A sense of wondrous serenity fills the space when things unfold magically.
From page 88
Attitude, not circumstance, determines destiny.
From page 120
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And Then I Thought ...
By Mahmoud Abouzeid
Balboa PressCopyright © 2014 Mahmoud Abouzeid
All rights reserved.
I Get to Choose
There are only two forces in the Universe – one positive, and the other negative. One unifying and the other divisive; one uplifting and the other depressing; one peaceful and the other hostile; one hopeful and the other cynical; one joyful and the other despondent; one that is real and one the creation of the ego.
At every moment, I either consciously or unconsciously make a selection. I either choose love, acceptance and serenity, or come from fear, separation and rage. I either come from the core of who I am, or function at a shallow level of scarcity, pretense and despair.
The truth is I am you and you are me. Only question is: will we ever meet? And if we do, will we like each other?
We go through life creating the people we come in contact with, choosing to hold them in our perception according to our own "pictures" of who they are, which in turn is based on our own colored lenses of how we want them to be. As a rule, almost instantly, we are either attracted toward them, or repelled, depending on our own history portfolio. The mind works quickly to classify: Does she remind me of Linda? I never trusted Linda – ergo, can't trust her. Does he remind me of Sam? I really love Sam – ergo, I am strongly pulled in his direction.
From such simple beginnings, we start to paint our portrait of what we want – oblivious of whom the other person really is. In extreme cases, we stay married to such people for many years, refusing somehow to "get" that they are not the same person we perceive (and vice versa). We create others from the cloth of our deepest inner needs and desires. Thus, battered women remain battered; abused men remain abused; and life goes on.
Until we understand that the object of our attention is two images – perception and the "real" person – it is predictable that there are going to be repeated trips down the wrong tunnels, seldom, if ever, finding any cheese. Once this dichotomy is understood, acceptance at least becomes possible. Until that time, we continue to bang our heads against the wall – mistaking it all the time, of course, for other people's heads.
Think about it – how much easier would life be if we understood and consciously practiced that we source all our reactions – most often from misperceived premises – naively attributed to some other person. Sanity begins when we acknowledge our own contributions to creation.
True joy is experienced on those rare occasions, when, not only do we actually meet, but find synchronicity. Some call that true love – a very rare, but worthwhile state of being.
When I "get" that I am you and you are me, the next step is to recognize that we are profoundly connected and that doing harm to one another is self-mutilation. Blame is pointless, a waste of good time after bad. We may not have control over what happens, but we do have ample control over how to appropriately respond to it. Forgiveness is healing. Self-preservation requires preservation of all.
Taking responsibility for what I choose to see, and how I elect to deal with it, is a crucial step in bringing clarity and sanity to my world.
Eliminating death by starvation calls for a shift and elevation of consciousness. It will happen when it is no longer acceptable that another human should perish for lack of nourishment. So long as our level of compassion and concern permit it, people will continue to die, not because of scarcity, but rather due to an incredible inequity in the distribution of resources.
Consider the apathy that permits one to sit in front of a television set, feet propped up, sipping a drink, while somewhere within our knowing, a helpless fellow human is taking his or her last breath due to mal-nutrition and starvation. So long as the attitude is "It's too big a challenge," or, "That's the way it goes," or, "I take care of my own," the tragedy – and indictment – will continue.
It is tempting to toss out the message, and perhaps even the forum, with the messenger. This often happens in politics and religion. Sometimes the messenger turns out to be less than perfect, and in our disappointment we then not only reject her or him, but what was shared as well. That is very much like tossing the baby out with the bath water. Or withdrawing support for the organization because a leader stumbled. It makes more sense to evaluate each separately, holding on to and reinforcing what seems to make sense.
Protect Your Attitude
Love flourishes in a positive, healthy, supportive environment, and avoids aggressive and confrontational behavior. Be leery of invitations to participate in what your inner self tells you will likely turn into unpleasant exchanges. It is not necessarily true that allowing people to vent in unhealthy ways – and for unhealthy reasons – will at least clear the air. At best, it will be painful and divisive. At worst, it will do serious, perhaps permanent damage to the body and relationships.
Taking responsibility for one's circumstances is the first step in gaining control of them. Looking outside for the answers is futile – they aren't there. Focus instead on examining your own perceptions, and then adjust them to better serve your objectives. You do have control over your reactions – make them responses instead – thoughtful, measured and after stepping back and disengaging. Use your unique potential to control your environment, rather than constantly being at its mercy. Turn off that same old program that puts your being to sleep. Try something new, fresh, awakening and inspiring. Give each moment its own special significance rather than allowing it to slip by in unconscious, repetitive, habitual sameness. Live a little.
What about Me?
"Yes, but what about me?" my ego protests. "What about me!" Oblivious of the fact that therein rests the source of all of its – and my – distress.
Life can be a beautiful symphony or a loud and deafening harangue. The same applies to a relationship. It takes much practice, patience, listening, empathy, cooperation and commitment. Otherwise it becomes reduced to repeated bouts of angry, finger-pointing, painful, debilitating confrontations.
When I remember to quiet my racing mind and attentively listen, I get to hear another human's actual words and thoughts, which in turn allows me to comprehend what is being communicated, as opposed to my assumptions and suppositions. The process allows for better interaction and frees me from the many misconceptions that I will otherwise hold. I may not hear what I would like to hear, but I am ultimately the happier for having been released from my misperception and fantasy, positive or negative.
Each time I sense that I have lost control, I have to remind myself that it is a choice to do so. It's like watching the "news" – gloom, doom, blame and shame. Each moment that I spend paying attention to it simply insures more of the same. If I wish to elevate my mood, it is best to spend effort and attention on productive and positive things, like helping others, or raising awareness. The more I elect to exercise my freedom of choice wisely, the more alive I become.
I can test just how conscious and aware I am at any given moment by how fast I react to provocation – the faster, the more likely it is that I am calling on "learned" behavior – my animal instincts – devoid of reflection, understanding or compassion. If I am able to stay in neutral long enough, gears will eventually engage seamlessly, and I will "get" that I don't need to wrestle with the source of the provocation. Few things are more empowering than holding back what would otherwise be my instinctive, emotionally charged return fire. It is evidence of progressing beyond the arena of fright or flight behavior.
So you think you don't have control over "the" world you live in? Try turning off the television for a week and read something useful and interesting with all the new- found time. Avoid all sources of "news" and instead create a positive alternative.
Abstain from drinking for a week and experience how it feels to be sober. Meditate daily for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening – learn to silence your brain's constant chatter and just "be" with yourself. You do have considerable control over "the" world. It's yours to create, if only you choose to exercise your power of choice.
There is pure magic in actually being on the same page with another. It can elude a lifetime relationship, be it a marriage or a friendship. When it happens, the communication is a rhapsody. Defenses are down and receptors are completely open. A serenity envelopes the air and there is a discernible spiritual connection. We desire and hunger for this state of synchronicity all of our lives. It takes a selfless-ness, an open-ness, a trust, and a vulnerability we seldom are willing to put forth, particularly at the same exact moment. When it does happen, it is truly euphoric.
I woke up one morning and realized that I wasn't my father, and that I longer needed to burden every female in my life with my fantasy of who my mother was to me. Interesting how women often search out their father in every man, and men keep searching for their mother. Perhaps it's the assumed comfort, the familiarity – even if it's negative – that drives us to do that. The challenge with the process is twofold. First, we tend to idealize our parents, which put our prospective partners at a distinct disadvantage. Second, we tend to punish those partners for all the real and imagined hurts we experienced growing up. Healthy relationships require constant vigilance and attention to their uniqueness and fragility, free from the contamination of old pictures and pain.
Engaging in a completely honest communication with another person is therapeutic. In doing so, you set aside all your constructs, acts, complexes and positions, letting "it" all naturally hang out, and going eye to eye with no protective flinches. Imagine disclosing the real you and discovering that it is okay – better than that, it encourages reciprocity – and before you know it, you are engaged in true, honest, pure, meaningful, uplifting interaction. You may still be on different pages, still not exchanging the same message, but at least the layers of posturing and cosmetics are no longer a hindrance.
Query if it would make a difference if all those who participate in the decision to declare war had to actually lead the brigade; or if draft eligibility commenced at age 55; or if those who legislate taxes had to first assess themselves double the levy; or if those charged with pronouncing prison sentences were required to spend one month out of each year "visiting" the facilities; or if before being issued a marriage license, couples were required to take and pass compatibility and anger management courses?
Wonder what would happen if newscasts were decidedly positive and uplifting, commentators and pundits were intellectually enlightened and honest, and people were encouraged to work together for the common good? Productivity would escalate, attitudes soar, and cooperation would be the order of the day. A truly informed, aware and engaged public would keep the opinion molders and Madison Avenue hucksters in check.
Unconditional love does not depend on reciprocity. It has no expectations nor does it require any particular type of stimulus. Never reactive, it is joyous acceptance and surrender to the perfection of life and how it unfolds. Some may think practicing it is naive or even inappropriate. It is its own reward for those fortunate enough to experience and embrace it.
You and Your Thoughts
There is you, and then there are your thoughts. When you are conscious, you are clearly aware that you are more than your thoughts or your actions and therefore can influence them. It helps to literally visualize witnessing – observing and seeing – your thoughts. You can test your power to do so by simply closing your eyes and listening to your heartbeat or watching your passing thoughts. When you are on auto pilot, you are not exercising judgment – or vision. So you may continue to eat too much, drink too much, watch TV too much (or at all!), and 1,001 other things that may be described as without purpose or awareness, and often with catastrophic consequences. Sometimes referred to as conduct without mind or forethought, it is more accurately "learned" behavior. Things get really complicated when self-improvement programs – such as healthy diets – lose their novelty, and once again one returns to "unthinking" habit, as in resuming eating too much, indulging in prohibited foods and so on.
So too with relationships – as the "newness" wears off, so often, as well, does the effort put into them. When the honeymoon is over, couples tend to treat one another with less attention, affection and respect. Eventually the "putting up with" stage is reached, and depending on how co-dependent they are, they may well spend the balance of their lives in a state of silent – or not so quiet – desperation. Contrast that to relationships where the couples choose to continually and cooperatively work at keeping the magic alive, fresh, spontaneous and growing. It is evident in the way they look at each other, treat each other, honor each other's individuality, and generally approach life.
It's really all about being awake and aware, as opposed to sleepwalking through the day. For most of us it's about a major paradigm shift, from seeking and lusting "things," to cultivating and maintaining healthy and mutually nurturing "in the Now" relationships.
I need to explore what it is that causes me to be so impatient with certain people and their stories. What is it within me that just won't tolerate their delivery? What is the source of that insensitive rejection that generally precedes them even opening their mouths? I must start by acknowledging that I am the cause of the discomfort and proceed from there to giving people permission to say whatever they please. Rather than getting hooked, I need to keep reminding myself that my options are to listen without judgment, or to remove myself from the scene.
We are what we think. We are what we eat. We are what we do. Until we take responsibility for who we are, we will continue to rail at the wrong source. As disingenuous as it is to point fingers at "them," out "there," it is a cruel game of self-deception that leads to frustration and depression. The challenge with continuing to blame and hold "them" accountable for what is presently going on with me is that invariably "they" are no longer a part of NOW. Few things are more empowering than taking a deep breath, sucking it up, and moving on, which in turn is simply a matter of letting go.
When I am serene, peace of mind is my gift, and life flows naturally and without self-induced drama. Tragedies, disasters, calamities, postponements, delays, changes in plans and other challenges are inevitable; getting traumatized by them is optional. Things go smoothly when I accept them as they come, and acknowledge that no amount of venting changes a thing. Going with the current, or, as a dear friend of mine suggests, riding the horse in the direction it is going, makes a great deal of sense.
It helps to visualize my life as being fueled by a single container of energy – size unknown. I am responsible for the use of each and every drop. I can "spend" it on positive or negative pursuits – on past joys or regrets, current reality, or future fears and concocted expectations. I can watch my life pass by, or vainly engage in wishful thinking – in either case mesmerized and spectating – or I can grab every moment and live it as if it were the very last. It just might be.
The perception that I am a victim, that life isn't fair, that I am not appreciated – all lead to the erroneous conclusion that I am right – which then, of course, excuses my behavior.
Excerpted from And Then I Thought ... by Mahmoud Abouzeid. Copyright © 2014 Mahmoud Abouzeid. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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