Part One: 5 Keys
Key 1: Awareness
Most of us, most of the time, are asleep. That is, we live most of our life on autopilot. Automatically reacting to whatever comes our way. Little or no thought precedes our actions. Yet, if we are to appreciate life, grow, and discover our own greatness, we must awaken from our slumber.
Spiritual teacher, Father Anthony De Mello, S.J. loved to tell the following story:
A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.
All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.
Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky.
It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.
The old eagle looked up in awe. “Who’s that?” he asked.
“That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” said his neighbor. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth — we’re chickens.”
So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.
How sad it is to die unaware of one’s true nature. When will we realize we are eagles, not chickens?
Before we can break free from our self-limiting thoughts, we must realize we are not our thoughts. The thoughts swirling around in your head, the ones that make you think you are a chicken, are merely the opinions and beliefs of others that were implanted in your mind while you were still a child and didn’t know any better.
You are no longer a child and now have the power to rescue yourself from the false, limiting beliefs that are keeping you grounded. How do you do that? Begin by sitting still and observing your thoughts. Don’t judge them. Don’t try to suppress them. Don’t try to change them. Merely silently observe them.
As you practice this exercise, you come to realize that you are not your thoughts, but the observer of your thoughts. Once you have a strong sense of being the observer, now ask yourself, “What is it that I, the observer of my thoughts, want from life and what steps can I take to start achieving my dreams?”
In other words, instead of relying on the thoughts of others that were implanted in your mind — your false self, the chicken that you think you are — rely on your true self, which is the observer of your thoughts and the eagle that you really are. That’s why Socrates taught, “To find yourself, think for yourself.”
Ask your eagle-self what is it that you really want to do and start doing it! True, you may have to begin with baby steps, but any step, small or large, will get you closer to where you want to be. And each step you take will cause you to awaken to the power you already have, power that was lying dormant because you thought you were a chicken.
Each step you take forward exponentially releases greater power, awareness, and discovery. Soon, your power will surge to the point where you will be soaring, as all eagles do.
Once you return to your birthright of being an eagle, you will understand what Henry Miller meant when he wrote, “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”
Key 2: Authenticity
We are most powerful when we are authentic, for then we lead by example and speak with passion, sincerity, and truth. But before we can become authentic, we have to stop believing we are chickens and start acting like eagles. Authentic people are not afraid of their power; rather, they openly use it to motivate and inspire everyone they come in contact with.
Neither are authentic men and women afraid of their weaknesses. On the contrary, whenever inspirational leaders make a mistake, big or small, they quickly acknowledge it and take full responsibility. This willingness to be vulnerable builds bonds and intimacy in relationships, for it sends the signal that it is okay to be imperfect, okay to have flaws. That’s why people feel comfortable around an authentic person, for there is nothing you need to hide.
At times, we may find that despite our best efforts, one or more people refuse to get along with us. At such times, we need to remember the words of Barbara de Angelis, “We need to find the courage to say no to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity.”
Don’t be afraid of or feel guilty about taking care of yourself. After all, to do the most good in the world, we first have to make ourselves as strong as possible. And one way of doing so is by severing relationships that have no hope of healing and only drain us of energy. However, don’t rush to judgement, for ultimately the best way to destroy your enemies is by making them your friends, but this is not always possible.
We will grow authentic when knowing and living the truth become more important than what we think others will think of us. Nathaniel Hawthorne explains why being authentic is so important, “No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” And Lance Secretan gives another reason, “Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet - thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing - consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.”
The world has a great need for role models of authentic living, and you can help fill this need by your example. And remember, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” (Albert Schweitzer)
Key 3: Acceptance
Acceptance is a major key, for it is the key to serenity, a stress-free life, and happiness. You see, unhappiness is caused by struggling with life, resisting what is and what was meant to be. Yes, life has its ups and downs, but that’s what makes it a thrilling ride. Yes, life is full of uncertainty, but that’s what makes it a surprise party. Yes, life has more than enough whiners, complainers, grumblers, but that provides us with the opportunity to lighten their load and brighten their day by providing an encouraging word, some heartfelt praise, and sincere recognition. After all, “If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather that dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities.”(Robert Conklin)
Everyone has some good in them, and by pointing it out, we help themgrow more so.
We also need to accept that we will not enjoy everything we do. Then why do them? Because some things are more important than feeling good right now. For instance, future success and happiness outweighs instant gratification.
Life grows much easier when we accept that success comes at a price and are willing to pay that price. It also helps to recognize that our circumstances will never be perfect and we will have to make the best of what we have. Frank Crane put it this way, “Nobody has things just as he would like them. The thing to do is to make a success with what material I have. It is a sheer waste of time and soul-power to imagine what I would do if things were different. They are not different.”
Although accepting all the people and events that populate our life will make life so much more pleasant for us, the greatest enjoyment comes from going beyond mere acceptance to the full-blown embracement of life. That is, we joyfully welcome all that life offers, painful or not, because we realize that whatever is given to us is given for our own good. In a somewhat similar vein, Epictetus taught, “Ask not that events should happen as you will, but let your will be that events should happen as they do, and you shall have peace.”
Key 4: Appreciation
Appreciation, or a thankful heart, is a major factor in assuring a happy life. Surrounded by the beauty of nature, the grace of good people, and the adventure of life, how can anyone be unhappy?We have many reasons for gratitude, some of which include the following:
1.“None of us got to where we are alone. Whether the assistance we received was obvious or subtle, acknowledging someone’s help is a big part of understanding the importance of saying thank you.”(Harvey Mackay)
2. “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”(Melody Beattie)
3. “Appreciation can make a day — even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.”(Margaret Cousins) To which Joseph Addison adds, “What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. These are but trifles, to be sure; but, scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.”
And how shall we practice appreciation? “The thing that I think is the most important is taking moments to express your appreciation to your partner. A thank you or a quick kiss can go a long way toward affirming your relationship and commitment to each other. That’s not hard to do even when you’re juggling insane careers and three kids.”(Michael Ian Black) N. T. Wright adds, “Love is not just tolerance. It’s not just distant appreciation. It’s a warm sense of, ‘I am enjoying the fact that you are you.’“
In order to escape the merry-go-round of never-ending desire for more possessions, we must learn to appreciate what we already have. Let’s see how others have expressed this same piece of wisdom:
1.“He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.”(Epictetus)
2. “May we never let the things we can’t have, or don’t have, spoil our enjoyment of the things we do have and can have.”(Richard L. Evans)
3. “The talent for being happy is appreciating and liking what you have, instead of what you don’t have.”(Woody Allen)
4. “Mankind, by the perverse depravity of their nature, esteem that which they have most desired as of no value the moment it is possessed, and torment themselves with fruitless wishes for that which is beyond their reach.”(Francois de Salignac Fenelon)
If we were to have a prayer of appreciation, either of these two statements would make a good one:
1.“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so.”(Mary Jean Irion)
2.I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”(Matthew Henry)
Key 5: Apprehension (Understanding)
Apprehension can mean three things: 1) the capture of a criminal; 2) a fear, doubt, or misgiving;3) understanding. We are using it here with the third meaning.
Wise men and women have great understanding. They are wise because of what they know and because they apply what they know. Here is a short list of some of what they understand:
1.We will die. You already know that, but the wise apply what they know; so they spend their time judiciously, making each moment count, thereby squeezing the most from life.
2. Our actions have consequences. Where we are today is the result of our past actions. To ensure a bright future, wise people only engage in activities that have positive outcomes.
3. They understand that a major key to success is self-discipline. They accept this fact and cheerfully make the necessary sacrifices by focusing on their goals.
4. They take advantage of the power of choice. You see, “You are in the driver’s seat of your life and can point your life down any road you want to travel.You can go as fast or as slow as you want to go ... and you can change the road you’re on at any time.”(Jinger Heath)
5. They learn from the past. We make painful mistakes, but it is worthwhile if they lead to higher understanding. Here’s how Khalil Gibran expressed this idea, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”
6. They understand that they don’t understand very much. In other words, they’re humble. The wise have great vision, but the proud are like blind men and women. “A blind man knows he cannot see, and is glad to be led, though it be by a dog; but he that is blind in his understanding, which is the worst blindness of all, believes he sees as the best, and scorns a guide.” (Samuel Butler)
7. “I simply do not think that yelling, swearing, threatening or belittling will get you to the place you want to be faster than kindness, understanding, patience and a little willingness to compromise.”(Rachel Nichols)
8. Wise people are happy to have people in their lives that upset them because “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” (Carl Jung)
Alyson Griffith is in her early 60s and has relationship problems. For example, she was falsely accused of theft by a relative and asked to take a lie detector (polygraph) test. She was hurt by the accusation. After clearing her name, her immediate impulse was to end the relationship, but now she wonders if that’s the right thing to do.
Also, instead of being caring and supportive, her father was mostly an angry man. Today, they no longer communicate. When her dad did answer Alyson’s emails, rather than commenting on what she had to say, he would merely write a few lines about playing golf and how happy he was that his dog was still in good health.
Even Alyson’s friendships have fallen by the wayside. With a string of broken relationships behind her she can’t help wondering whether she is a victim of bad luck or merely doing something wrong. And if the latter is the case, what should she do to turn her life around?
The path to a gratifying life and trouble-free relationships is to practice the five keys of Awareness, Apprehension, Authenticity, Acceptance, and Appreciation. Let’s look at each, one by one.
1. Awareness. Awareness is the key that unlocks your heart, allowing the pain to leave and peace and happiness to flow in. Alyson, imagine leisurely walking down an uncrowded street, when you are suddenly struck from behind with such force that you nearly topple over. How would you feel? What would be your thoughts? Probably something like, “Who is the jerk that just ran into me? I could have been a young pregnant woman, fallen, and suffered a miscarriage! I might have been carrying a baby and dropped him! I could have hurt myself! It infuriates me that reckless people endanger our lives.”
As you turn around to face the perpetrator, you discover it was a blind man who was running at the sound of his approaching bus. Gasping, he quickly apologizes and asks if you are okay. Now, how do you feel? Ashamed and guilty. But notice how all anger and resentment has disappeared. At that moment you are aware. You have awakened to the fact that the viciousness of the attack existed only in your mind, and the man who bumped into you was innocent.
If you wish to be free of suffering, Alyson, you must become aware that your father, relatives, friends, and acquaintances are blind men and women, stumbling through life in the only way they know how, as you are. They are perfectly innocent, as you are. And they are worthy of love, as you are.
Yes, in human relations some friction is unavoidable, but as Rev. Dr. Rowland C. Croucher writes, “Just as friction between certain types of rocks produces sparks of light, so it is the friction of our individualities rubbing against each other that illuminates who we really are.” When sparks ignite in the friction you experience with your dad and relative, Alyson, what do you see? Can’t you see that they are wounded and in pain, and they lack the skills to deal with you and life appropriately. Disappointed by life, they feel bitter. What they need to experience is sweetness, not anger and resentment. They should elicit compassion, not abandonment.
2. Apprehension. You need to understand that we tend to do things backwards. That is, we focus on the wrong things. We look in the wrong direction. For example, Alyson, don’t focus on how your dad, relatives, and friends should behave. Rather, focus on how YOU should behave. Don’t concern yourself about what others should be; only worry about what YOU should be.
Here are a few examples, Alyson. Hurt by the relative who demanded you take a polygraph test, you are debating whether to sever the relationship, and you write, “The truth is I won’t miss her much.” That’s looking at it the wrong way. The question isn’t whether you will miss her or not, but whether she will miss you. You have a choice. You don’t have to punish her. You can forgive her. Isn’t that what life is for? Life is for-giving.
When it comes to your dad, you write, “I have to accept the reality that he will never be there for me.” Again, that’s the wrong view. The question is whether YOU will be there for him. After all, he won’t be among us much longer. You can make life easier for him by regularly sending “Thinking of You” cards. They don’t require an answer, and they tell your dad that you haven’t abandoned him. Remember, Alyson, you don’t have to live with your dad, but you do have to live with yourself. Make that experience a pleasant one, make sure the person you live with (yourself) is a caring, generous, thoughtful person, one that you will always be happy to spend time with.
3. Authenticity. We have to be honest with ourselves. When we are, we will realize that friends, acquaintances, and coworkers don’t abandon us, we drive them away. We need to ask ourselves why this is the case. “Am I being too needy? Do I make demands? Do I have unrealistic expectations? Am I cheerful or gloomy? Am I encouraging or critical? Do I spread warmth or disapproval? Do I share good news or spread gossip? Do I look for the good in others or do I look for the bad?”
Don’t confuse people’s actions with the people themselves. True, your dad, relatives, and friends may have done some nasty things, but that does not mean that they are nasty. The fact is, they are nice. Believe me, it’s true. If you cannot accept this fact, you will be unable to accept yourself because we all share the same nature, feelings, and needs. So, if they are no good, I am no good, and if I am a nice person, they are nice people.
4. Acceptance. Hurt by your dad’s failure to comment on what you write about, you write, “It seems to me that a relationship has to have some reciprocity.” Why does it HAVE TO? To assume it must is to make a demand. It is like saying, “When I write to you, I expect you to write back to me in a manner that I consider acceptable. If it’s unacceptable, I may end the relationship.”
Making demands is flawed thinking. You see, many of our demands and expectations will not be realized. So, by making demands, all we do is set ourselves up for frustration, disappointment, and resentment. But those who are awakened, or aware, accept their parents, relatives, and friends as they are. They accept life as it is. We can always enjoy and learn from what IS as long as we approach it with an open mind and look for the good.
5. Appreciation. Imagine giving a gift to someone who then complains it isn’t good enough. How are you responding regarding the gift you received? I’m referring to the gift of life. Do you appreciate it, or are you complaining that it isn’t good enough? What about those other gifts you have received? Some mistakenly refer to them as “problems.” But those who are awake realize that they are not given problems, but opportunities to serve and grow.
Alyson, your decisions affect others, so choose your actions carefully. You are not facing ‘problems,’ but opportunities to feed those who hunger for compassion and opportunities to give drink to those who thirst for understanding. Can your thoughts resonate with Ulrich Zwingli who said, “A generous mind does not consider itself as belonging to itself alone, but to the whole human race.” When you accept this challenge, you will fill your life with purpose and leave the world a better place. You don’t need any advice from me, all you have to do is follow your conscience.
Another way to reveal the path to a gratifying life and trouble-free relationships is with the beautiful prayer that is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
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Spirit Paths: The Quest for Authenticity by Gerry C. Starnes M.Ed.
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