcome them. By identifying our acquired patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, and how we perceive selectively, we are more able to change our unsound decisions and beliefs. Then by creating new decisions and beliefs from more sound information, we enable ourselves to alter our actions and feelings that were based on erroneous thinking. In addition, understanding the universal nature of these inner barriers will help us realize that in our basic problems and needs we are closely related to the rest of humankind and inherently worthy even though we're not perfect. 4. APPLYING REAL LOVE: Freeing ourselves from the illusions of love widely promoted in society will enable us to develop our ability to love actively, as well as reduce our suffering caused by those illusions. The foundation for real love is self-knowledge that promotes respect and caring for ourselves, which then helps us to better understand, respect, and care for others. The highest opportunity to practice this love is when we are free of the emotions usually associated with it. And we can evaluate our love by examining how we exclude people from it and why, and by examining the effect it has now and in the future--does it ultimately produce more love? 5. DEALING WITH CHANGE & CHOICE: Through accepting these two situations as overall conditions of life we can approach them as more positive forces, instead of facing each new change and choice as a completely unexpected dilemma. This broader acceptance will increase our ability to make decisions and adjustments that produce better outcomes. Also, the grief we experienced in the process of reaching this larger acceptance reduces the amount of grieving in our many daily changes and choices. But to fully accept this overall condition, we have to grieve over losing our illusions of stability and our illusions of not having choices. The way to facilitate this grief process is to not resist it: to acknowledge and experience the feelings. Then we need to put something constructive in place of our loss of these illusions. 6. EGO STATES & LIFE SCRIPTS: Recognizing our Child, Adult, and Parent ego states will help us to produce a healthy balance that cultivates happiness, and it will enable us to create new, more appropriate internal tapes to substitute for old, unhelpful ones. By identifying our life scripts and the roles we have acquired, we gain the ability to evaluate and rewrite them when they are outdated or counter-productive. 7. DEVELOPING BASIC PRACTICES: We need to persistently apply practices basic to optimal living: searching with an open-mind for reality in order to form a more accurate foundation for our lives and to check if our course is taking us where we want; taking more control of our lives by accepting appropriate responsibility and necessary discomfort--which means giving up the misleading comfort of rejecting responsibility, and deciding what is really needed and doing it despite our misgivings about the discomfort involved; using moderation to reduce the unfavorable effects of excessively depleting our material and intangible resources, and to maintain the benefits of life's many facets. 8. VALUING OPPOSITES: Expanding our awareness of the interrelated dance of opposites will enable us to see and appreciate a larger picture of life. Every situation has an opposing aspect we can benefit from; we can learn from our unhappiness by looking for the ways in which we contribute to it with our self-defeating beliefs and expectations. Even in positive situations we can help ourselves by trying to be aware of potential problems. Yet we also need to avoid letting our awareness of the negative overshadow the positive aspects that exist. Then we need to use our knowledge of "the big picture" to update our beliefs and expectations to produce ways of thinking that lead to greater fulfillment. 9. DETACHED PERSONAL OBSERVATION: By taking the time to observe a tree, we enhance our knowledge of it; by stepping back from the trees, we see the forest better. Accordingly, by taking the time to mentally step back and observe ourselves, as if we were trying to objectively observe another person, we expand our awareness. This increased awareness spontaneously changes our immediate programming, because it shifts our position from being just a participant caught up in our thoughts, feelings, and actions, to being more of an observer and director of ourselves. We can enhance this process by using the concepts of the ego states and life scripts as tools for understanding ourselves better. As success in sailing across an ocean is made more certain by regularly applying the appropriate knowledge and skills, so success in life is enhanced when sound, rational information is coupled with regular practice. Each part of the puzzle called life can add to the other parts in creating a fulfilling life, and disregarding any one part decreases the probability of success. Though each of us travels a unique path in discovering how to approach this puzzle and take advantage of fundamental principles, those who ignore any of these principles will suffer accordingly in their attempts to improve either their lives or the world. GRADUAL BUT RELIABLE Although trying to improve ourselves or the world may be noble, it is important not to try too much, too quickly. To attempt too much at once is not only unrealistic, it's a formula for failure and decreased self-confidence. Ancient wisdom and contemporary psychological research point to the optimal path for implementing self-improvement. First, we need to decide which of our desired changes are really important, and then choose one that would make good use of our time and energy. Making this choice is aided by estimating what change would provide the most benefit for the amount of effort required. The object of setting such priorities is to avoid working on some modification that would yield only a relatively small benefit compared to the effort required, when other changes might be more advantageous. Another reason to prioritize the personal changes we want to make is that the probability of making such changes permanent is highest if we concentrate on one at a time. Permanently altering a way of thinking and acting is like overcoming a habit. To really break free of the old habit pattern, a new practice must become integrated into our living to create a new pattern that replaces the old one. Examining how people change has shown that this integration, depending on how embedded the old quality is in our lives, takes somewhere between three and seven weeks of concentration on one specific change. Life is similar to learning the skill of juggling. We don't learn to juggle by throwing several balls into the air at once; we do it by starting with just a couple of balls, and as we learn the techniques and become proficient with the existing balls we add one ball at a time. If we have some problem that causes us to drop the balls, we need to identify the specific problem and concentrate on correcting it before increasing the difficulty by adding more balls. While establishing priorities is important, the process is still based primarily on educated guesses. We never know for sure how much effort something will require or what the results will be. Due to this uncertainty, the process of learning to live well is a courageous act, and a crucial part in this process is the courage to make errors and learn from them. CREATING AN IMAGE A powerful tool to use in changing ourselves is one we ultimately create and apply on our own. By creating an alternative mental image for ourselves that is Personal, Positive, and Present Oriented, we can deal with our negative side without diminishing our positive side. These three characteristics can be remembered as the three P's. In relation to the concepts in TA, this new image can function as a new tape to substitute for old, detrimental tapes. Rather than being a true image in our minds equal to when we see a photograph or movie, this mental image is formed from a combination of thoughts and inner visions. Anyone who can remember things is capable of creating such images--all of us habitually form mental images in the process of imagination. Two problems, though, is that we frequently create mental images without being aware of it, and they usually are not personal, positive, and present oriented. Because of this, our usual habitual mental images are frequently a major source of self-defeating emotions and behaviors. Consequently, for each of us to be aware of the images we hold in our minds is an important element of self-knowledge. There are also differences in how people form mental images. Some do it more by thinking in terms of rational words about things from the past or in the future; this style is language and concept oriented. Others may do it as if they're thinking in visual terms--as if they're visualizing a painting or a scene from a movie; this is the "visualization" usually attributed to mental imagery. For some people sounds, smells, or the sense of touch is an important component in their mental imagery. Contemporary literature on this subject often leans heavily towards visualization, but people shouldn't feel inadequate if they think they're poor at visualizing. Both styles of imagery are very effective in triggering emotions and behaviors, and the style we currently use everyday is already a powerful influence in our lives. Actually, people most likely use a mixture of the two styles. "Visualizers" don't see a mental image solely with their mind as if they were using their eyes, and their mental images probably are accompanied by at least some thoughts in the form of words. And those who are language and concept oriented will usually have occasional flashes of visual images go through their minds along with their thoughts. Yet whether we mainly see an idea in terms of words and rational concepts, or visualize it as some kind of scene, we are using our imagination to form a powerful mental image. What is most important is that we take advantage of the style in which we are already proficient. PERSONAL Having our new mental image be personal means that it is "I" and "I am" oriented, rather than "he/she" or "they" oriented. If this image is in terms of other people instead of ourselves, we will tend to hold others responsible for making changes rather than make the necessary changes ourselves. When we depend on others to make changes so we can be happy, we give away the control for our lives to others who are largely beyond our control. In doing so we produce an enormous barrier for ourselves. Making this alternative image oriented to what we can do differently gives us more control of our lives by relying more on ourselves and less on others. To better realize how hard it is to get other people to change, we can think of how difficult it is for others to change us. By depending on ourselves for making changes, we take responsibility for that which we have the most chance of altering. POSITIVE The positive aspect of this new image affirms the good about ourselves and our goals, and it's something we want to put in place of a negative. This image should exclude any negative, because to include something negative is to give it greater power. To mentally hold the image of not doing or not being something negative is to still retain that negative aspect in our minds, and the negative will be stronger than the injunction against it. If I have in my mind the idea of not eating dessert, my mind sees the dessert more than it does the "not." If I think of not being fat, of not eating lots of food, of not smoking, or of not being angry, the mind will mostly envision being fat, eating lots of food, smoking, or anger--the undesirable negative overrides the injunction against it. Trying to not think of something is like trying to go to sleep: the harder a person tries, the harder it is to go to sleep. Trying to not think of an elephant, is to think first of an elephant. We can, however, put something positive in place of a negative. To set ourselves up for success, each unhelpful negative in the mind can be replaced by some form of mental imagery that is constructive and affirmative. Instead of keeping negatives in our focus, we can envision ourselves as our positive ideal: the trim and healthy person we want to be; enjoying a healthy, balanced diet; appreciating clean air in our lungs as it energizes the body; being calm and peaceful; doing some specific positive activity that replaces a negative. This completely positive substitution is hard to do, especially at first, because we are used to having so many counter-productive negatives in our minds. PRESENT ORIENTED This quality sets our new image in the current moment, not in some future context with "I will" or "I want" statements. The most important image in our minds is that of how we see ourselves in the present. The further we set our alternative image in the future, the more likely we are to continue our present course as it is, because the changes we need to make will be oriented to some time and place further up the road, rather than where we are now. Making this alternative image oriented to the present gives us a more immediate target to aim for and creates a potent source of motivation. By setting it in the here and now, we are putting this image where it does the most good, rather than in some far- off, future time. We can help our alternative image be oriented to the present by imagining ourselves already achieving a goal or performing an activity. If we want to achieve a specific career, a healthier lifestyle, or some special ability, we can form in our minds the image of doing it successfully right now. When we want to be trim and healthy or calm and peaceful, we can imagine ourselves being this way at the current moment. In addition, we can increase the effectiveness of the image by adding special details to make it more specific, and by imagining the good feeling that goes along with the image. Using the three P's is a more direct way of improving ourselves now. Examples of ignoring these three attributes are seen when people use such phrases as "If only . . .", "Yeah, but . . .", and "I wish . . .". The likelihood of real, positive change is usually small when one of these phrases is used--the situation usually becomes stagnant, with some dim hope that in the future things will somehow change for the better. Once we have created a personal, positive, and present oriented new image to take the place of something negative, whenever the negative trait emerges we can calmly focus on this alternative image in order to override the negative. If the alternative image is disturbed by the tendency for the old negative trait to recur, it's important not to fight the negative, but to just recognize it and again substitute the new image. This process also needs to be done without self-condemnation; belittling ourselves just interferes with the process of positive substitution. The power of our alternative image can also be greatly enhanced through deliberate, mental rehearsal that is done in a calm, focused manner. There are several forms this can take: meditation, self-hypnosis, visualization, or just in a quiet setting simply concentrating on mentally rehearsing this image. Recent scientific evidence suggests that such mental rehearsal actually helps to create the neurological pathways for performing the physical behavior in the image we rehearse. This principle is being used more and more, and with considerable success, to help the performance of athletes in a variety of sports. We also can use it, not only in sports, but in other aspects of our lives. By practicing something in our imagination, we enhance our ability to do it in the physical world. MENTAL REHEARSAL MEDITATION By using a simple process you can combine focusing, calming of the mind, and mental rehearsal to change the way you react to situations and help you achieve your goals. The process is simple and requires only a little time. Sit in a quiet place, and although this is not a necessity, assume a comfortable meditative position, such as with your back straight and your legs crossed or in the kneeling position, or lying on your back with the arms slightly out to the side and the palms turned upwards. Such a position will help you to focus and the traditional nature of this position reinforces the significance of what you are doing. However, the lotus yoga position is unnecessary; it may make a person seem more advanced in their meditation, but actually it means nothing more than that they can sit in this position. What is important is that your meditation position is comfortable and helps you to focus. A small, low stool or a large pillow may help you sit with your legs crossed, or you may want to try a specially designed kneeling stool that makes the kneeling position much more tolerable for us Westerners. (I sell such stools handcrafted in custom sizes at an affordable price; E-mail or write to me for information) Then when you're comfortable, close your eyes and beginning from the abdomen first, take three slow, deep breaths, letting the air flow slowly in and out without straining. This relaxes your body and calms your mind, helping you to concentrate. Then begin to imagine yourself having already achieved your goal. Imagine some small details of this goal to make it more real and powerful in your mind. Also imagine the good feelings that go along with the achievement of your goal. Keep this image in your mind for as long as you comfortably can, focusing on the details of having attained your goal and the good feelings associated with it. About two or three minutes is probably long enough, and more than five is unnecessary. A variation of this process is imagining doing what you need to do to achieve your goal. Do it in the same fashion, but focus on what you actually need to do to attain your goal. Imagine some details of what is involved, and then think of the positive feelings associated with working towards your goal. Although this may take a little longer, more than five to ten minutes is not necessary. After becoming more proficient with these to processes, they easily can be combined. Another variation is trickier because although it emphasizes positive actions, it involves rehearsing a situation that previously has led to negative results. In this type of mental rehearsal, imagine a situation in which you have ate, or continued to eat, even though you weren't actually hungry. Examples are being at work or home where extra food is often around, passing by a vending machine or snack shop that is a temptation, or having a meal someplace where there is likely to be more food than you really need. But rather than focus on the negative aspect of the situation, concentrate on mentally rehearsing the plan of action you have chosen to use in overcoming the temptation or problem. Such rehearsals can also be quite helpful in learning new ways of reacting to problems in relationships with other people. This meditative type of mental rehearsal is very powerful in changing how we mentally and physically operate on an ordinary, day to day basis, but it also works especially well if you use it before an occasion that you think might cause you problems in achieving your goal. While doing such mental rehearsal, distracting, extraneous thoughts will come across your mind. This is normal and you shouldn't struggle against them; otherwise your struggle will set up tension and cause extraneous thoughts to gain power. The best way to deal with distracting thoughts is to just refocus on the subject of your meditation, and without making judgements about how well you are doing. Contrary to what some people may think, the mind can hold only one thought at a time. Try thinking of a battleship and a giraffe at the same time -- you may quickly alternate back and forth, but only with one at a time. It's very difficult to overcome a problem by reminding yourself of it, yet you can help yourself overcome it by replacing a negative thought or image with a positive one. And the more you rehearse doing this in your mind in a meditative setting, the easier it will become in the day-to day world. One very big problem in doing such mental rehearsal meditations is starting out without any experience of having done them before. What usually happens is most people end up simply not doing them. Using a guided meditation or self-hypnosis tape that goes through this style of relaxation and imaging can be a big help. After becoming familiar with this process by using a tape, people often go on to using the process without the tape and for other situations. The use of our alternative image in mental rehearsal can be further reinforced by linking it with a physical signal or cue. With hypnosis such a cue is often called an "anchor," but it's also very effective without practicing hypnosis. A cue may be in the form of some special little gesture, such as a smile or relaxed expression, or a certain body position or movement. One of the most ancient and effective cues is taking slow, deep breaths. After we have chosen a cue and mentally linked it as the symbolic gesture for our alternative image and its associated behavior, we can help bring that image and the related behavior back into our lives by giving ourselves the cue. This technique can be especially helpful in situations that in the past have caused us to respond in old, undesirable ways, and by mentally rehearsing how we might use a cue in such situations we can make it more potent. SIMPLIFIED IMAGERY A simplified form of mental imagery, and perhaps more potent because of its simplicity, can be performed by creating just an alternative thought, using the three P's, to take the place of an undesired thought or way of thinking. Whenever we find ourselves thinking the undesired way, we can then substitute our new Personal, Positive, and Present Oriented thought. This may sound easy, but our minds are habitually flowing with a stream of thoughts. Often we have little awareness of these thoughts, and frequently they are pessimistic and counter-productive. Consequently these habitual thoughts are an important underlying cause of our unhappiness. As discussed in the last chapter, because of the law of cause and effect we reap the consequences of the thoughts that habitually occupy our minds. By generating sound, constructive thoughts, we create the conditions for attaining a fulfilling happiness. Accordingly, becoming more aware of what we are routinely thinking, and of the thoughts that underlie our behavior, is crucial. Whenever our thoughts contain flawed generalizations and absolutes (and most of them are flawed), or words that counter our Personal, Positive, and Present Oriented image, this is a clue that our thinking may be contaminated by patterns of unsound beliefs and decisions from our past. Even in the process of becoming aware of what we are mentally saying to ourselves, we automatically begin altering our thoughts. Then by substituting better thoughts in place of detrimental ones, we can create the life we really want. CONSCIOUS REPETITION As also mentioned earlier, a specific personal change takes approximately three to seven weeks to become lasting. This amount of time is needed in order for the change to become ingrained in us so it's stronger than the old tendency. An important part to this success, though, is the frequency and consistency of the substitution process--the more often it is repeated in a uniform way, the more success is likely. While the need for repetition may seem obvious, many people seem to forget this concept when attempting to make changes in themselves. The advertising industry is based largely on the concept of repetition--and not just because it seems like a good idea--but because it's very effective. In the same fashion, what we keep repeating to ourselves in our minds is a primary determinant for what we end up having, spiritually as well as materially. Fortunately, unlike hereditary factors, we can make choices in what thoughts we think, and thus we have tremendous control over our lives. Although working on just one change for three to seven weeks may seem slow, it produces the greatest chance of success. We didn't just suddenly become as we are; it took our whole lifetime. To think that we can quickly make several lasting, significant changes in ourselves is to set ourselves up for disappointment. In contrast is the excuse, "That's just who I am." But just as it has taken our whole lifetime to learn to become who we are now, we can learn to gradually recreate ourselves to be different. By choosing our priorities wisely and concentrating on one at time, over a year we can change our lives dramatically. The process requires patience and commitment coupled with significant effort, yet it is the ultimate form of caring for both ourselves and the world. DELIBERATE PATIENCE In chapter seven it was expressed that the process of experimenting with a series of small steps is the way we become real people. Indeed, when a sudden transformation seems to take place in a person, what probably has occurred is an abrupt switch from one extreme to the opposite side of the spectrum, with all the person's habitual programming and inner problems left unresolved. The process of inner growth is like climbing a steep mountain one step at a time, slowly getting higher and higher, occasionally stopping for a while or even going back down some, but then continuing up. Sometimes people will say that they don't have the ability to do some particular thing, but often the reason they can't do it is simple: they don't take the time needed to learn to do it. There are some things at which we may never excel. For example, we may not have the aptitude for basketball, particle physics, or flying jet fighters. Yet if something is important to us, we can significantly improve our ability to do it by spending the time and energy needed to learn it. Sometimes, during our leisure time as well as while working, we may have difficulty and experience frustration in doing some activity. When this happens we can help ourselves significantly by deliberately slowing down and performing the activity in a more conscious, patient manner. Slowing down and taking the time to do something is also a way to show how much we care. PUTTING IT ON PAPER Another way of aiding our growth is writing about the problems and progress we experience on our journey. This writing doesn't have to follow a specific form. It can be in a diary or journal, or just notes written at random and collected in a binder. We can create poetry or simply write small pieces about our thoughts, feelings, and discoveries. Writing down our new, alternative thoughts and images in the personal, positive, and present tense orientation can also be very beneficial. By doing so we make these alternatives more concrete and turn them into powerful, personal affirmations. Though more formal, when we want to achieve a specific goal we can help ourselves succeed by recording: 1. the desired change, 2. the reason for it, 3. what is needed, 4. the steps to be taken, and 5. what negative consequences there might be. In doing this we make the goal and its accompanying benefits, drawbacks, and requirements clearer and more tangible. In writing down information related to our problems and what we learn about living, we not only save it for easy referral, but we also reinforce and clarify what we have learned. What is most important is not the style we choose to write in, but that we choose to write and make it pertinent to our lives. For those interested in keeping an actual journal, an excellent guide for enriching the experience is the book "One To One: Self-Understanding Through Journal Writing," by Christina Baldwin. THE SUPREME CHOICE "There is no meaning to life except the meaning a person gives his life by the unfolding of his powers." Erich Fromm. One fundamental question may be more sweeping than everything else presented here: What is the overall purpose and meaning that I have chosen for my life? Some people may protest that they don't have an overall purpose; they are only partly right. In reality their lives do have a chosen purpose, whether they know it or not--their purpose is represented by the choices they have made and continue to make--but their purpose is most likely confused and diluted. At the end of chapter two I wrote of Victor Frankl, the psychiatrist who was a prisoner in one of Hitler's concentration camps. Though he survived, his parents, wife, and brother died in those brutal, horror filled camps. Yet as a result of that terrible experience, he concluded that we all define ourselves by what purpose we choose for our lives, and that the drive to create meaning for ourselves is a primary struggle for us all. Frankl called this drive "The Will To Meaning" (1963, 1970). Though the purpose we embrace may not define our lives nobly, we still struggle to find meaning in our existence. Frankl also found that the tragic aspects of life have an intrinsic value, and that they can lead to greater achievement and higher meaning. In examining the lives of those who have made great contributions to the world, we can usually find a significant adversity or tragedy that was a turning point for finding a higher purpose. The life of John Muir, father of the environmental movement, was dramatically changed when he was blinded in one eye while working in a big city. Mohandas Gandhi changed his life, and consequently the lives of countless many others, as a result of the severe racial discrimination he had seen and experienced. The life of Alfred Adler, the psychiatrist who has perhaps had the greatest positive influence on psychotherapy than anyone, was tremendously affected when he was a sickly child and witnessed the death of his younger brother, and then overheard that he also wasn't likely to live long. Later his father was advised by the boy's school-teacher that the boy might be good as a shoemaker, but probably not much else. By confronting and working to overcome the problems they encountered, these and many others have created a higher meaning for their lives and helped the world become a better place. Upon close examination we can see that their problems were actually important factors in their extraordinary accomplishments. Our problems can likewise become fertile ground for creating greater meaning in our lives. But the challenge is how are we going to respond to problems--with choices which promote solutions that lead to fulfillment, or by denying our choices and avoiding what we need to do? Whether we know it or not, we all forge some kind of meaning for ourselves. An important question for each of us is: Does what I have chosen for my life give it the meaning that I really desire? Some of us are aware of the meaning we have created in our lives, while others live as if they are blind to such meaning. Those who unconsciously relinquish their choices in creating meaning for their lives often become perplexed and dispirited, and wonder why life is so empty with so little direction. Thus, wisely choosing how we create meaning for our lives is fundamental to achieving a lasting fulfillment. From his grim experiences Frankl also learned that we can lose everything we have, but we are always left with "the last of human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." (1963) As long as we still have the capacity to think, we have the ability to make choices in the thoughts we think, and thus the power to affect the course of our feelings and actions. To choose not to select our thoughts, or our course, is to let the world shape us and determine our reason for being. In doing so we give away much of our power. The principle of choosing our meaning and our attitude, and how it can enhance our lives is well presented in Frankl's book, "Man's Search For Meaning." I highly recommend it to all who want to improve their approach to living. SELECTING OUR COMPANY Several times in this book I have mentioned how finding a suitable person, or group, can be a valuable asset in our quest for self-knowledge and a fulfilling happiness. Yet as adults each of us inevitably chooses, to a great extent, in one way or another, the people with whom we surround ourselves. An important consideration in choosing whose company we share is whether or not they are pursuing a life of positive growth and meaning, and encouraging others to do so. The lives of many people have been wasted or ruined by not wisely choosing who they spend time with. Rather than making a conscious decision, their choice of company is shaped by avoiding such decisions. Consequently the people that they spend the most time around, ultimately the most significant people currently in their lives, is determined mostly by coincidence and chance. Often the result is a gradual waste of life filled with regret, and many times this is accompanied by poverty, both material and spiritual. Sometimes it leads to crime and the phenomenal waste of imprisonment while their victims also continue to suffer. Yet in regard to the people who we choose not to spend time with, we need to avoid an attitude of superiority. Otherwise we will inhibit our ability to love, and consequently our happiness. Though it needs to be done with moderation and consideration for the well-being of others, consciously choosing whose company we spend our lives with is basic to improving our lives. And make no mistake about it; we do actually "spend our lives" through the choices we make. To make the most of ourselves requires more than just not running around with the wrong crowd--it requires that we consciously evaluate how those we associate with affect us and then choose more on that basis. EFFORT VS. STRUGGLE Echoing Hawthorne's quote about happiness, a deeper, more lasting fulfillment is best achieved as an indirect result of creating greater love and worthwhile meaning. Although this is a lifelong endeavor which is well worth the necessary effort, if we try too hard it will elude us. Too much effort creates struggle, which actually gives strength to what we are trying to avoid: the more we think of dieting, the more food becomes a central part of our lives; as we try harder to possess another person's love, the more likely that person will love us less. In overcoming our undesirable patterns and forming a more significant purpose for ourselves, it's better to apply the refined, repetitive substitution of positives rather than try to overcome negatives by sheer force. We can also make this easier to do in real life by rehearsing this process of substitution in our imagination. Such mental rehearsal is really the basis for Maxwell Maltz's "PsychoCybernetics," and for much of the power in hypnosis, guided imagery, and active meditation. By using a healthy, balanced effort combined with constructive thoughts and images--and rehearsing them in our minds in a calm and focused manner--we can best use our power to improve ourselves. The quest for love and fulfillment requires a commitment to life which encompasses so much that eventually we will need to accept all of life as it is, including the inevitable challenges along with the limitations and imperfections in ourselves and others. With this overall acceptance also comes the greatest harmony and ability to appreciate life. Each of us has the power to develop the great potential that exists inside us, and the challenge of creating meaning in our lives is the finest opportunity to transform this potential into reality. Although the process requires an understanding of fundamental principles and practices, it's still a unique process for each person. And it requires great courage, patience, and energy. But the rewards for living in such a courageous and committed manner far outweigh the requirements. "We all know problems. But how we meet them makes the difference. One man gives up. Another perseveres . . . and, armed with the knowledge born of trying, finds the way to succeed. What do you see down a rocky path? Stumbling blocks or stepping-stones? It's the point of view that counts." Paul Mann "Birth is not one act; it is a process. The aim of life is to be fully born, though its tragedy is that most of us die before we are thus born. To live is to be born every minute. Death occurs when birth stops." Erich Fromm "You're either busy being born, or busy dy'in." Bob Dylan "That which we are, we are, and if we are ever to be any better, now is the time to begin." Alfred Lord Tennyson "Teachers open the door . . . You enter by yourself." Chinese Proverb Suggestions for further reading: "Talking To Yourself: Learning the Language of Self-Affirmation" by Pamela E. Butler "Honoring The Self: the Psychology of Confidence and Respect" by Nathanial Brandon "The New People Making" by Virginia Satir "The Healing Power of Doing Good: The Health and Spiritual Benefits of Doing Good" by Allen Luks
Copyright 2001 by Keith L. Kendrick
E-mail: awaken@teleport.com