There is a Solution

I finished reading a short book last week called: Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. It’s by a Jesuit priest, Anthony De Mello who died in 1987 at the age of 56. The book, published posthumously, is really a compilation of talks he gave at various retreats throughout North America and his native India. If you get a chance, it is worth a read. The chapters are short and concise, and full of incredible wisdom and insight.

One of the things he discusses is his belief that people are not looking for a cure for their illness or their problems. Rather, they are looking for relief. How often do I look for relief from the pain and discomfort of an illness? If I suffer from knee pain, I would rather take a Tylenol, because the cure, losing the extra 30 plus pounds I’m carrying, would be work in the form of exercise and diet. It’s easier to get relief in pill form than curing the problem. I am unhappy in my relationship, so I seek some sort of an outlet to make it more bearable because to find a solution implies a lot of effort. Relief is faster, easier to attain, and, most notable, does not require me to make the changes that the cure requires.

What if I hate the job I working at? What might the cure be? I could quit, discover my passion and work at it. But that would mean moving out of my comfort zone and living in uncertainty. So, I seek methods of relief. Maybe it’s recreational drugs or booze. Perhaps I go for high risk activities or adrenaline rushes. There are many routes to find relief and avoid the cure.

Finding a cure to my challenges means finding the root cause to my woes. And few people are willing to look that deep. It may mean some self-reflection. It may mean some outside assistance with a psychiatrist or other therapist. It may mean admitting to past mistakes in life choices. And for most of us, our Egos won’t allow us to go that deep. So, we stay stuck, looking for momentary relief rather than trying to cure our ills.

Finding a cure means making changes to our lives. Many people tell me that I live their ideal life. I tell them that they can do the same thing if they want it. But few are willing to make the changes in their lives necessary to live this life. Few are willing to take the risk. Living in Costa Rica does imply an incredibly special lifestyle that I love. But it also means that I live far from my family. It means adapting to a new culture and a new language. It’s not all butterflies and bananas all the time. We are all free to do whatever we want in life if we are willing to accept the consequences. The cost of the cure, of making life changes, is much higher than the cost of relief.

So many of us seek relief from the suffering rather than a cure from whatever ails us. We try to avoid the challenges in life by putting on blinders. It’s easier, often a faster but it offers only momentary relief, and then we must seek that relief once again. Over time, we begin to identify with our pain and make it part of our being. We forget that it there is a cure. And we forget that if we are willing to do what it takes, there is a solution.

Evolving Personality

You and I are shaped by our environment: the family we have, where we grew up, the people we hang around with, the job we chose or fell into. All of these things work, sometimes very subtly, to mold us into the persons we are today. The environment helped to shape our experiences and those experiences our helped to form our personality. And so here we are, very unique personalities. And there’s not much I can do to change that is there?

“If your environment is disorganized, so is your mind. Everything is energy. Your environment is constantly influencing you whether you’re aware of it or not.” Benjamin Hardy

In his book Willpower Doesn’t Work, Benjamin Hardy posits that if we change our environment, we can change our personality. While the current self-help trend focuses on changing our personalities to become more of who we want to be, Hardy tells us to focus on what in our immediate environment is preventing us from changing. If I want to become an organized person then I need organize my environment.  I want to become a student of life, then I have to organize my space so that it is conducive to that study. If I want to be a successful person then I need to hang out with successful people.

I’m don’t know who first said it, but the idea is that if you want to know who you really are, look carefully at the five people you are closest to. Change your friends and change your personality. It’s not a far stretch for me to see the results for this suggestion. When I first came into recovery I had few friends and the ones I did have were those who were as in need of recovery as I was. I had to get new friends. I needed to change my environment to find success in this new way of living.

men having their haircut

Photo by Thgusstavo Santana on Pexels.com

If you don’t want a hair cut, stop hanging around the barbershop. Will power alone will eventually weaken. Strength will fade with time until it seems like a good idea to get into the chair and under the clippers. I had to change my environment: where I was hanging out, who I was hanging out with and what I was doing in order to have any success with sobriety. I am grateful that early on I learned that I didn’t have to be a martyr. I didn’t have to make it more difficult for myself. I didn’t have to test my new found way of life.

“Surround yourself with people who remind you more of your future than your past.” Dan Sullivan

When I first came into recovery I was told five things: Don’t consume. Go to meetings. Get a home group. Get a sponsor. Work the Twelve Steps of Recovery. All of these five things were instrumental in changing my environment. I was hanging around with people who were living what my future could be. The bar stool philosopher had to give way to the meeting room student if I was going to have any chance at this thing called sobriety.

I had some misgivings about leaving friends behind but I soon discovered that those who really were friends were glad that I was making this change. The backroom buddies only missed me when they saw me on the street and they suddenly realized that they hadn’t seen me for a while.

I am still working on changing my environment. For the most part right now it is the mental environment. I am changing how I think by focusing on what I am thinking about. I am reading and studying quality material rather than simply passing time with social media or the endless task of finding the perfect thing to watch on Netflix. With time the changes to the environment and therefore the changes to me are happening. I am a work in progress taking the next right step for the evolving me.

Becoming a Seeker

I sometimes ask myself why I continue to read books or listen to audios with self-help and spiritual themes. One would think by this point in my life I would have it all figured out. A lot of other people do don’t they?

I can’t speak for everyone, I am quite sure that most folks are also struggling with the issues that life presents us. I don’t think I am much different expect that I claim my ignorance. I know there is a lot I don’t know and I am grateful that I have a sense of curiosity and a desire to seek answers. The more I learn, the more I realize how much more there is to learn. As far as living goes, I think we are just scratching the surface of what it means to be alive.

As I was growing up I was given answers by my family, by education and by religion, all of which were intricately wound into a perfect mechanism. Follow the commandments and the laws of the church and I would reap my reward in heaven. As I grew older and my own curiosity kicked in I found that I could no longer believe in everything I had been taught. Speculation, interpretation and rhetoric where the foundation of many of those ‘truths’. That amazing clockwork mechanisms began to lose a few springs and wheels. And so began my own journey to seek truth.

I sought out answers in religion, later philosophy and psychology and new age mysticism. Each has its own set of truths and while they don’t all agree with each other there is common ground. The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is found in most. It’s an ethic of respect of others as well as of one’s self. I can live with this one. As well as the idea of Namaste: “I bow to the divine within you.” There are many generalities that I can live with. It’s when one goes into the specifics like an unbaptized child goes to ‘limbo’ or that there are nine classes of angels that my inquiring mind says, “What the …..?”

Part of my search for meaning in life begins and ends with the idea that today’s truth may not hold up tomorrow and that I had better be ready to let it go. Once we believed that the Earth was the flat centre of the universe, then the sun became the centre and now what? I guess the initiation point of the ‘Big Bang’ could be considered the centre of it all?

So I happily admit I don’t have all the answers. I must continue to Seek, to Ask, to Learn, to Share and to Apply. For me, this is what living is all about: S.A.L.S.A. adding the spice to life! And after this, I do it all over again. I believe that the answers aren’t as important as the questions I ask. The answer I got to what makes my life meaningful when I was 14 years old is a whole lot different to my answer today.  What is success for me yesterday may not be the same answer tomorrow depending upon what I learn today. I can look at life with a true sense of awe.

So yes, even at my age and I hope until I am no longer breathing, I will be a seeker. I will ask the questions. I will try new things. I will boldly go where I have not gone before because, well, it’s there.

Namaste