I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.
It's time for you to make a choice. The choice I'm talking about is The Big Choice--to live or to die ("To be or not to be").
The problem is, there's a Catch-22 in making that kind of choice.
If deep down inside you no longer want to continue living--for whatever reasons--consciously knowing this can help you avoid a great deal of confusion, torment, and anguish. If you've put yourself on a plane headed for Cleveland, there's no point complaining to yourself and others, "I don't want to go to Cleveland."
If you have chosen to die, avoiding negative thinking is still important. Negative thinking contaminates "the moment," and between now and your death, you might as well enjoy every moment.
The irony is that when people finally "give up" and do appreciate the moment, they often realize that life can be a wonderful place. They see it wasn't life itself, but their reaction to life that was causing the dis-ease.
Then they sometimes begin a negative-thinking pattern of "I don't want to die after all," which, once again, pollutes the moment, which makes life less livable, so why live anyway, so I might as well die.
Other people, when asked, "Do you want to live or die?" say--at once and with great emotion--"I want to live!" These people may then spend so much time struggling against death that life becomes an agonizing battle, and some part of them again says, "Why bother?"
Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.
WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN
Can you see, then, the Catch-22 involved in a once-and-for-all decision to live or to die?
The decision to live or to die is not one that can be made once, and that's that. It is to be made in each moment. And that decision is demonstrated by action.
If you are taking part in life-destroying activities, wallowing in misery, and indulging in negative thinking, then--no matter what you say--I'd say you were, in that moment, choosing to die.
If you are actively involved in life-enhancing activities and do them with a positive focus and enthusiasm,enthusiasm comes from the Greek en-theos, which means "one [en] with God [theos]" or "inspired by God." I like to think of it as being "one with the energy of the Divine."> I'd say in that moment you were choosing to live.
If you ask yourself in this moment, "Do I want to live or die?" I say, "Look at what you're doing, feeling, and thinking for the answer."
Are you doing all you can for your health, happiness, and positive focus? And are you doing it with an attitude of, "This will make me healthier, happier, and more positive," or are you moaning, "If I don't do all this damn healthy stuff I'm gonna die and I don't want to die so I'll do it"?
Take a frequent look at your thoughts, feelings, and activities. Set an alarm to go off at regular intervals--every hour, say. No matter what you're doing when the alarm goes off, stop and take an honest look at where you are and what you've been doing--mentally, emotionally, and physically--since the last alarm sounded.
If it's been life-supporting, joyful, and positive--congratulate yourself. If it hasn't you can "course-correct." Commercial aircraft, flying over water, are off course 95 percent of the time. Nevertheless, they still get to where they're going. The onboard navigational system is continually making infinitesimal course corrections. You can get to your goals this way, too--even if you're "off course" the vast majority of the time.)
If your evaluation of the interval between alarms indicates some negativity--don't be surprised, don't get upset, just change it.
We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more.
Being negative about being negative is one of the slickest traps negativity has. It seems as though you're agreeing that negative thinking is bad--so bad, in fact, that it's worth getting upset about it whenever it happens. Then when you discover you've been feeling bad about feeling bad, you feel bad about that. And on and on--or should I say down and down?
Let it go. Forgive yourself. Make whatever corrections seem necessary. Move on. (I'll be giving specific techniques for all of these later.)
As Woody Guthrie once said, "Take it easy, but take it."
No matter what you think your decision about living or dying is, commit to life.
By committing to life, I don't mean committing to live another so many years. (How many years "should" we live anyway?) I mean, commit to living each moment fully, productively, joyfully. Commit to health, wealth, and happiness--not as a distant dream, but as a here-and-now reality.
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.".
W. H. MURRAY THE SCOTTISH HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION
You may not know fully how to do that yet, but "hows" are just methods. When the commitment is clear, an intention rises from that commitment, and the methods appear.
Rather than tell yourself, "I don't know how to fully live my life, so I can't commit," commit yourself to life and then set about discovering how to live.
All this can be summed up in one of my favorite phrases: "The willingness to do creates the ability to do." Be willing to live your life fully. The ability, methods, behaviors, and opportunities to do this will appear.
Then do them!
Don't put off living until you are "better." That's probably just the latest in a series of perfect reasons why you haven't fully lived up until now. ("I'll do it when I'm older." "I'll do it when I've learned more." "I'll do it when I have more money." "I'll do it when I find my soul mate." "I'll do it when I have the time." "I'll do it when . . . ")
Start doing what you've always wanted to do now. Start enjoying each moment (by finding something enjoyable in it) now.
Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
I'm not talking about executing every grand scheme your imagination has ever created. ("I've always wanted to be Ruler of the World.") I'm talking about overcoming the tendency to say, "When my life is better, then I'll be able to start focusing on positive things."
We often form a habit of procrastination. Yes, we put off unpleasant activities, but we also tend to put off the enjoyable ones, too. We dole out pleasure, contentment, and happiness as though they were somehow rationed. The supply of these is limitless (as, by the way, is the supply of misery, pain, and suffering). We do the rationing ourselves.
If you look, you'll find all the perfect reasons why you shouldn't enjoy your life, why you should postpone enjoyment until certain things are different.
I say, the only thing that has to be different for you to enjoy your life is where you focus your attention. Look for all the positive things taking place in and around you right now. As you find them, naturally you'll feel more joyful.
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
In life we have either reasons or results. If we don't have what we want (results), we usually have a long list of reasons why we don't have the results. We tend to rationalize (pronounced "rational lies"). All this is (a) a waste of energy and (b) a convincing argument that we can't have what we want, which becomes (c) another reason not to live.
I suggest that when you don't get what you want, rather than waste time and energy explaining why you don't have it, find another way to get it. If you can't find something positive about your environment, look again--with "fresh eyes." Try another point of view. Be creative. What good are you taking for granted? If you can't find anything, hold your breath. Within a few minutes, you'll really appreciate breathing.
Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.
The intention to live can be strengthened. You obviously have some intention to live, or you wouldn't be alive. (When people completely lose the intention to live, they fade very fast.)
Beyond that, you have gotten this far in a book that obviously affirms life. There is a self-selection process that takes place with personal-growth books: the people who aren't ready for them don't read them. Their intention not to grow is stronger than their intention to grow; therefore, the book is put down--literally and verbally--and not picked up again. So, since you've gotten this far in the book, I'd say your intention to live is rather strong.
The intention to live can be made stronger by a simple, but often uncomfortable, technique.
The technique is this--go to a mirror, look into your eyes, and say out loud, over and over: "I want to live."
What generally happens is that the many thoughts, feelings, and attitudes that created the intention not to live begin to surface. You may feel awkward, scared, unworthy, foolish, stupid, embarrassed, angry, tearful, enraged, or depressed. These are not easy to feel. The tendency is to avoid them, to stop the process.
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
I suggest you persevere. Behind all the fear, anger, unworthiness, and frustration is the natural intention to live--the love you feel for yourself and your life. When you connect with this love and affirm your intention to live, that intention becomes strengthened. Your will to live comes more alive.
You can do this process as often as you like, but start slowly. Set a timer and do it for, say, one minute. The next time, if one minute wasn't too bad, do it for two minutes. Then three. Then four.
Before you start, I suggest you ask a white light to surround, fill, and protect you, knowing only that which is for your highest good can take place while you do this process. (More on using the light later.)
Although uncomfortable at times, saying "I want to live" will give you not only a strengthened intention to live, but also a diagram of your negativity. Is it mostly angry or mostly fearful? How do you convince yourself you're not worth it? What feelings and thoughts make you want to run from life? This process will answer those questions in a short period of time.
The goal of the process is to strengthen your intention to live--not necessarily to live for a certain numbers of years, but to live life fully in each moment.
If you take good care of the moment, the years will take care of themselves.
"The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it." Does that sound like some radical New Age thought to you? It wasn't even new when Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180 A.D.) said it.
Conquering negative thinking may require some major changes, not just mental ones, but emotional and physical ones as well--what is generally known as your lifestyle. You may have to change your job, where you live, the city in which you live, friends, clothes, habits, all sorts of things. As the Koran (13:11) states, "God changes not what is in a people, until they change what is in themselves."
In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.
If you want to get better, be willing to change, be open to change, welcome and invite positive changes into your life. Remember, "There is nothing so permanent in life as change." More metaphysical psychobabble? Heraclitus said, "Nothing endures but change," around 500 B.C.
If you're in a rut, if you've grown accustomed to tolerating intolerable situations, change may not be comfortable and change may not be easy. It takes courage to take an honest look at one's life, discover what's no longer working, and then change it. Mark Twain reminds us, "Courage is mastery of fear--not absence of fear."
If you're faced with a life-threatening illness, you, frankly, have little choice. (I am assuming you have made the decision to live.)
Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no release From little things; Knows not the livid loneliness of fear, Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear The sound of wings.
What you have right now in life is the result of what you thought, felt, and did up to this time. If you want things to be different, to be better, you will have to change what you think, feel, and do.
It's as simple as that. Simple, but not necessarily easy. Not necessarily easy, but necessary. As Anais Nin noted, "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
Take a good, honest look at your life. Decide which things, situations, and people you tend to think most negatively about. Get rid of them. Yes, that one. The one about which you thought, "If I could only get rid of _____________, but I don't dare."
That one. Dare.
Throw it out, send them packing, walk away.
In other words, change.
Love thy neighbor as thyself, but choose your neighborhood.
Whatever you do, do it because you choose to do it, not from any misguided sense of duty, or obligation.
Sometimes people need to be pushed to the brink before they realize that this life belongs to them, not to the demands and desires of others. If you have a life-threatening illness, you're on that brink. If you learn that this is your life, you can more effectively take the necessary steps toward de-brinking yourself.
Try saying this out loud: "I don't have to do anything." Say it a few times. Feel the sense of release, of freedom, of unburdening?
To this you can add: "And what I choose to do, I can do."
Together they make a nice (and, perhaps, necessary) affirmation: "I don't have to do anything, and what I choose to do, I can do."
Repeat it--out loud or in your mind--often.
Those things, people, situations, and experiences you don't like--avoid them. Stay away. Walk away. Do something else.
Some might call this cowardly. I call it smart. The world is brimming with things, people, and experiences. We will never experience all of them if we live to be 10,000. So why not associate with the ones that naturally please you?
I only have "yes" men around me. Who needs "no" men?.
Yes, in some situations you will really want C, and in order to have C you must pass through A and B. In those cases, keep your eye on C. Keep reminding yourself why you're messing with A and B. Tell yourself that soon you'll be at C, and that C will be worth it.
Some examples of what to avoid: parties you don't want to go to, people you don't want to see, TV shows you don't want to watch (but think you should), movies everybody else has seen but hold no appeal for you, and so on.
This idea goes contrary to the "Confront It All" attitude of some self-help books. These books claim you grow through confrontation.
Yes, this is true. Tribulation and confrontation are great teachers. There is, however, quite enough tribulation presented to you naturally. You don't have to seek it. It will seek you, and some of it will be unavoidable. That's the time to practice acceptance, patience, and forbearance.
But if you can avoid the unpleasantness in the first place, by all means do so.
My father worked for the same firm for twelve years. They fired him. They replaced him with a tiny gadget this big. It does everything that my father does, only it does it much better. The depressing thing is my mother ran out and bought one.
Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.
Some people (let's face it: most people) do things they don't want to do (or don't do things they want to do) because they're afraid of what others might think or say about them.
Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God. Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.
I call this "worshiping the god of other people's opinion." The opinion of another becomes more important than our own wants, needs, and desires. As Charles Dudley Warner put it, "Public opinion is stronger than the legislature, and nearly as strong as the Ten Commandments."
We sacrifice much to the Great God of Opinion--happiness, self-worth, freedom. And that opinion is often inaccurate. "Truth is one forever absolute," wrote Wendell Phillips, "but opinion is truth filtered through the moods, the blood, the disposition of the spectator."
If your faith in yourself is strong, the opinion of others (which, often, they got from the opinion of others, who got it from the opinion of still others) is not so influential. As Thoreau said, "Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that is what determines, or rather, indicates, his fate."
It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
Or, as George John Whyte-Melville stated more simply, "In the choice of a horse and a wife, a man must please himself, ignoring the opinion and advice of friends."
You may talk of the tyranny of Nero and Tiberius; but the real tyranny is the tyranny of your next-door neighbor. Public opinion is a permeating influence, and it exacts obedience to itself; it requires us to think other men's thoughts, to speak other men's words, to follow other men's habits.
Of course, if you live in the freedom of your own thoughts and desires, you must also give the same freedom to others. Learn to accept the behavior of others that doesn't fit your opinions. (Such as the opinion that other people shouldn't have opinions about you.)
When you find yourself disapproving of someone, examine your opinions. Explore your list of "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts." See your opinion as merely opinion, not truth, and therefore not worth getting upset about.
Others' opinions of you and your opinions of others are the cause of a great deal of unnecessary negative thinking. (All negative thinking is unnecessary, but the guilt, fear, and resentment generated by opinions are particularly unnecessary.)
Learn, in fact, to relish the differences between people. Imagine how dull the world would be if we all thought, spoke, and acted the same. (Spend a summer in Maine sometime and see what I mean. On second thought, just take my word for it.)
"It were not best that we should all think alike," Mark Twain tells us. "It is difference of opinion that makes horse races."
Applaud freedom wherever it may appear. Learn to praise the idiosyncrasies, the eccentricities, the quirks, and the singularities of others.
It will help you to praise your own.
Copyright © 1988-1996 Peter McWilliams & Prelude Press, Inc.
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