It’s not the philosopher’s job to make simple things difficult but difficult things simple. So, here goes.
Do you want your life to get better? If the answer is “yes,” here’s this philosopher’s one liner: “All personal transformation requires self-witnessing.” And if you are less inclined to listen to a philosopher than you are to John Wayne, here’s what the Duke said: “Life is tough, and tougher when you’re stupid.”
Like financial health, emotional health has a bottom line. But you don’t need to break out the calculator to sum it up. In this brief life, either you pay attention or you pay later. And you can put that in the “fact of life” bank.
If this sounds harsh, it’s only because the truth is indifferent to how it sounds. The truth is not a beauty contest. Of course, you are not on trial, but life is a trial – for all of us. And when any of us are called before a judge we are required to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
That means we have to step back from who we think we are and take an honest look at who we really are… or will be. When Picasso painted a picture of Gertrude Stein, she said, “It doesn’t look like me.” He answered, “You will.”
“Change is the only constant. Consequently, in a world moving faster and faster, one of the consequences is the same thing that happens when your hand moves as you snap a photo. The faster your life is moving, the sooner your life is a blur.”
Now, sometimes the best way to pick up speed in life is take our foot off the gas and step on the brake. And if your driving instructor was a Zen monk, he would say, “The best way to get where you are going is to be where you are.” Meanwhile, back at the bottom line, when you are in a hurry, go slowly.
Of course, when we look at who we are or how we are choosing to conduct ourselves, we all decide the lies we want to believe. And the best way to understand how neurotic behavior operates is self-witnessing when we choose to do something that is negative but familiar over something that is healthy but new.
Too often, too many of us are operating under the sin of omission – or the all-powerful Bart Simpson shield of, “I didn’t do it. It’s not my fault. I wasn’t there.” And a lot of people live their lives as if they had another one in the bank. But don’t bank on it. “Someday” is not a day on the calendar.
There is nothing negative about being confused in life. These days (in many ways) if you’re not confused, you’re not thinking clearly. But pain and discomfort are often born of old habits, even as old habits are not necessarily old friends.
The generational consequence of this truth is that parents with a bad habit will probably hand that habit off as a going away present to their children. And the end game? The child’s work in their life is the work the parent didn’t do in his or her life. Be good to you, and you will be a better person, even in your absence, to those who come after you.
Facts are facts, and nothing more determines our likelihood of being alcoholic, spouse-abusing, child-abusing or drug-abusing than growing up in a house/family/culture where self-abuse in any of these areas was not addressed. And many of those parents who foster this in their children were themselves children who were handed this as a going away present in their lives.
Folks used to say that if you told a secret, you had “spilled the beans.” But the truth is not a secret because we decide we don’t want to hear the truth anymore than God goes into hiding when we shut our eyes. So I’m spilling the beans, even as I know most of us are not lacking for information but too often lacking the character to act on the information at hand.
In life, there are no timeouts. We have all the time we need in life right up until we don’t. Take a moment to give yourself a better life. No credit card or cash need trade hands. A better you is a gift only you can give you. Or give away.
is one of North America’s most respected and beloved poet-philosophers. An international bestselling author of 23 books translated into 18 languages, his inspirational thoughts have appeared on more than 30 million Starbucks coffee cups, and his weekly columns on life were published for five years by The New York Times Regional Syndicate. In addition to his many other accomplishments, he serves as Philosopher in Residence for Foundations Recovery Network. Find out more about Noah benShea