How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
But only if the bulb is willing to change. An old joke
It goes without saying that we seekers must change in 2018: We are seeking because we know that we haven’t yet fully emerged as human beings. We know, at least some of the time, that we have more potential. We know that we must continue to learn, to grow, to emerge, to wake up. We know that we must do the Work of self observation, as the last post here explained.
The hilarious problem is that we don’t seem to change much. It’s clear that our New Year’s Resolutions of 12 months ago were forgotten by February. When that happened, many resolvers were more discouraged than ever about the possibility of change. Some gained back all of the weight lost a year before and look in the mirror now with horror at a chubbier-than-ever self. Or we were committed to a new frugality in order to pay down our debt; then we spent more than ever. Or we were pretty clear that we were drinking too much and pledged to ourselves a new, healthier lifestyle; then we watched ourselves drink heavily all year long. Or we resolved to search for a new soulmate, the person who would end our loneliness, only to give up mid-year after our internet dates all produced boring dinners with people with huge unresolved issues. We were committed to becoming more conscious beings, but we’re not sure we gained any awareness in the last year.
So we’ve learned that the willpower that we hoped to mobilize in service of these desired changes doesn’t do the job. Systems resist change: We are a system that resists change. So what to do?
One self-help blog suggests giving up on resolutions and adopting a theme for the year. Athletic Health, for instance. Or Investing. Or Opening Up, etc. Could be a good idea, but maybe not powerful enough to actually bring about a personal change.
A New York Times writer this week suggested that we should use our emotions rather than our intellects to fuel personal change. He suggested that the emotion of gratitude can fuel change. Gratitude is a good thing, of course, but I don’t believe it’s an emotion; it’s a state of consciousness. So, good, let’s be grateful, but will that be enough to get rid of the short temper that plagues you? Maybe, if you can remember to be grateful when someone pisses you off. My guess: you’ll forget, just as you forget your New Year’s Resolutions.
Many seekers around the world are trying a technological strategy to achieve personal change. You can buy inexpensive phone aps that remind you to be more mindful, to live more consistently in the now. There have been millions of downloads of an ap that reminds you to meditate daily. I downloaded an ap a couple of weeks ago called WECROAK that sends me the following message five times a day: “Don’t forget you’re going to die.” The reminders, like death, come at unexpected intervals. The ap, of course, helps us stay awake to the reality that we have no time for crap. I was already awake to the fact of my short life, but I like the reminders. They make me laugh.
Still, I’m trying a new strategy for changing this year that might work for you:
Ask a loved one to identify your most needed change.
I’m finding this to be a powerful change strategy, one that’s working already.
Here’s how to put it to work.
Ask the right question
Mary and I always review the past year of our lives at the end of December. We remember the adventures we had, the fun, the great moments; it’s a very pleasurable exercise in gratitude.
Then, just before New Year’s, we identify what we most want next in our lives–three or four outcomes we’d like to achieve in the year ahead. Then we figure out what we’ll each have to learn to achieve what we want, the measures that will tell us if we have actually learned those things and, finally, our learning strategies. Examples for 2017: one of my desired outcomes was to avoid my blind spots—especially the blind spots that convince me that I always have the best ideas for whatever is being discussed in the moment with Mary.
Last year Mary wanted to become more consistently poised, avoiding anger and irritation. Both of us agreed that we had learned something in 2017 around these outcomes. We aren’t completely awake around these issues, we agreed, but we had definitely made some changes. Hooray!
This year I tried a new strategy for change in the year ahead. I asked Mary, the person who knows my dark corners better than anyone, “What would you most like me to change in 2018?”
She needed only a minute of reflection to suggest, “Stop judging people.”
Getting the particulars
My first response to Mary’s requested change was denial: “I don’t think I judge people all that much.”
“Oh, yes, you do. You’ judge people all the time. It’s a way you elevate yourself above others.”
Then she reminded me of my predilection for judgement with several examples featuring friends and family.
Still, I resisted, arguing that I observe others and merely describe their behavior. Warrior watching, I call it, my favorite pastime. I admitted to judging in the past but claimed I don’t do it anymore.
Mary wasn’t buying my explanation, but left me somewhat unconvinced that judging others is my most important learning issue.
Leaving my change issue for the time being, Mary asked what change I want her to make: “Quit engaging in the world with cynicism and anger. Become detached and poised even when political leaders are corrupt, liars, madmen. Quit hollering at the t.v. A warrior controls her folly in this crazy world.”
Unlike me, she acquiesced immediately. “You’re right. It’s crazy. I’ll do it.”
Making a commitment.
The next day, I reflected on my judgment of other people. I was brought up with the Christian injunction not to judge, lest I be judged. I left lots of my Sunday School teaching behind, but this teaching is a good explanation of reality, I believe.
So, do I judge, and whom do I judge, I wondered.
Oh, yes, I probably judge him. And her.. And then the list got longer and longer, to my chagrin. I have been judging other people for my entire life, I realized.
But there is nuance. At a family Christmas gathering this year I objected strongly when some family members complained about poor people abusing government welfare programs rather than working and taking responsibility. I passionately challenged their uncharitable attitudes toward the poor. I challenged their stereotypes with such vigor that they were taken aback and asked me what was going on.
Remembering that incident, I realized that I don’t ever judge poor people. And I usually don’t judge politicians that I don’t like. I don’t think that I judge Donald Trump, even though I don’t approve of us his leadership or his morals.
The people I judge, I realized, are people closer in, people who are not skillful or awake in their relationship with me. In others words, the closer you are to me, the more likely I am to judge you.
Mary is right: I judge.
I decided to observe myself closely in 2018 as I interact with the people in my life. I’m committed to let my judgement go. It’s unattractive. I’m not on a loving path when I judge.
My ideal state of consciousness is poise. Sustaining my poise, I’m full of joy.
But judging, I lose my poise. Judging, I’m not present, but lost in the disapproval of the past behaviors of others. Judging, I’m certainly not connected: instead, I wall myself off from the people I judge. My judging is not creative, but rather a default position that I slide into over and over in reaction to how others are relating to me. Judging, I move out of gratitude into some subtle form of resentment. When I judge, I am no longer lighthearted, but grousing about my fellow humans.
Judging: nothing good about it. It’s a veil over my eyes.
I’m committed to stop judging.
Staying committed and conscious
We know that we keep forgetting our commitments to change.
The first remedy is observe myself daily as I interact with people I spend time with—family, friends, and acquaintances. My judging is buried deep in the unconscious, papered over with my rationalizations, supported by a lifetime of defending my ego, which demands sensitivity, interest, and caring from those around me.
Hey, WECROAK will help. Five times a day I’ll get the message about my death and use it to remember that I have no time for crap.
Judging is crap.
More helpful will be my morning conversations with Mary over coffee. I’ll ask her often how I’m doing. I’ll admit to her the judging I am bound to do. I’ll give her the ugly particulars about what I observe myself doing.
I am committed to expose my judgements whenever I notice them trying to gain position as good explanations for what is going on. My judging cannot stand the light of observation, so I am committed to observe it and expose it.
I’ll ask Mary to have faith in my potential by shinning her light into my dark corners and by not backing off I resist or go back to sleep.
Finally, I’ll observe my relationships with the people I’ve judged in the past. They no doubt feel my judgements of them and instinctively move away from me. They’re right to mistrust me in some subtle way, and they are right to be careful with me. Maybe my relationships with other people will improve if I can stop judging them. Their trust of me will be a good barometer of my love and acceptance.
Recruit a loved one to be your learning partner in 2018. This will be someone you talk to often—ideally every day. Your conversations about change can be on the phone or in person.
These conversations will be the most intimate exchanges you’ll have in 2018. If you can sustain your commitment to each other, your life will be richer this year.
Together, you will become more conscious, more poised, and more joyful.