Read an Excerpt
1: DO YOU BELIEVE WHAT YOU THINK?
Have you ever felt that the harder you look for love, the more it seems to elude you? Or that seeking approval makes you feel insecure? If you have, there's a reason. It's because seeking love and approval is a sure way to lose the awareness of both. You can lose the awareness of love, but never love itself. Love is what we are. So, if love is what we are, why do we look for it so hard, and often with such poor results? Only because of what we think—the thoughts we believe that are not true.
You don't have to believe any of this. You can verify it for yourself as you read this book or when you put the book down and ask four questions about your own relationships, or lack of them, and discover how your life changes.
In the pursuit of love, approval, and appreciation, what do we think? We think that the love and approval of others are the keys to the kingdom—to every good thing in the world. We think that seeking romance brings love, a sexual partner, long-term closeness, marriage, family. And we think that trying to impress society—trying to win the admiration of the right people—is our best shot at bringing fame, wealth, and satisfaction into our lives.
So we think that if we succeed in the quest, we're home: safe, warm, and appreciated. And what if we fail? We're homeless, out in the cold, lost in the crowd, unnoticed, lonely, and forgotten. If those are the stakes, no wonder the quest can be so fearful and all-consuming. No wonder a compliment can make your day and a harsh word can ruin it.
The big, primitive fears rarely rise to the surface. Few people walk around actually thinking that they're about to fall through the cracks of society and vanish. Instead, thousands of anxious thoughts appear all day long: "Was I noticed?" "Why didn't she smile?" "Did I make a good impression?" "Why hasn't he returned my call?" "Do I look okay?" "Should I have said that?" "What do they think of me now?" It's a constant monitoring to see if we're gaining or losing ground in the grand approval sweepstakes. Those little doubts are rarely noticed or questioned, and yet they set in motion hundreds of strategies designed to win favor and admiration, or just to please. The unspoken belief is that unless people approve of you, you're worthless.
The irony is that the struggle to win love and approval makes it very difficult to experience them. Chronic approval seekers don't realize that they are loved and supported not because of but despite their efforts. And the more strenuously they seek, the less likely they are to notice.
How do we get into this predicament? For a few pages, we'll just look at the ways unquestioned thoughts create our experience. We'll see how often-unnoticed thoughts that most of us share lead us to needing, wanting, longing, and reaching for what we already have. The thoughts behind a familiar 3 a.m. anxiety attack are a good place to start.
Thought at 3 a.m.: Nothing Supports Me
Suddenly you wake up in the middle of the night, glance at the clock, and wish you were still asleep. A thought appears: "What's going to happen to me? It's a cold, uncaring universe. I don't know what to do." These thoughts were triggered by a mutual-fund commercial you saw last night, but you don't realize that. And the next ones come from a half-remembered motivational tape: "There are no guarantees in this world. Nothing's going to happen for you unless you make it happen." This thought provides a little boost, followed by a major deflation as you remember that self-reliance hasn't worked all that well for you. "I need so much. I have so few resources to get it. My survival skills aren't great, and basically I'm faking it. I'm helpless and alone. " The next thought brings some hope: "If I could just get more love from my family and friends, if just one person really adored me, if my boss really believed in me, then I wouldn't be so anxious, and I could count on being supported."
The thought "Nothing supports me without my efforts" is just one of the unquestioned and often unnoticed beliefs that set in motion the search for love and approval. Let's pause for a moment and explore the opposite.
Daylight Reality Check:Everything Supports Me
Do you know what supports your existence right now?
Just to scratch the surface of this, suppose you've eaten your breakfast, sat down in your favorite chair, and picked up this book. Your neck and shoulders support your head. The bones and muscles of your chest support your breathing. Your chair supports your body. The floor supports your chair. The earth supports the building you live in. Various stars and planets hold the earth in its orbit. Outside your window a man walks down the street with his dog. Can you be sure that he isn't playing a part in your support? He may work every day in a cubicle, filing papers for the power company that makes your lights come on.
Among the people you see on the street, and the countless hands and eyes working behind the scenes, can you be sure that there is anyone who isn't supporting your existence? The same question applies to the generations of ancestors who preceded you and to the various plants and animals that had something to do with your breakfast. How many unlikely coincidences allow you to be here!
To explore this for a while, look around and see if there is anything you can say for sure doesn't play some role in supporting you. Now look again at the 3 a.m. thought "Nothing supports me without my efforts." In this moment wouldn't it be more true to say, "Everything supports me without my efforts"? The proof is that here you are, sitting in your chair, doing nothing, being fully supported.
Everything supports you whether or not you even notice it, whether or not you think about it or understand it, whether you love it or hate it, whether you're happy or sad, asleep or awake, motivated or unmotivated. It just supports you without asking for anything in return.
Right now, sitting in your chair, as you breathe, notice that you're not doing the breathing, you're being breathed. You don't even have to be aware of it, you don't even have to remember to breathe, because that is supported too. Complicated and intricate as your requirements for existence might be, they are all being met. At this moment there's nothing you need, nothing you need to do. Notice how it feels to take in that thought.
Now think of something you don't have. I'm sure you can think of something. . .
The Thought That Kicks You Out of Heaven
The thought that kicks you out of heaven could be "I'd be a little more comfortable if I had a pillow." Or it could be "I'd be happier if my partner were here."
Without that thought, you're in heaven—just sitting in your chair, being supported and being breathed. When you believe the thought that something is missing, what do you experience? The immediate effect may be subtle—only a slight restlessness as your attention moves away from what you already have. But with that shift of attention, you give up the peace you have as you sit in your chair. Seeking comfort, you give yourself discomfort.
What if you did get a pillow? That could work (if you have a pillow). You may find yourself back in heaven again. It may be the very thing you needed. Or you could pick up the phone and convince your partner (if you have a partner) to join you, and maybe he or she would actually arrive. And perhaps you would be happier, and perhaps you wouldn't. In the meantime, there goes your peace.
The thought that kicks you out of heaven doesn't have to be about comfort or happiness. It could be "I'd be more secure if . . ." or "If only it could always be like this," or it could be just the thought of a cup of coffee. Most people are so busy making improvements they don't notice they've stepped out of heaven. Wherever they are, something or someone could always be better.
So, how do you get back to heaven? To begin with, just notice the thoughts that take you away from it. You don't have to believe everything your thoughts tell you. Just become familiar with the particular thoughts you use to deprive yourself of happiness. It may seem strange at first to get to know yourself in this way, but becoming familiar with your stressful thoughts will show you the way home to everything you need.
Getting to Know You
When you begin to notice your thoughts, one of the first things you'll see is that you're never alone. You're not alone with your lover or with anyone else; you're not even alone with yourself. Wherever you go, whomever you're with, the voice in your head goes with you, whispering, nagging, enticing, judging, chattering, shaming, guilt-tripping, or yelling at you. When you wake up in the morning, your thoughts wake up with you. They push you out of bed and follow you to work. They make comments about people at the office and people in the store. They follow you to the bathroom, get into your car when you do, and come back home again with you. Whether or not someone is waiting for you at home, your thoughts will be there waiting for you.
If you're afraid to be alone, it means you're afraid of your thoughts. If you loved your thoughts, you would love to be alone anywhere with them; you wouldn't have to turn on the radio when you get in the car, or the TV when you get home. The way you relate to your thoughts—that's what you bring to every relationship you have, including the one with yourself.
But Wait a Minute!
You may be asking: "That voice in my head, isn't it me? Don't I think my thoughts?" You can answer this for yourself. If the voice in your head is you, who's the one listening to it?
When you wake up in the morning, you may notice that by the time you realize you're thinking, you're already being thought. Thoughts just appear. You're not doing them. Occasionally you may have the experience of waking up before your thoughts. The mind spins for a few seconds seeking to know what it is, and then the world restarts in your thoughts, piece by piece. "I am so and so. This is Philadelphia. That person next to me is my husband. It's Tuesday. I need to get up and go to work." That process happens continuously when you're awake. Thoughts create your world and your identity in every moment.
What Do Your Thoughts Have to Say About Love?
If you listen to your thoughts, you'll notice that they are telling you what love can do for you. For instance, after a disappointment in love, you may have a raw and exposed feeling. Your thoughts may tell you that you've been deprived, that you are abandoned, excluded, empty, lonely, or incomplete. They may tell you that only love can make you feel good again. If you're fearful, if you crave safety and security, your thoughts may tell you that love will rescue you. If life is disappointing or doesn't make sense, many people think that love is the answer to that as well. It would be useful at this point to see what you think. Just ask yourself what you hope for or expect from love, and make a list of five things you think love will bring you.
Most people believe that love and need are synonymous. "I love you, I need you" is the hook of a thousand love songs.
If you ask yourself what you really need in life, you'll probably come up with a list like the one you just made about love. People ask for the same things as they go through life. The way they ask just gets a little more sophisticated:
I want . . .
I need . . .
Please . . .
I need your love.
You're not fulfilling my needs in this relationship.
I need you to . . .
I can't go on without . . .
These are my requirements . . .
Thoughts about your wants and needs can be very bossy. If you believe them, you feel you have to do what they say—you have to get people's love and approval. There is another way to respond to a thought, and that is to question it. How can you question your wants and needs? How can you meet your thoughts without believing them?
I meet my thoughts the way I would meet my husband or my children: with understanding.
From the Hardcover edition.