Monday, October 09, 2006

Attainable Happiness

I am 50 years old and have traveled most of my adult life. My endeavors have taken me through several cultures, countries and occupations, which have graced me with a unique perspective on life.

Regardless of which side of an argument one finds themselves, it is always tainted with ones experience, perceptions, and beliefs. A wise person is aware of this paradox in seeking truth. Whether you believe in God, Buddha, Ala, Tom Cruise, or nothing at all, truth transcends all beliefs, it is indisputable. Like laws of nature which have been proven beyond all doubt, such as fire burns, the sky is blue, or the ocean is vast.

The only inalienable right we all share is that we have the freedom to choose. Perhaps some may take exception to this statement, but even God has little to do with the choices we make. In that light, we are more powerful than God. Just look at the book of Job. Spite all the things God threw at him he refused to change his belief. God could not will him to change his mind. So who has the power? Granted it may be somewhat an over simplification, or is it? In there lies a pearl of wisdom.

Some people limit there choices by perceiving the world through a small window, often referred as narrow minded. Further, some even have such a small window that they contemplate suicide or extreme behavior. One’s perception thus truly determines their destiny. A wise person broadens their perception with a critical eye. A foolish person accepts most things as gospel without challenging the validity or source of information.

My endeavors have taught me much about challenging truth, growth, maturity, and wisdom. Some people powerful or otherwise, choose to control us through our fears, beliefs, and anxieties. Much of what is available in the open market is propaganda to fulfill a desired result. Some good, some wicked, some innocent. The dilemma is to determine what truth is, and what propaganda is. Many of us are deluded to think we can control our world by taking every precaution, following all the rules, and anticipate the outcome. The truth is for every precaution taken, rule made, or contingency anticipated there is always someone else looking to get around them. We therefore futilely live in fear or with a false sense of security.

Blind faith has its advantages in that one chooses to simply accept their station in life without question, and relinquish their situation to the divine providence of a higher power. Yet, the disadvantage is that it is very dangerous and susceptible to brain washing and manipulation. If one does not challenge authority, then that authority has the ultimate appearance of power and control over ones life.

Perhaps our number of opportunities is gauged by our unique set of circumstances, but what direction we go in life is truly determined by exercising our power of choice after considering all the possibilities available to us. Obviously, those of affluent means have more choices available than those of moderate means, to say nothing of the poverty stricken. Yet, choices we do have. Some choices we all share regardless of stature, and there in lies the secret to happiness.

Whether we choose to stay in a failed relationship, endeavor to repair it, or abandon it for peace of mind, the choice determines the direction we take. That choice also determines the next set of choices available to us. Unfortunately, we often make choices in reaction to some event, threat or information made known to us, and process it quickly based solely on our beliefs and past experience. Few of us have the luxury of time to truly analyze the truth objectively, because we are too busy. Too busy balancing our jobs or business with school, family, or relationships.

Some have far more anxieties to deal with like alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty, poor mental health, etc. To compound the misery or delusion we have multiple sources of information touting they have all the answers. You know the TV version I am sure. Get rich using my product infomercials? Lose weight snake oil salesmen, if you look good you will feel good. Take our vitamins and feel better. Get a college degree and you shall succeed. You see them everywhere. In addition, our Church leaders, Politicians, media and schools add to the confusion. People and institutions of trust come in a wide spectrum of philosophies, who’s telling the truth? Do I watch Fox or CNN? Should I be Baptist, Presbyterian or Catholic? Should I fly or am I going to be bombed? Am I going to heaven or hell? Do I believe in heaven? You get the picture, or perhaps you don’t.

The truth is we make choices every day. No one makes them for us, although, many like to express their opinion. One cannot be pressured into making a choice. Pressure is external and decisions are internal. Even under torture, one has to perceive that by providing the desired information that it is going to guarantee survival. It is perception that influences choice, and that is precisely how marketing works. Paint a pretty picture and you obtain the choice desired. Many of us are slaves to the marketing, politics, religious zealots, and misinformation that is bombarding us daily. It is no small wonder that we need doctors, lawyers, drugs, alcohol, large mortgages, and expensive toys to make us happy.

The truth is deliberately hidden from us. If we actually knew the key to happiness, then it would not matter where we were on our journey through life. When we are truly happy and secure with ourselves we enjoy all life has regardless of how much or how little. Happiness is not material; it is a state of spirit. There are only two things needed to be truly happy, a healthy awareness and a nourished body. All else is simply fodder.

A healthy awareness comes from knowing ones self completely and honestly. Do not be afraid to analyze your talents, interest, and skills. Many community colleges can perform extensive test to discover what these profiles look like. When taking such test, always approach them like a conversation with yourself that is totally anonymous, be honest and truthful. Allow your true self to come forward. Don’t be afraid to be naughty or daring. If you hold back, you will never reach total enlightenment. Too many of us compromise our true character by living lives we perceive others see us living, not our true emotional selves. When completed look at the results, then take it with a grain of salt. All this does is give you a platform to leap from. The test results are not, I repeat, not who you are. It is just a small glimpse of who you could become. It gives you a realm of possibilities.

To further your understanding of which you are and develop a healthy awareness, reflect on past experiences; relationships, careers or otherwise. What did you most enjoy? What did you least enjoy? Ask yourself if those experiences are still enjoyable. The objective is to find your true character and not compromise.

I am thoroughly convinced that most disease, addiction, and dysfunction is caused by stress. Learning how to deal with the stress is an important aspect in obtaining a stable and healthy outlook on life. Stress is another attribute that is internal rather than external. When we choose lives that are contrary to our character, then we choose to live in stress.

The best advice I ever received was to follow my instincts. Men call it a gut feeling, women know it as intuition. Basically, it is the sense based solely on emotion rather than thought. But, lets not completely separate the two into heart and mind, or body and spirit, or analytical and emotional. The relationships between these two parts of our psyche are very close. The thoughts control the emotions, and the emotions stimulate the thoughts. It is a continuous cycle or process. If you are a self-conscious person you are aware of this already.

When you are angry the same thoughts just keep playing over and over in your mind. Once you think of the consequences of your anger or rationalize the behavior in your mind, then the anger immediately subsides. Fear triggers worry, worry triggers anxiety, anxiety triggers erratic behavior or often disease. Take a pill to reduce the anxiety the worry goes away and so does the fear. Yet that is just a band aid on a much deeper problem.

Faced with all your choices it ultimately comes down to three. 1)Remove all the stressors in your life. 2) Learn coping skills and embrace them. 3) A combination of both. Once you learn what triggers your negative thoughts, you gain perspective to your stressors. Make a habit of writing down what events, words, people or things upset you most. Look beyond the surface and consider if it is the actual event, word, person or thing that causes the tension. Perhaps it is not the person themselves but their action or mannerism that reminds you of a past unresolved issue. Maybe it is not the word, but the stigma attached to it. Whatever it is, try to narrow it down so you can correctly identify your stressors. Once you have identified them all, make a list. Go down the list and begin brainstorming on your ways to deal with them. For example, you may choose to sever that relationship, divorce, seek professional therapy, or simply discuss the issue with the person causing the stress. Perhaps you simply decide that it is not a significant stressor. Something else may be the source of the tension. No matter what the stressor, remember inaction is still a choice. The object is to become aware of your stressors so you can start making wise choices. Not to make the awareness a stressor itself.

I understand that ignorance is bliss. Yet, hiding or running from your problems will never make you happy on a permanent basis. It is temporary at best. A wise person will become aware of what makes them tick. I once believed my strengths were natural. Therefore I concluded that if I focus on my weaknesses, then I will excel as a more balanced individual. This erroneous logic kept me in many positions and relationships that were not true to my character. No one thing stood out definitively which determined my interest or developed my skills. It muddled my relationship between thoughts and emotions. Although I became very intellectual, I blocked or suppressed many emotions. I had a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient), but a low EQ (Emotional Quotient). This internal stress showed up in all my relationships, family, girlfriends, work or otherwise. Eventually, I learned who I was and what was going on. I found ways to remove or embrace my stressors. Eliminating stressors was a lifestyle change in most cases, like breaking off friendships that had a negative impact on my life. Other things, like acceptance of my Father’s attitude and personality, allowed me to get closer and move on with my life. It no longer mattered to have his acceptance; I was finally secure in myself to stop making decisions based on what I thought he might think.

Grace comes only through humility, honesty, forgiveness, and integrity. Wisdom comes from patience, tolerance, and experience. I find it hard therefore to be judgmental of others because I know God worked his grace through me. We each have a journey through life from birth to grave. My relationship with him is very special, and I feel it would be hypocritical and blasphemous to pass judgment on others who may be following the same journey I took. It was my relationship and conversations throughout my life that eventually matured into a unique understanding of this world, and it would be an insult to my maker to think I should deny others their relationship their maker regardless of their beliefs. Ultimately, it is their choice and their relationship with whatever higher power they choose that determines their destiny in this world or the next. None of us truly knows where we will end up until the day comes.

Here is a paradox to consider. If God created the Universe, then he created all that is in it, light and dark. If he/she is all powerful, then he could destroy us at any time or recreated us as Adam and Eve before we tasted the "Tree of Knowledge." Yet, he/she has not. Then by God's lack of action it must be understood that knowledge is part of the cosmic soup, so to speak. Regardless of your belief, we have been allowed the freedom to think for ourselves and be part of the creation. Thus, the creation continues to this day and the next. Given that wonderful gift no matter how we perceive it, should we not make decisions that will make this a better place for all life.

As a Christian, I have chosen to accept Jesus Christ as my savior. My beliefs, however, were not grown in a vacuum. I cannot erase the truths of other historical documents, religions, societies, etc. Much of that history and philosophy has no bearing on the messages Jesus brought us. Only the evolution of the Christian Church has altered the truths he spoke about. Even during his reign here on earth many of his disciples did not fully understand the cryptic parables. What makes us think 2000 years later we have it all down correctly? Many other truths have been proven erroneous over the centuries. For example, the earth is not flat, which the Catholic Church argued that it was. Many things were blamed on the Devil and Witches only to find out it was microbes or bacteria causing the illnesses. I challenge you all to accept Jesus Christ without accepting the Church. Even Jesus rejected some of the politics of the Synagogues. Stop listening to the Zealots! Make wise decisions and accept the fact that it is not our position in life to determine which of us is going to heaven or hell. That decision cannot be determined until we meet our maker. If you believe God created us to live in misery, oppression, and fear, then you have chosen to perceive a different God than the one I see.

There are a lot of good things in the Bible, yet it has been edited over the centuries. Many things have been discovered in the last century that challenges some of its context. In light of this and the bibles own warnings of "Beware of false prophets", we should always question the words and actions of Church leaders. Many are more concerned about controlling your thoughts, than saving your soul. Some have perverted the gospel to mass large populations, money and power and preach little about love, forgiveness, tolerance, sanctuary, or compassion. They are more interested in classification of sin, judgment, and Armageddon than grace and peace. They are dangerous to say the least.

My question is, why do so many people profess to know God, yet they oppress and scare believers and non-believers alike? There are words that describe such people, but they are on a journey too! May God bless us all with peace and happiness!

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