10 April 2015

Getting To The Heart Of Who We Are


(By Danny)

Ignorance is bliss. At least that's what we've all heard a number of times. I'm not sure any of us would mistake ignorance for a state of sublime happiness...but there is something envious about that childlike innocence of not having to be aware of something, of not being accountable for some knowledge.  

I guess it is one of those strange paradoxes that learning about happiness or love or vibrant living can bring about greater despair and sadness in our life. Who hasn't, at least once, become overwhelmed at the distance between who they are and who they want to be? We want to experience NOW the fruit of the principles that are often acquired slowly, with great persistence. It's like we want to become a concert pianist after a only a few days or weeks of practicing.  

C.S. Lewis describes well the unfortunate side-effect we face when seeking to truly change and grow:
This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated.  
On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. 
In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity pp. 164-165.)
Becoming more aware and learning principles of happiness and love unfortunately also means discovering there are rats in the cellar. You're going to become much more attentive to all the unproductive and dysfunctional behaviors and reactions that just seem so hard-wired...and that can be a little daunting.

The good news is, while it may be frustrating to realize just how deep a problem goes, this newfound awareness is powerful. It is this awareness that lets you begin to focus on a negative behavior or pattern with greater attention and deliberateness. It is this specific knowledge that lets you finally seek out a remedy, to focus on the root of a problem instead of just the symptoms.

The alternative would be to ignorantly insist that the only time you have a problem is when there is sudden provocation, so it isn't really a problem. But that isn't really an alternative...it's just ignorance masquerading as bliss.

-Danny

(Cool pattern above by Suzanne Antonelli.)

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10 comments:

  1. This is so good; I love everything about it. This speaks to me so much right now. Thank you.

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    1. Well thank you! And you're welcome. :)

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  2. i've been mulling this idea around for a while. but so nice to hear it described by lewis. he says everything beautifully! i'm trying to reset some of my defaults - the defaults that come out when i'm stressed, tired, upset, etc.

    i should probably read that book again too!

    thanks for sharing!

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    1. C.S. Lewis is truly one of the best, isn't he! It's been too long since I've sat down with that one to read it all the way through...I should probably join you :)

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  3. I've read this blog almost from the get-go, and have always loved the ideas you and Mara offer about how to live a happier and more meaningful life. But it's just been recently that I've actually started to do the hard work of applying them in my life. I am definitely in the awareness phase right now - and therefore often see how far I still have to go. Yes, it can be overwhelming! But I found this post both helpful and motivating to keep on keeping-on. Inspired timing! Thank you!

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    1. You know, I'm not sure the awareness phase ever ends. I don't say that to be discouraging, but just to recognize the fact that learning to become aware and "master" principles in certain areas of your life often teaches you how lacking you are in another area or relationship. So while one relationship or circumstance or moment improves, you realize there is another where you still need a lot of work. And it just keeps on going in that way.

      The good news is, each area of your life touched by more deliberate living gets blessed with more meaningful relationships, wisdom, and joy. It's that very joy in those areas that almost highlights even more the areas you have yet to work on.

      Again, I don't mean this as a downer...but just reality. It seems that the work doesn't end any time soon. But it's a good work to be doing!

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  4. The Lewis excerpt was good for me to read. I have a pretty big problem with handling "sudden provocations". Just earlier this week, we discovered that our tent, which my husband was airing out post-fishing trip, had blown away through the alfalfa field, down our country road, and off into oblivion. When we discovered this around 8pm, it was dark, and I was in a mild panic fearing that someone would drive around a bend, be presented with a huge bright orange tent in the middle of the road, and swerve off the road to avoid the obstacle. I was *planning* on getting a good night's sleep because I knew the next day work was going to be super busy, but instead, we spent the next two hours driving around and traipsing through apple orchards looking for the dumb tent. I was NOT a good sport about this and I did NOT roll with the punches. Despite actually having it occur to me that I *could* turn this into a fun, tent-finding adventure, I chose to waive that thought off because I felt justified in my annoyance (I had asked my husband to please put the tent away for two days beforehand). This is just to say that while I am very good at making heartfelt apologies and patching things up after-the-fact, I am still learning to maturely cope with what Lewis is calling "sudden provocations" (SUCH a great term). I would love to get to the point where not only do I get better at putting the brakes on negative reactions to unexpected situations, but there is also less negativity within myself to control.

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    1. Oh man, at least from the outside looking in, that tent story made me laugh. But I can TOTALLY see how you'd jump right into the panic and fear mode. Love the last sentence of your comment...totally agree and always working on the same.

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  5. This blog post reminded me of your message: http://zenhabits.net/self-compassion/
    Being happy and feeling love on our own helps everything in our lives. It also removes those things that are not helping (or are hurting).

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    1. I like that link! Reminds me of the book "True Love" that I recommended some time ago.

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