I’ve been in one of my “woo woo” phases lately, reading and listening to more than my fair share of spiritual, shamanic and self-help books and CDs. I’ve been soaking up teachings like a sponge monkey, but I’ve managed to avoid speaking in terms of “what the universe wants,” hugging random people in the street and calling them brother or sister. Still, it’s hard to immerse yourself in this realm without experiencing some shift in your perspective.
While I do take spirituality very seriously, I’ve always tried to keep a light attitude about certain “deep thoughts.” For instance, at a former job where the prevailing culture was, shall we say, a bit left of center, we acted in accordance with compassionate, spiritual principles, but teased the hell out of anyone who started quoting the gospel of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
We were, however, big fans of the wonderful spiritual author and self-help guru Louise Hay, whose 1976 book Heal Your Body broke ground in connecting human emotions with physical symptoms. Whenever someone wasn’t feeling well, we’d whip out “the Louise cheat sheet” and look up the underlying emotional cause of the problem. Eventually we stopped bothering, though, and just started telling the person the reason for her twitching eye was “roiling self-hatred.”
Once I was having problems with my car, and one of my co-workers asked, earnestly, what I thought that was “about.” When I said I needed an oil change and tune-up, she thought I was speaking metaphorically.
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5 Inconvenient Spiritual Truths
In this day and age, a lot of what passes for spiritual advice comes in tweet-size bytes. But that’s not so new. Many of us who didn’t grow up with the little blue bird of happiness learned the great wisdom of the ages, like Lao Tzu’s “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” from fortune cookies.
The difference today is that no one has time to contemplate the meaning. We need people to “bottom line” it for us — preferably in 140 characters or less.
So during this renewed time of introspection, as a service to my busy brothers and sisters, I’ve attempted to boil down the big spiritual lessons to just five — and find modern applications for each. Like a Zen koan, they can’t be fully grasped by the rational mind. Better to come back to each repeatedly, until the laser light of truth reveals itself.
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1. You will never finish everything on your to-do list. Admit it: You heard “grasshopper,” there, didn’t you? That’s because the awful truth of this is so apparent that when we try to take in the enormity of this lesson, the mind reels: Is that really true or is that my self-sabotaging shadow trying to trip me up? Or: If I can never complete the list, why keep trying? Exactly! (Lesson 1B is that this is also true of your email Inbox.)
2. You will not win the lottery or sell a million-dollar screenplay (or invent the next Foursquare). You may have come to this pearl of wisdom on your own. But no cause for panic. In your heart of hearts, you knew that was magical thinking, a reflexive excuse for when you took the whole family to Disneyworld or bought a pair of Jimmy Choos.
So why is this truth so hard to accept? Because it means we have to prepare for “old age” the old-fashioned way: earning money, saving money, investing money. That’s a lot of work — and doesn't go over so well with the 21 percent of Americans who believe the best way to amass wealth is by winning the lottery.
3. You will probably never wear those clothes you've saving from the '80s. Even if you can still fit into them, this is not a good idea. Literally and figuratively, clinging to what you’ve outgrown or that don't reflect who you've become is a self-limiting exercise (and sorry to bring up “exercise”). Things in the closet from another era represent a different you. Physicists tell us that only change is static, so the sooner we learn to release and detach from what no longer works in our lives, the more acceptance we can bring to what actually is.
According to Buddhists, happiness isn't a place we go to, but a state of mind that comes when we give up trying to change things we have no control over. This doesn’t mean failing to take action when it's appropriate. The trick, grasshopper, is ascertaining what “appropriate” is.
4. You will not marry George Clooney (or Angelina Jolie). Fantasies are fun, but they’re also insidious. Even when we consciously know the difference between them and reality, trying to attain the impossible can derail our best intentions. Dreams and aspirations are important — they keep us moving in the right direction — but you might be surprised how much unrealistic visions contribute to a lack of satisfaction or prevent us from appreciating what we do have.
5. People will disappoint you. This doesn’t mean people are out to get you, or are being intentionally mean, selfish or uncaring. Accepting this truth (you could substitute “life” for “people”) helps shift our thinking, and takes the onus off others and puts the responsibility squarely on us.
Quitting the blame game is a huge step out of victimhood and toward self-sovereignty. If we can turn this into a positive and not take others’ actions personally, we can release anger, resentment, jealousy. And once you get good at letting others off the hook, take the master class and work on forgiving yourself.