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Posts tagged ‘C.S. Lewis’

We Must Choose


We MUST Choose

This above all: to thine own self be true.” – Shakespeare, “Hamlet

Yes, but what part of thine own self to be true to?  What’s best in oneself?  Or what’s less—sometimes even much much less—than best in one’s self?

For human beings, there is a possibility of making a choice of influences; in other words, of passing from one influence to another.  It is impossible to become free from one influence without becoming subject to another.  All work on oneself consists in choosing the influence to which you wish to subject yourself, and then actually falling under the influence of or submitting wholly to this influence.” G. I. Gurdjieff, quoted in P. D. Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous,” pg. 25.

There’s no neutrality in life. 

There are only two possible states of being, two ways of orientating ourselves. 

One is complete submission to God or to God’s will or influence, the influence of the Tao, the Dharma, Truth, goodness, virtue, Love.

And the other is incomplete submission—or the refusal to truly submit ourselves—to anything, to any influence, beyond our own will—beyond our own narcissism and our own scattered disorganized impulses, desires, and feelings—a refusal which automatically opens the door to the forces of evil. 

Because at every moment we ultimately belong to either God or the devil, to good or evil, to one influence or the other.  Paraphrasing C. S. Lewis, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch around us and every split second of our lives is up for grabs, to be claimed by God or the devil, and to be claimed by us for either God or for the devil.” 

And to attempt to avoid this dilemma by trying to stand exactly halfway between the two—halfway between God and the devil, uncommitted to either—to either goodness or utter selfishness—is to risk being torn apart and split forever into two beings, to become a house divided, permanently at war with ourselves, vacillating forever between two influences, forever fighting ourselves, fighting within ourselves, and having that infighting spill out of us into the lives of those around us.  Because, ultimately, even trying to choose not to choose and to not align ourselves with one influence or the other is still to choose, it is still to choose not to submit to anything beyond the self, beyond one’s own will and wants.  

Christ expressed this paradox when he said: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).  

Yes, we are always free to choose, but ultimately we are free only in this sense: in the sense of choosing which influence, which form of enslavement, we ultimately will submit to: God’s or the self’s, God’s will and influence or ultimately nothing more than our own; what’s best and highest and noblest in us or a free-for-all where we give into and submit to any impulse or desire that occurs to us.  

We must choose: —One form of enslavement or the other. (the previous eight paragraphs were abridged and adapted and elaborated on from M. Scott Peck’s “Glimpses of The Devil,” pg. xvi)

And most people do not so much choose their form of enslavement as they just go along with what happens to them and what feels natural without questioning much, without really thinking much or examining themselves and searching out their own heart and mind and conscience and paying much consistent attention to themselves and what path they’re really on and why.

This is our fundamental choice in life and to make each day and at every moment—who and what to live for and why?  To live on the autopilot of emotions and impulses and desires and wants and pet ego-projects and whatever gets us through the day and anesthetizes us, numbs us, titillates us, distracts us, momentarily makes us drunk*; or to live more mindfully, more deliberately, with more grace and composure and perspective and order?  To live for ourselves and nothing greater or more than the self and our ego and aggrandizement and survival (narcissism); or to live for something more, something that transcends the self—some ideal, principle, path or way (Tao), some force or Spirit—God, Love, Truth? 

Again, there’s no neutrality in life. Every day, in every moment, and with every choice we make—of what to do with ourselves in that moment, with how to spend that moment—we are declaring our allegiance and we are doing something to ourselves . . .

 

“[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.

“And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.

“To be the one kind of creature is heaven: That is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power.

“To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.

“Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” – C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” pg. 87

 ——————————————————————-
 

*There are thousands of wines
that can take over our minds.
Don’t think all highs are the same!
Drink from the jars of saints,
not from other jars.
Be a connoisseur,
taste with caution,
discriminate like a prince.
Any wine will get you high;
choose the purest,
one unadulterated with fear.
Drink a wine that moves your spirit.
– Rumi

The Difficulty in Making Better Choices (or: What We’re Each Up Against—What’s Worst in Ourselves)


Only the best in us talks about the worst in us, because the worst in us lies about its own existence.” – David Schnarch

(Or, as I prefer to paraphrase it: “Only the best in us can talk about what’s worst in us; what’s worst in us lies about itself and its own existence.”)

From “A General Theory of Love” “The Difficulty of Making Better Choices and Breaking Our Habitual Ways of Reacting”

Whenever an emotional chord is struck, it stirs to life past memories of the same feeling. While sifting through the sensory present, the brain triggers prior knowledge patterns, whose suddenly reanimated vigor ricochets throughout the network. Old information comes alive; the person then knows again what he used to know. A depressed person effortlessly recalls incidents of loss, desertion, and despair. Anxious people dwell on past threats. Paranoia instills a retrospective preoccupation with situations of persecution.

If an emotion is sufficiently powerful, it can quash opposing neural networks so completely that their content becomes inaccessible—blotting out incongruent and disconfirming incidents and even whole sections of the past. Within the confines of that person’s own subjective inner experience or virtuality, it’s as if those incongruent events never even happened. But to an outside observer, the person seems oblivious to the whole of his own history.

For example, severely depressed people can “forget” their former, happier lives, and may even vigorously deny them when prompted by well-meaning people trying to inform the situation with greater context and accuracy.

And momentary anger and rage afford hatred an upper hand that is likewise obtuse, sometimes allowing a person to attack with internal impunity and self-righteous justification those he has temporarily forgotten that he actually loves.

The consequences of painful emotional reverberation in the brain’s networks reach beyond selective amnesia during a dominant mood.

A childhood replete with suffering lingers in the mind as bitter encoded traces of pain and a free-floating seemingly ever-present sense of anxiousness and alertness.

Even a tangential reminder of that suffering can spur the outbreak of an overwhelming onslaught of unpleasant thoughts, feelings, anticipations. As if he had accidentally bumped a sleeping guard dog, the adult who repeatedly suffered abuse as a child may feel the fearsome jaws of those negative memories close in all around him after he glimpses the merest possible intimation of his former circumstance. In sad empirical confirmation, maltreated children flipping through pictures of faces exhibit a hugely amplified brain wave when they encounter even the slightest angry expression.

Other people are troubled by emotional-memory networks that are simply too ready to pass around the signals that comprise negative feelings. Such a person finds that he or she can’t shake an unpleasant emotion once it gets going. Instead of dwindling and winding down within minutes as they should, an emotion and its associated repercussions may drown out the person’s entire mind for days or weeks.

That kind of limbic sensitivity makes the thousand natural shocks that the flesh is naturally heir to well-near unbearable for some people.

Remedies do exist for those whose networks engage in excessive emotional reverberation: some psychopharmacologic agents act as the damper pedal on a piano does, applying gentle, restraining influence on buzzing strands. Emotional chords are quieted and fade sooner.

For those whose limbic networks are high-strung, the relief can be life saving and positively life-altering.

For instance, one person related how every minor setback made her ruminate for days. “I know it doesn’t make any sense,” she said, “but my boss corrected my spelling on a report the other day, and I before I knew it, I spun out; my mind just wouldn’t let up and stop: he thinks I’m incompetent, I’m not good enough, my work isn’t good enough, I’ll lose my job. And all of that is ridiculous, I know—at some level I realize this—but it’s not enough to change my feelings. I know I’m the best manager he’s got. But whenever anything goes wrong, I just can’t shake the awful feeling.”

And so prominent was her sensitivity to emotional slights that she even retreated from intimacy. No matter how cautious her partner was, he was bound to do or say something that inadvertently hurt her feelings, and then she’d be so hurt that she’d feel terrible for weeks. Being in a relationship, she said, was like “trying to dance barefoot”—eventually her toes would get stepped on or bruised and she would flee.

However, a touch of the right medication diminished her emotional twanging to a normative range. For the first time in her life, she was able to feel and experience a minor pang as a just a minor pang. She could be upset for half an hour or so, and then get on with her day. “Is this what life is like for everyone else?” she asked. “No wonder they can all be in relationships!” With her vulnerability and excessive sensitivities reduced to more manageable and livable levels, she was much readier for love. As she said, now she was dancing with shoes on.

If the early experiences of a limbic network exemplifies healthy emotional interaction, it will serve as a more or less reliable guide to a world of workable relationships in adulthood.

But if a diseased love is presented to a child, his limbic system will encode it and force his adult relationships into that same Procrustean bed. Even if the world around a person dramatically changes, a person’s emotional experience of the world may not budge. He or she may remain trapped, as so many are, within a virtuality of thoughts and feelings constructed decades ago—and, as Twain observed, a person can no longer depend on the eyes when the imagination is out of focus.

Limbic networks spawn a vexing and fascinating aspect of human emotional life—“transference,” Freud’s terms for the universal human tendency to respond emotionally to certain others as if they were actually figures from one’s past. Transference exists because the brain remembers with neurons.

Because human beings remember with neurons, we are disposed to see more of what we have already seen, hear anew what we have already heard most often, and think just what we have always thought. The sine qua non of a neural network is its penchant for strengthening neuronal patterns in direct proportion to their use. The more often you do or think or imagine a thing, the more probable it is that your mind will revisit its prior stopping point. When the circuits are sufficiently well-worn and repeated that thoughts and emotions fly down them with little friction or resistance or self-observation, then that mental path has become a part of you—it is now a habit of speech, thought, action, attitude, mood.

A good therapist does not merely wish to discern the trajectory of an emotional life, but to actually help determine it and re-steer it. Helping someone escape from a restrictive virtuality means reshaping the bars and walls of a prison into a home where love can bloom and life, happiness, and stability can again flourish. In the service of this goal, two people come together to change one of them into somebody else.

Few agree on how the metamorphosis occurs. “Where id was, there ego shall be,” was Freud’s battle cry. Increasing awareness, bringing light to the darkness, replacing chaos with consciousness, vanquishing the mind’s dark undergrowth with insight and intellect, is indeed an encapsulation of the talking cure and part of the process.

But therapy, as is true of love, is not only a fancy neocortical skill; it also belongs as well to the older realm of the emotional mind, the limbic brain. Indeed, people do come to therapy unable to love and leave with that capacity restored. But love is not only an end for therapy; it is also the means whereby every end is reached. The neocortical brain collects facts quickly. The limbic brain does not. Limbic networks shrug off insight but yield to a different persuasion: the constancy of another person’s limbic patterns reaching through the doorway of a limbic connection. Psychotherapy works because the limbic patterns of one mammal can restructure and alter the limbic brain of another.

Awareness is necessary but ultimately not enough to help people to desire a certain form of relationship. The requisite neural framework for performing these activities is not something that coalesces itself in one fell swoop. Describing healthy relatedness to someone, no matter how precisely or how often, does not inscribe it into the limbic neural networks that allow for or create the capacity to love.

Self-help manuals are at best like car-repair manuals. You can read them all day, but only reading them doesn’t actually fix or change a thing. Working on a car means rolling up your sleeves and getting under the hood, and you have to be willing to get dirt on your hands and grease beneath your fingernails. Overhauling emotional knowledge is no spectator sport; it demands the messy experience of yanking and tinkering that comes from a limbic bond.

If someone’s relationships today bear a troubled imprint, they do so because an influential relationship left its mark on a child’s mind.

When a limbic connection has establish a dissonant neural pattern, it takes a different limbic pattern and connection to revise it.

A determined therapist does not strive to have a good relationship with his patient—it can’t be done. If a patient’s emotional mind would support good relationships, then he or she would be out having them. Instead a therapist loosens the grip on his own world and drifts, eyes open, into whatever relationship pattern the patient has in mind—even a connection so dark that it touches the worst in him.

The therapist has no alternative.

When he stays outside the other person’s world, he cannot understand or affect it. When he steps within its range, he feels the gravitational pull of foreign limbic patterns. The patient’s limbic mind was formed within the highly charged environment of parental and familial dysfunctional limbic patterns and networks. The patient’s time-locked limbic network equip him with the intuition that relationships feel like this, follow this outline or patterns. The dance between the therapist and the patient cannot trace the same path that the latter wants or expects, however, because his new partner moves to a different rhythm. The therapist’s missions is wait for the moment to move the relationship subtly in a different direction, and then to do so again and again, ten thousand times more. Progress in therapy is iterative. And the therapist’s task is to take up temporary residence in other person’s emotional world not just to observe but to alter, and in the end, to overthrow.

Through the intimacy that a limbic exchange affords, therapy becomes the ultimate inside job.

A crucial part of healing involves the patient allowing him or herself to be limbically known. Not everyone can do it. A patient has to stomach the proposition that many of his emotional convictions are but fictions—and that someone else’s might be better. A patient has to have that modicum or trust, courage, or even desperation/exasperation. A person from a childhood with emotionally hazy and inconsistent parents finds trying to know himself like wandering around a museum in the dark: almost anything could exist within its walls. He cannot even be sure of what he senses. But those who begin to succeed in revealing these parts of themselves to another find the dimness to begin receding from their own visions of self. Like people awakening from a dream, they slough off the accumulated ill-fitting trappings of unsuitable lives. The mutual fund manage may suddenly become a sculptor, or vice versa; some friendships lapse into dilapidated irrelevance as new ones deepen and take shape; a city dweller moves to the country, where he finally feels at home, or vice versa. As limbic clarity emerges, a new way of life takes form.

People who need limbic regulation often leave therapy sessions feeling calmer, stronger, safer, more able to handle the world. Often they don’t know why. Nothing obviously helpful happened—after all, telling another person about your pain and the most intimate details of your life doesn’t sound like a recipe for relief. And the feeling inevitably dwindles, sometimes within minutes, taking the warmth and security with it. But the longer and more often a person can talk bravely and honestly and let himself be more and more fully known, the more his stability swells, expanding infinitesimally with every session as length is added to a woven clothe with each pass and contraction of the loom. And after he weaves enough it, the day comes when the person will unfurl his or her independence like a pair of spread wings. A spontaneous capacity germinates and becomes a new and natural part of the self, like knowing how to ride a bike or tie one’s shoes. The effortful and courageous beginnings fade and disappear from memory.

……………….

C.S. Lewis on “Choice & Self-Development

We shall never get a Christian society until most of us become Christian individuals.

Which will not happen until the majority of us begin the task of seeing how “Do as you would be done by” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” can be applied in detail to modern society, and until the majority of us also simultaneously begin the task of becoming the sort of people who would actually apply it if we saw how.

Christian morality claims to be a technique for doing this—for putting the human machine right and making it capable on both accounts.

Another technique makes a similar claim—namely, psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis itself—its medical theories and technique, separate from all of the philosophic additions that Freud and others have made to it—is not in the least bit contradictory to Christianity. Its technique overlaps with Christian morality at some points, and it would not be a bad thing if every parson, priest, or minister, knew something about it.

But it does not run the same course all the way, for the two techniques are doing rather different things.

When a person makes a choice—a moral or significant life choice—two things are involved.

One is the actual act of choosing.

The other is the various feelings, impulses and so on which his psychological outfit presents him with, and which are the “raw material” of his choice.

Now this raw material may be of two kinds.

Either it may be what we would call normal: it may consist of the sorts of thoughts and feelings and impulses that are more or less common to all men.

Or else it may consist of quite unnatural feelings and impulses and thought patterns due to things that have gone wrong in his upbringing or his subconscious.

A fear of things that are really dangerous would be an example of the first kind of raw material.

An irrational fear of kittens or spiders would be an example of the second kind.

The carnal desire of a man for a woman would be of the first kind.

The perverted desire of a man for an animal would be of the second kind.

What psychoanalysis undertakes to do is to remove the abnormal feelings, impulses, and thought patterns and reactions; that is, to give the person better raw material for his acts of choice.

Morality is concerned with the acts of choice themselves.

Now suppose a psychoanalyst gets involved and cures a person of his irrational, exaggerated fears, and puts the person back into the position of having only the ordinary natural range of fears of danger that any average person has.

Well it is just then that the psychoanalytic problem is over and moral problem begins—of subduing natural fears and urges and temptations by moral efforts in order to become a braver and better person.

Because however much you improve a person’s raw material, you have still got something else remaining: the real, free choice of the person on the material presented to him to either put his own advantage first, last, or on even regard with others.

And this free choice is the only thing that morality is concerned with.

Bad raw psychological material is not a sin but is a disease or a deformity; it does not need to be repented of, but cured or healed.

And this, by the way, is very important to understand.

Human beings judge one another by their external actions.

God judges them by their moral choices.

When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of kittens forces himself to pick one up for some good reason, it is quite possible in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy person may have shown in overcoming his ordinary fear of some legitimate danger.

When a person who has been abused from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny kindness, or refrains from some cruelty or lashing out that he might have committed, and thereby risks being vulnerable or feeling foolish, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you or I would if we gave up our very life for a friend.

It is well to put this another way.

Some of us who seem to be quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of our own good heredity and good fortune and good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends.

Can we be quite certain of how we would have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit and bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler?

That is why Christians are told not to judge until they have accounted for and removed the wooden beam or self-bias and blindness to self from their own eyes.

We see only the results which a person’s choices make out of his raw material.

But God does not judge a person on the raw material at all, only on what he has done with it.

Most of a person’s psychological make-up is probably due to his body. When his body dies, all of that will fall off of him, and the real central person, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will finally be revealed and stand naked and alone.

All sorts of nice things which we took to be part of ourselves, but were really just due to good digestion, good heredity, good upbringing, will fall off of us. And all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health or bad upbringing will fall off others.

We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he or she really was.

And there will be surprises.

People often mistakenly think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, “If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.”

But I do not think that that is the best way of looking at it.

I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.

And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.

To be the one kind of creature is heaven: That is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power.

To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.

Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

All of which explains to me something that always used to puzzle me about Christian thinkers and writers: they seemed to be so very strict at one moment and so free and easy at another. On the one hand they talk about mere sins of thought as if they were immensely important, and then on the other hand they talk about the most frightful treacheries and murders as if you have only got to repent and all would be forgiven.

I have come to see that they are right.

What they are always thinking of is the mark which the action leaves on that tiny central self which no one sees in this life but which each of us will have to either endure—or enjoy—for ever.

One person may be positioned such in life that his anger sheds the blood of thousands. And another positioned such that however angry he gets he will only be laughed at.

But the little mark upon the soul may be very much the same in both. Because each has done something to himself which, unless he slows down, faces it, admits to it, and repents of it, will make it even harder for him to keep out of anger and rage the next time he is tempted or triggered, and will only make the anger and rage worse when he does fall into it.

Each of these persons, if he or she seriously turns to God and the Holy Spirit, can have that kink in the core of their person straightened out again.

And each is doomed in the long run if he or she will not.

The bigness or smallness of the thing, seen from the outside, is not what really matters.

One last point. Remember, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a person is getting better he or she understands all the more clearly the evil that is still left in him or her.

When a person is getting worse, he understand his own badness less and less. Pride and denial and self-protectiveness form more and more of impenetrable, irredeemable wall around him.

This is common sense, really.

Good people know about both good and evil, cowardice and bravery, virtue and vice; bad people do not know about or acknowledge any of these.

(abridged and adapted from “Mere Christianity,” pp. 84-88.)

The REAL Power of NOW!


The following story is adapted from Pema Chödrön, “The Wisdom of No Escape,” pg. 29.

Once upon a time there was a woman who was arrogant and proud. She decided she wanted to attain enlightenment, so she asked all the experts how to do that. Finally one told her, “Well, if you climb to the top of this very high mountain, you’ll find a cave there. Sitting inside that cave is a very wise old woman, and she will tell you.”

“Very well,” thought the woman, “I’ll do that. After all, nothing but the best.”

So off she went.

She endured great hardships getting up the mountain, but finally she found the cave. And sure enough, sitting there was this very gentle, spiritual-looking old woman in white clothes who smiled at her beatifically.

Overwhelmed with awe and respect, the arrogant proud woman prostrated herself at the feet of the sagely-looking woman and said, “I want to attain enlightenment. Show me how.”

The wise woman looked at her with her beatific smile and asked, “Are you sure you want to attain enlightenment? This may not be as easy as you think. It likely will be much more difficult, incredibly stressful really. Do you think you are up for this? Are you really sure you want enlightenment?”

The woman said, “Of course I’m sure.”

Suddenly the gentle old hunched woman stopped smiling, straightened up, and turned into a hideous demon brandishing a big stick and started chasing the woman all around the cave, saying “Now! Now! Now!”

And for the rest of her life, that woman could never get away from the demon who was always saying, “Now!”

But yet that’s just what we’re trying to do when whenever we give in to the auto-pilot of acting out on our fearful emotions and stressful feelings or just going along with our resentful, ornery, petty moods and impulses—we’re just running away from our inner demon of fear, embarrassment, shame, pride, inadequacy. And whenever we automatically react in this way and run from ourselves and from stress and fear, we’re not living mindfully; we’re asleep.

Now, now, now. We always have a fundamental choice available to us to make, even in times of stress and anxiety. Perhaps even especially in times of stress and anxiety. Any intense and frightening moment can be a defining moment. Or not. Meaning, we can do what we’ve always done—we can even redouble our efforts doing what we’ve always done—and repeat the past in the present and try to make our present and future just like our past, choosing yet again to run and hide, give into our stress and the anxiety demon that chases us, and empower it even more. Or we can make a different choice, define ourselves differently, set a different trajectory for ourselves, courageously and heroically go against the grain of our habits and the stress and uncertainty we’re feeling and the normal way we react to it; we can be honest with ourselves and others, drop the narcissistic and vain proud and arrogant act, become much more tender and vulnerable and open and frank about what we’re experiencing.

That’s the real power of now. Choice. Recognizing that we have a choice. And that we can choose differently, that we can make a different choice. That our conditioning and fear doesn’t have to be our destiny. That while horrific and crazy things may have happened to us or been done to us in our past, we don’t have to react and act out in destructive, fearful ways and take our fear and stress out on those around us—especially those we claim to love and care about.

To refuse to give into acting out on stress and fear and trying to run from these is nothing less than to create a seminal defining moment for ourselves. It is to finally take a stand. It is for our budding strengths to finally stir and emerge and become active. And it is to focus ourselves forward on our possible strengths and building on these, instead of focusing on the past and pandering to our weaknesses yet again. (Because whenever we do that and do what we’ve always done and run from stress and fear, we reinforce our fears and weaknesses, empowering them, making them even stronger and more likely to fire even more quickly and more fervently the next time.)

We always have the choice. Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we are willing to admit it or not, we always have a choice:

We can react mindlessly to stress and let it overrun us, and in doing so feed the beast and make the stress demon stronger.

Or we can go against the grain of what we’re feeling and respond more mindfully, more courageously, with greater tenderness and open-heartedness and vulnerability.

Whatever we’re given in life can either wake us up or put us more to sleep.

That is the real power of now. Making a choice. Making a very conscious, deliberate, strategic, mindful, eyes- and heart- and mind-wide-open choice. Deciding whether to wake up or go more to sleep.

To choose not to decide or to pretend that we don’t have a choice is to go to sleep.

Whenever we run away and avoid and diffuse responsibility, we go to sleep.

When we stay and remain open and present and curious and investigate more mindfully what we’re experiencing as well as our thoughts and feelings about it, we are beginning to sow seeds of wakefulness.

Even when the stress is the greatest and the temptation to fly of the handle and lose it is most alluring and familiar, we can still go against our pride and habits and self-protectiveness, and let ourselves soften and breakdown and not be so fearful of appearing weak, needy, vulnerable, insufficient, hurt, and in need of a little (or a lot of) tenderness, compassion, kindness, soothing.

After all, that’s usually the real fear behind the stress whenever we act out harshly and self-protectively on it—the fear of appearing inadequate, the fear of facing up to and admitting our own powerlessness and inadequacy, the fear of hitting rock bottom and admitting that we’re helpless and much less than what we thought, the fear of being rejected and pushed away by another in a moment of weakness and frazzledness if we were to reach out to another and ask for compassion, tenderness, mercy, kindness. That’s the real fear.

To run away and avoid difficulty, is to try to go to back to sleep—it is to try to avoid ourselves, to set our life in such away that we avoid facing ourselves, that we avoid taking responsibility for ourselves, that we avoid dealing with our pride and having to feel inadequate, not together, uncertain.

In a moment of stress and fear, this fundamental choice is always there for us. The choice is always there to choose love or give into fear. To give into our reptile or to lead with our spirit and what’s best in us. We can either reject ourselves and others and lash around and act out like an alligator or a demon-like reptile, or we can make friends with ourselves and our unpleasant feelings and not reactively or automatically run from them whenever they frighten us with their intensity or heat, and we can lead from our spirit, what’s best in us, our potential strengths.

That is the real power of now, realizing that whatever we’re presented with in life can either wake us up or put us more to sleep. That we can always choose love over fear. That we can choose to sow love, or we can just react, go with our amygdala, act out of fear, cave and give into and empower stress. We can either maintain perspective or lose it. We can either go crazy or we can go sane. “When we find ourselves in a mess, instead of feeling guilty or stressed, we can reflect on the fact that how we relate to this mess now will be sowing the seeds of how we relate to whatever happens next. We hold the power to make ourselves miserable or make ourselves strong. The amount of effort required will be about the same. Right now we are creating our state of mind for tomorrow, not to mention this afternoon, next week, next year, and all the years of our lives.” ( — Pema Chödrön)

Now, now, now! Whenever the going gets difficult and stressful, we’re also simultaneously presented with another incredible opportunity yet again—the opportunity of yet another potentially life-altering “defining moment,” depending on how we decide to respond. The Chinese character for crisis is also the same symbol or character for opportunity. And that’s the reality of what any moment of stress and anxiety might mean for us. Because these moments of crisis are also our greatest potential moments to define ourselves differently, to make our future different from our past, if—if—we can heroically take the leap and make a different choice. We can always run; we always have that choice available to us to avoid or to wall up. But we can also choose strength, choose what’s potentially best in us, and try to stay and remain open and break our habitual ingrained self-sabotaging, self-protective, maladaptive, unproductive patterns and reactions by trying something new and making a different choice . . . the choice not to run and hide and annihilate and act impulsively without considering the consequences of what we’re doing, the seeds we’re sowing, the precedent we’re setting or reinforcing yet again (more fear, more bad karma, more fear and negative consequences, less strength and capacity and willingness to deal with stress head-on).

We can either stay and learn to deal with ourselves and deal with the consequences of what all of our past choices and past avoidances have done to us; or we can run from ourselves some more and make others deal with the consequences of our craziness and our shortfalls in courage and goodness. We can either bravely, humbly, even desperately learn to deal with ourselves, including what’s weakest and worst and not so savory in us; or we can run from those situations and persons and relationships that bring out the worst in us and expose all the crud and dross in us and mindlessly fantasize about a future that will be different from our past not because we’ve changed who we are but simply because we’ve changed where we are and who and what’s around us. Because the real power of now comes from acknowledging that we must be the change we wish to see. The real power of now comes from admitting that the geographic cure is not a cure at all, not even close, that it’s not a part of the solution, and that it’s actually just another fundamental part of our basic problem—that we don’t deal well (if at all) with ourselves and our fears and stress, that we just don’t fundamentally relate well to ourselves, we are not a good steward and friend to ourselves.

It is possible for us even when the stress is the greatest and the urge to self-protect and flee is the most compelling to do something completely different, something completely unprecedented—it is possible for us to make a different choice—it is possible for us to not automatically shut down and self-protect and close our heart and mind, but to instead remain curious, daring, courageous, open, inquisitive, audacious, compassionate, and soothe our own frazzled emotions, not let them capture and blind us, but instead to remember what’s best in us and refocus our attention on it, and smile at fear, make friends with uncertainty and anxiety, not continue to relive the past in the present. Now is here. Now is the time. Now is all we have. Now is when we can make a different choice. Now. Now. Now. That’s all we have. Every now is sowing something in us, just as every now in the past has sown something in us and made us into the person we have become and are right now, including the way we react to stress and fear and deal with ourselves emotionally (or stubbornly refuse to deal with ourselves). If we want to legitimately feel good about ourselves by being braver and more centered in the future when the fearful stress demon comes again, we need to make different choice now than the ones we’ve been making in the past whenever we’ve gotten stressed out and obliterated situations, run from relationships and commitments when the going got tough, and taken out our stress on others.

Don’t surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.

( — Hafiz)

It’s not just feelings of loneliness that we perhaps need to not run from so quickly when they visit us, perhaps it’s also those feelings of shame and embarrassment and even horror over who we are and what we’ve done (to others and ourselves) and what we’ve become that we also need to not surrender and not run from, but instead let cut us even more deeply, let ferment and season us, and let begin to finally transform us and awake us to some new sanity. . . . A sanity where we can make different choices. . . . More courageous choices. . . .

And if we’re going to grow and make our future different from our past we need to make different choices. More courageous choices. And Now. Now. Now. Because that’s all we have. If we’re idle and discursive and unfocused in our now, living haphazardly, dissipating our energy and our awareness, scattering ourselves, further fragmenting ourselves, not committing to anything other than homeostasis, the path of least resistance, and the comfort of moment, then we’re just seeding more future misery and unhappiness and instability for ourselves and others, and a future that will continue to look a lot like our past. We’re not sowing strength, bravery, attention, mindfulness.

But if in the moments of calm that we have now between moments of agitation we live more mindfully, take up meditation, yoga, writing, self-examination, self-analysis, reading decent books, studying and learning more and more about the dharma, the Tao, engage in more meaningful and wholesome and honest conversations (instead of discursive low-level ones that further scatter our attention), and we learn to begin sitting quietly with ourselves like a friend, like a best friend, like our a soul friend or anam cara, and patiently listen to ourselves, then we are planting different seeds, seeds of mindfulness, seeds of courage, seeds of bravery, seeds of better decision-making, seeds of more lasting happiness, seeds of honesty, seeds of friendliness, seeds of virtue, seeds of goodness, seeds of openness, seeds of wakefulness, seeds of transformation; —we are planting a future for ourselves that will be different than our past—a future that will be happier because we will be more eligible for happiness, because we will (finally!) be braver, happier, less afraid, more open-hearted, more inoculated to stress and anxiety.

But we can only do that if we are wise about our nows and make different choices now, now, now.

Because that’s the real power of now—it’s in the choices we make and the actions we take. Thinking and talking and daydreaming about it isn’t enough.

Because all of our nows, all of these moments of decision, taken as a whole, make up our lives and the sum quality of our lives, rendering us each either more and more eligible and fit for greater and greater happinesses, or less and less fit for life and thus leaving us weaker, more afraid, more miserable and isolated and alone, less able to be open and loving, and more and more ineligible for happiness and peace of mind and heart.

Some day, in years to come, you will be wrestling with the great temptation, or trembling under the great sorrow of your life. But the real struggle is here, now. . . . Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer. Character cannot be made except by a steady, long-continued process.” — Phillips Brooks

[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.

To be the one kind of creature is heaven: That is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power.

To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.

Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

— C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” pg. 87.

C.S. Lewis on the Power & Consequences of Our Choices


[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.

To be the one kind of creature is heaven: That is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power.

To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.

Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

—C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” pg. 87

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