No positive change can occur in your life as long as you cling to the thought that the reason for your not living well lies outside yourself.
From “Staring At The Sun: Overcoming the Dread of Death”, by Irvin D. Yalom
Recently, my family lost a close friend to late stage kidney cancer. It was my great fortune to spend several evenings sitting and visiting with him in his hospital room before the disease and medications rendered him unable to communicate. During those precious, fleeting moments, he told me stories of childhood adventures he had enjoyed with his brother, who preceded him in death. It often seemed to me that those experiences, and the memories of them, brought him comfort as he quickly moved into his final days.
During the short time that we were able to be with our beloved friend after he received his diagnosis, I began rereading Irvin Yalom’s book, from which I quoted above. Yalom, a master psychotherapist, provides sage wisdom on how to overcome the dread of death. He draws upon the philosophers who, down through the ages, have discovered universal truths about how humans can learn to face their inevitable end with peace, equanimity, and in the best cases, with joy.
In the chapter on The Power of Ideas, Dr. Yalom taps into Nietzsche’s idea of “the eternal recurrence.” This is a thought experiment in which we are challenged to imagine living our exact same lives, over and over again for, you guessed it, eternity. Yalom sometimes uses the exercise with his patients, not to throw them into despair, but to offer them the opportunity to realize that if the idea of eternal recurrence causes them anxiety, then that is a clear indication that they have regrets about their lives. Waking up to the fact of those regrets, they can then make the choice to take responsibility for their lives and make changes so that, another year, five years, or whatever, down the road, they can replace those regrets with the joy of having lived well.
I have seen in my own life, and Yalom’s writing confirms my experience, that through all of the years in which I played the “blame game”, trying to make everyone else responsible for my rage, hatred, delusion, and misery, all I ever did was pile one regret on top of another. Had I tried Nietzsche’s experiment twenty years ago, I would have pushed myself so far into despair that I might have never recovered. Instead, to my good fortune, I learned how to take responsibility for my thoughts, words, and actions and to become accountable, in healthy ways, for who I was and who I wanted to become. Doing so, I now have created a life that I quite possibly could repeat for eternity…with no regrets.
If you find yourself blaming others for a life you do not like (or love)–a spouse, a parent (living or dead), a boss, a child, anyone–you owe it to yourself to examine your life, your thoughts, words, and actions. What kinds of choices are you making that perpetuate your stress and misery? How can you choose something different that will result in more peace and joy in your life?
Dr. Wayne Dyer often liked to quote a line from A Course In Miracles, “I can choose peace rather than this.” At the depths of my own struggle with depression and hatred, I took that on as my mantra. At first, they were just words that, frankly, irked the you-know-what out of me. As I kept repeating the line though, I began to notice that my reactivity began to slow down to where I could actually see my old, unhealthy, habitual, hateful reaction starting to form. In that moment of seeing it, I could stop and ask myself, “Will thinking/saying/doing that hateful thing bring me peace?” Knowing that the answer was, “No,” I could then choose a peaceful response, rather than a violent reaction.
I can tell you that the results of choosing peace over and over again these many years has resulted in healed and happy relationships with my former wife, my three adult children, and many good and true friends. In my day job, I am often told how much co-workers, project managers, and clients enjoy working with me because they experience me as “so calm.”
Full transparency, I’m no angel. I can still get riled up. But, to steal another quote from Dr. Dyer, “I know I’m a better man today than I used to be.”
You can be the person you want to be as well, my friend. It is simple. But, make no mistake, it is not easy. And as I tell my students and coaching clients, if I can do it, I have no doubt that YOU CAN too.
Thank you for taking the time to read these words.
I wish you Peace & Joy.
P.S. If you are ready to make some significant transformations in your life and want some help, please take a look at my Coaching Services page to see if what I offer resonates with you. If so, let’s find an hour to talk and explore how we could work together to “make life more wonderful” for you, as Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg used to say.