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Simply an Inspired Life
Consciously Choosing Unbounded Happiness in Good Times & Bad
By Mary Anne Radmacher, Jonathan Lockwood Huie
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2009 Mary Anne Radmacher and Jonathan Lockwood Huie
All rights reserved.
Simply an Inspired Life
We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.
— attributed to Bertha Calloway (Founder of the Great Plains Black Museum)
capture a shadow, dance with the wind, stand in a rainbow, begin at the end.
Play with life, laugh with life, dance lightly with life, and smile at the riddles of life, knowing that life's only true lessons are writ small in the margin.
JLH Remember the story of the blind men and the elephant from the introduction? That is how we will approach our discovery of Simply an Inspired Life—walk around it, touch the trunk, the legs, the tusks, the tail, and yes, we're going to have to examine the scat—that's part of life also. It is important to appreciate all of life.
In mastering the art of living Simply an Inspired Life—increasing your joy and decreasing your suffering—you will become more and more skilled at distinguishing between what happens and how you feel about what happens—the distinction between events and your feelings about those events.
BECOME A PASSIONATE OBSERVER OF LIFE
To gain consistent access to joy and serenity, you will break some lifelong habits—habits so ingrained, so much a part of you, that they have become invisible, like water to a fish.
The secret to overcoming these limiting habits is observing other people in action. Through detachment and conscious attention, you can identify well-defined patterns of emotionally self-destructive behavior that ravage peace and happiness.
After recognizing these patterns in others, you can hold a mirror to yourself and consider accepting that you share these same self-destructive behaviors.
Begin your observations by watching and listening to those you don't know well. Life experiences always color our perceptions with preformed judgments, but because we don't have an emotional investment in strangers, we come as close as possible to being objective.
A busy coffeehouse is a microcosm of the world and an ideal place to begin observing. Give it a try. When observation exercises are suggested, consider doing them in a coffeehouse where you can anonymously study people.
Hold a Mirror to Yourself
MAR I was stuck in a consistently negative phase. My new business was difficult. My health was wavering. A significant partner was unsatisfied with many of my qualities and habits. Friends were concerned that I'd sacrificed my security for this business based entirely on my creative writing. Community members found fault in the ways I conducted my commerce and public service.
In a moment of discouragement, I realized I had to turn this experience around.
Instead of repeating and focusing on the negative assessments, I wrote down the exact opposite. I noted the swing side of the critical statements. I also recorded the opposite of harsh commentary I'd delivered to myself. This was an everyday process for a full month. As each day progressed, I would return to day one of the project and read from start to finish. By the end of the thirty days it took quite a bit of time to read all that had been written.
My, oh my. What an amazing person I discovered I was while reading those pages of positive assessments. There it was in writing—I was beautiful, stylish, and just the ideal size. I was savvy, a good planner, and I had the required tools to operate my small business. That was just the start. After thirty days of this—the process disclosed many things to me that I had not previously seen.
A significant uncovering was that so much of the negative talk from others was really a reflection of their attitudes toward themselves. And my own negative assessments arose from fear of failure more than from an accurate evaluation of my abilities and ways. This process lifted me to a different level of telling stories, one where I could turn projection into positive purpose and tell stories which featured me, in all my finest qualities, as the capable hero. The creative writing process has been helpful through the whole of my life when I've needed a mechanism for changing negative patterns. It can be extremely helpful, even if only practiced for a single day.
JLH We only see what we are looking for. This is especially true as we observe our friends and family—we only see in them what we are ready to see. And what is that? We are prepared to see our own qualities showing up in others.
If we are happy, we are prepared to see others looking and sounding happy. But if we are sad, we are prepared to see sadness. If someone says, "Lovely day, isn't it?" our reaction is somewhat influenced by their tone of voice, but is even more swayed by our own emotional state. We may hear joy in every fiber of their being, or we may hear empty filler or even sarcasm.
Projection is regrettably common in romantic relationships. For instance: I have come home from a hard day at work, I'm grouchy, and my spouse and I start bickering. I say angrily, "Why do you always have to get upset with me?" What is going on? Projection. I am the one who is angry, but I see my spouse as the angry one. I see my own anger in the mirror of my spouse, but I believe that the anger is "out there," removed from me.
Projection originates from our past too. It can cause us to see our partner as a person who is likely to leave the relationship, to have an affair, to mismanage money, not to pull his or her own weight, to get lazy or fat, or not to be a good parent. At least partially, and sometimes solely, this is because a previous partner or lover had demonstrated those qualities. We also project onto our partner those qualities that we observed our parents exhibiting toward each other.
Early in our relationship, my wife, Suze, and I developed a caution-flag phrase to remind each other when we see this happening: Don't project your past onto my future. Caution phrases can be a powerful shortcut to nipping a contentious moment, but only if both partners have agreed on the signal.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Other than physical pain—such as a toothache—all our suffering is emotional suffering. The majority of the suffering we experience in life is not caused directly by events and circumstances, but by our emotional responses—which we have the ability to alter.
Consider this common situation: I make a lunch appointment with a friend—call her Jane. I am careful to be at the agreedupon place at the agreed-upon time, but Jane never comes—no phone call, nothing. It's not fair. She wasted my time. She disrespected me. The tangible damages from the event are relatively small—the gas and parking money, the time I could have used otherwise, the conversation I didn't have. But the self-inflicted emotional suffering may border on devastating.
I had an expectation that my friend would be there, and I suffered disappointment when she wasn't. My friend should have been there. She was wrong not to be there. It's her fault—she is to blame. I also have a nagging fear that Jane has suffered an accident, and a fear that she no longer likes me.
A video recording of the event would show no assault having occurred, but to me the emotional suffering hurts as much as a dagger thrust into my heart. With the perspective of Simply an Inspired Life, though, I can see that the suffering is self-inflicted and can be replaced with a happier emotion.
For everything I experience or observe, I create a story—not sometimes, but always.
As I am sitting alone at that table set for two, my mind is chattering away. I am creating a story about how my friend is terribly inconsiderate and life is so unfair.
In this book, we define story as something we tell ourselves about what has happened or is happening. The stories we tell ourselves are always different from what a video camera would record. Our story may add to the facts—as in the example above—or it may omit crucial facts, or change facts—either just a little or completely.
Understanding Our Stories
Why do we create stories? Creating stories is not our choice—it's instinctive—and we usually have no idea that we are such creative storytellers. If you doubt that you are a constant and creative storyteller, consider another lunchtime situation.
I have lunch with two friends. Later I find the two arguing about what was said during the lunch. Moreover, I find myself surprised that neither of their recollections of the conversation matches my own.
My friends are not lying, crazy, or suffering from Alzheimer's. Each has simply created a unique story to describe the lunch. While their stories are partly based on the events that a camera would have recorded, they are also influenced by each person's history, expectations, emotional state, and much more. My own recollection of that conversation wouldn't match a recording of the lunch either, and it is also a story.
Trying On Happier Stories
Being a natural-born storyteller is not bad or wrong—it is just what human beings are, all the time. Our path to freedom from suffering lies in the recognition of our storytelling nature. Accepting that we are constant storytellers provides us with the opportunity to understand our stories and then to change them.
We do not need to be at the mercy of an unconscious voice somewhere in the back of our mind feeding us painful stories. We have the power to consciously create alternative explanations for what we see and hear. We can try on other explanations—stories—to create a more favorable view of our experiences.
Whenever my story portrays me as a victim, I can reasonably infer that the person I am painting as a callous villain has his own very different story to tell. Perhaps it wouldn't be a very believable or sympathetic story, but it might be an even better explanation for the situation than my own story. Remember that neither party's story matches what a video camera would have recorded—and perhaps neither story even resembles the video recording.
Look again at that disappointing lunch appointment when my friend stood me up. Jane almost certainly has a different story about that event—a story in which she is not a villain and perhaps is the victim. She may have been waiting at another restaurant that she is very sure was the agreed-upon meeting place, or she may have been sure that the time was two o'clock and not twelve. Jane may have been in a car accident, or perhaps her daughter got sick at school. She may have dialed my cell phone several times and received no answer for whatever reason. Jane may be angry at me for not being where and when she expected, or for failing to answer my cell phone. Even if Jane simply forgot our date, she is still not a villain—just a very normal, harried human being.
This is not about who is right and who is wrong. The point is about choosing happiness. As I sit at that empty table glancing at my watch, I can choose a happy story. It costs me nothing, and greatly increases the quality of my life. "Jane isn't here. I don't know why she isn't, but I choose to assume that she is OK and that our relationship is OK. I choose to be content in my not knowing."
Humans find it very difficult to not know. Our curious minds demand explanations and quickly invent painful stories whenever factual explanations are not immediately forthcoming. By short-circuiting the painful stories that we would otherwise have instinctively told ourselves, and intentionally choosing to remain in a trustful state of not knowing, we can experience joy rather than suffering.
Creating alternative stories for everything we see and hear is powerful and can protect us from the painful stories we compulsively tell ourselves.
Stories About Others
Yes, we do invent stories about everything. Sit in that busy coffeehouse and overhear the conversation at the next table. Your storytelling machine will be running full blast almost immediately.
It doesn't matter that you have never met those people—you are immediately imagining (telling yourself a story about) all kinds of details of these strangers' lives. Within the first minute, you know whether their relationships are solid and if their jobs are at risk. From there, you might fabricate details about their personal life, career, family, friends, and anything else that might come up. Yes, we all do it ... all the time, even with family and friends.
We create even crazier stories about our family and friends. We have a history with them, and that history drives everything we think we see them do and hear them say. Our story about everything they do and say is so strongly biased that it barely resembles the video camera version.
SHIP AND THE SEA: METAPHORS FOR LIFE
MAR The point of this book is that it's your life. Simply Your Inspired Life ... but SYIL would not have made an appealing acronym. SAIL is much more provocative. Simply an Inspired Life. It's a lovely image of, perhaps, a sweet, colorful boat. It's at full sail in deep aqua blue water.
A life lived your best way. We share our stories and chart a course of clear and abiding principles that lighten the load and strengthen the journey. There are ways to embrace your days and make sense—short sense—out of the long nonsense of the world at large.
As you read this book with the spirit of an adventurer, these words will not, should not, tell you specific ways as to how you should live. Rather, these words are an invitation, a compass, to discover what directions these possibilities can take you. You will find challenge here to live an observed life, a life in which you are increasingly aware of those things that nudge you forward gently or with a forceful gale. We will wander in and out of sea metaphors. Create your own stories that resonate with your experiences, if sea metaphors do not grab your attention.
And be assured—I do want to grab your attention. So does Jonathan. He will speak inclusively, in the "we" of a classroom. I demonstrate through story and in the personal vernacular of my own experience.
I want to wake myself up, right along with you. Wake up to the amazing possibility of living joyful moments in the midst of challenge. Face difficulty or hardship with equanimity, ease, and grace. Wake up to profound perspective that allows me to celebrate the choices in each event and encounter. I want to awaken myself to a life where I recognize I am at the helm, and that I have no control. Awaken to the contradiction that only makes sense when I admit it makes no sense. I want to awaken you right along with me.
JLH SAIL is more than just an acronym for Simply an Inspired Life. A metaphoric SAILboat makes an ideal vehicle for our voyage through life's storms.
When life's storms rage, we respond best by turning their force to our own purposes—just as a physical sailboat redirects the force of the wind to create forward movement. Once we begin to think like a SAILboat, we can see life's storms as a power that we can utilize to design a bold and joyful life. When the winds of adversity blow strong, redirect their force into the service of your highest intention.
A friend says something, and I get upset—a small life-storm just hit me. My friend's remark is a force, like the wind, that I can redirect and use to power my intentions. One way of redirecting that force would be using it to trigger that long-delayed, deeply insightful conversation with my friend.
THE EIGHT POINTS OF SIMPLY AN INSPIRED LIFE
The Eight Points of Simply an Inspired Life are the touchstones that will guide our journey from suffering to joy:
Honor for true self.
Forgiveness for self and all.
Gratitude in everything.
Choice with open mind and heart.
Vision with powerful intention.
Action with bold courage.
Celebration with joy.
Unity with all creation.
The Eight Points of Simply an Inspired Life work together to enable us to take charge of the elements of our life with boldness and courage. Each point is essential to the process of SAILing—living Simply an Inspired Life.
Excerpted from Simply an Inspired Life by Mary Anne Radmacher, Jonathan Lockwood Huie. Copyright © 2009 Mary Anne Radmacher and Jonathan Lockwood Huie. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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