Lighten Up a Bit! Life Can Be a Hilarious Journey
“Laughing at our mistakes can lengthen our own life. Laughing at someone else’s can shorten it.”– Cullen Hightower
I grew up thinking life was really serious but, when I got into my teens, I guess I became a bit rebellious because I remember laughing a lot, at least when I felt it was safe to do so. Those times were limited to a few hours scattered throughout each school day when I was away from home, however. The rest of the time demanded I take life seriously. And if you don’t already know this, when one has taken on shadow beliefs of not being enough, of not measuring up, or of not fitting in (or any number of other self-limiting beliefs), one is likely to put on any one of many personas that mask these painful “truths.”
Mine happened to be “Mr. Nice and Serious.” I made it my life goal to convince others (and myself) I was a really nice, smart, and serious guy who would bend over backwards to please others, to accomplish whatever I was asked to do, and to do it better than anyone else and at any cost.
Needless to say, when I ventured out on my own to establish a career for myself, I stepped on a number of toes working my way up the corporate ladder. I became very adept at justifying my actions and denying any responsibility for the growing distance and disconnection I began to experience in my work relationships.
You have to know all of that has a toll on one’s life. Living an essential lie (because, inside, we know the “truth”) drives us to want to escape from it all. And what better way than to numb the emotional pain of guilt and shame than with a drink or two or three, or a hit on some weed or any other number of addictive substances or activities! Alcohol and drugs, both prescribed and otherwise secured, happened to be my drugs of choice. You’ve no doubt heard the old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together!” That was true for me and I think it’s true for most of us.
I found myself pretty comfortable around others who drank like I did and, believe me, a lot of corporate types who are driven to get ahead and prove to others (and really to themselves) their worth become closeted alcoholics. We rely on alcohol and other “leisure-time” drugs to help us unwind and relieve the stress and, by surrounding ourselves with others who drink like we do, it all looks normal. Until it isn’t anymore and, by that point, the dependency has kicked in. We need to drink and use drugs.
For any of you who may not relate to out-of-control addictions to alcohol or drugs, here’s a question for you. Do you perhaps use food to relieve stress? To unwind from a tough day? Can you relate to having any kind of food addiction? I certainly can, although I never saw it as an “addiction.” I just liked ice cream and other kinds of sweets. Just as I liked bread and pizza and bagels. And that was how I saw my love for those kinds of foods. I didn’t really connect with the scientific fact that I was addicted to these food choices.
I spent the next nearly forty-five years struggling with wildly-fluctuating weights as I went from one diet plan to the next, gaining and losing, bingeing until I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror any more, successfully hiding the obesity with shirts worn outside until the double-X-sized shirts and size 48 pants left me looking like a walking blimp, trying hard not to be seen.
After becoming more informed about brain chemistry, thanks to a woman by the name of Dr. Susan Pierce Thompson, founder of the Bright Line Eating program and author of a book of the same name, my wife and I both began following the BLE program a little over three years ago and we each have been maintaining a weight loss of over 60 pounds for better than two-and-a-half years, simply by eliminating sugar and flour (which both have the same effect on the brain as do alcohol, cocaine, and heroin).
The point I’m making is that much of what gets in the way of our fully realizing our hopes and dreams is a matter of how our brains become wired. The beliefs we begin to take on from when we are small on through into our early adulthood result in our establishing ways of coping and of reacting to life as we understand it and, over time, they become automatic to the point we are unaware of the thought behind whatever disturbing feelings we experience. Until we begin to slow down enough to get into the present moment and become open to compassionate curiosity, we will find it difficult to suspend our reliance on “what we think we know” about the situation, as you’ve already heard in this booklet’s earlier chapters.
And sometimes an addiction to some mind-altering substance can further complicate the transformational process. As with any habitual pattern, it must be interrupted through a consistent shift in both thinking and behaving in order to establish a new neural pathway.
By shifting our thinking from “I am bad, stupid, unlovable, inadequate, or selfish,” to “Sometimes I do things (or think things) that make me feel bad, stupid, unlovable, inadequate, or selfish, but that doesn’t make it so. These things don’t reflect who we really are, but they definitely get in the way of our connecting with and expressing who we truly are, of who we’ve come here to be!
Sometimes it seems to me like the occasions for me having to pull out the “Silly Me!” response have increased over the past months and that’s probably a good sign. It’s an indicator that I am just a spiritual being having a very human moment and it also speaks to my being consciously aware of what I’m doing and saying and of self-acceptance. I can laugh at myself and then quickly own it and move on without guilt even when others around me might be telegraphing their judgment of me. It’s all okay. It is what it is and whatever I think they may be thinking or doing is simply just my perception. Staying out of other people’s heads and focusing on being present to the moment about what’s going on in my own is something that requires consistent practice for me and is true for most of us.
Let me share with you some recent incidents where I found myself tapping myself on the side of my head and saying “Silly me! There I go again!” And, by the way, I find I create these “opportunities” with some regularity, I must admit, right at home during exchanges with my wife.
This first example centers around my need to know where things are so I can get to them whenever the need arises. It stems from the need to be in control of my life and, as disorganized as I can be at times, I convince myself that I know where things are, even in the multiple stacks of paper that regularly collects around our computer workspace. This need extends to other objects like my prescription glasses, where things are stored in the kitchen, and in other areas of our home.
My wife, on the other hand, is extremely organized and likes change, which means she loves to make things orderly and our ideas about what “orderly” means is often different. Also, I really don’t like change unless it’s absolutely necessary (it’s the Taurus in me). She also gets great pleasure whenever she’s “moved” to relocate where things are. That, of course, presents me with triggering moments when I can’t find things around the house because they’re not where they were the last time I had to use them. Since I do most of the cooking, it’s a perfect setup for a “perfect storm.” And while I’m getting better at the awareness game, so I’m able to catch myself most times before I react, I’m not always successful.
Because an old habit of thinking still lurks in the background of my mind (it shows up as “There she goes again!”), whenever I can’t locate my glasses, my “go to” reaction is “Where did you put my glasses?” And more often than not, they’re exactly where I left them. When one of us finds them, I then let out a sigh, slap myself on the side of the head and say, “Silly me! There I go again!” followed by “Sorry, dear, for jumping to conclusions!”
Here’s another recent example that involved a neighbor who lives across the street. For the past year or more I’ve made it a daily early-morning practice, when I first get out of bed, to pick up the newspapers from the closest seven neighbors’ driveways, regardless of the weather, and place them, standing on end, next to their front doors so they can easily reach it without much bending or having to walk outside to get it themselves. We live in an “active seniors” community which means the majority of us are over sixty-five and many on our street are pushing toward eighty if they’re not already passed that. So upending the newspaper minimizes the bending pains.
One early and rainy morning, I began my daily newspaper routine and saw the paper was missing from one neighbor’s driveway. There had been a time some years ago when they were an early riser like me and would exchange the favor whenever they got up before I did. Over time they began to sleep longer, so I was left to pick up my own paper after I had picked up everyone else’s. I’d been fine with that (I thought!), but when I saw their paper wasn’t in their driveway and ours was, my immediate thought was one of judgment (They managed to hurry out and pick up their own paper but couldn’t bother to cross the street and pick up ours!)
Well, I held onto that one for a few more hours, adding a couple of more judgments onto the fire to really convince myself I had them pegged. Later that same morning, I happened to step out the front door and the neighbor across the street walked out of their garage and called out to me. “Have you seen our paper?” To which I replied, “No, I figured you’d picked it up yourself (and I couldn’t resist adding) and didn’t want to get wet crossing over to pick up ours.” That’s it, Steve, rub it in! Let ‘em know they didn’t pull the wool over your eyes!
A surprised and sort of hurt look came across my neighbor’s face as they responded, “Gosh, no! Why would you think I’d do that?” As it later turned out, there was a new person doing the newspaper delivery, and he simply had missed throwing a paper onto the neighbor’s driveway.
Gulp! Yeah, it was a time for me to slap myself, hard, across the side of my head and say “Silly me! There I go again!” but not until I could offer an apology to them. And before I could do that, I had to retreat and get still and acknowledge what I’d just done. I had to feel a bit of the disappointment in myself and then forgive me before I could offer a heartfelt apology to my neighbor and own the error of my ways. Sigh. Yes, I am a spiritual being having another human experience.
My wife recently reminded me of something suggested by a wonderful therapist we each once saw, both independently and as a couple during some very tumultuous years early on in our marriage, shortly after we went through a separation and both decided to give ourselves and one another a second chance to make our marriage work.
June was her name and she was helping us deal with those times when our disagreements would escalate into angry words, shouting, and the banging of pots and pans and doors. She suggested that whenever we saw we were approaching a point of no return, one of us should stop and ask, very loudly, “Do ducks fart?” We tried it and, inevitably, we would both break out laughing and then sheepishly apologize for our part in the escalation, ask to shake hands, and eventually kiss and make up. We haven’t had the need to ask that question for a long time, although it wouldn’t surprise me if I should hear the question being raised one of these days when an argument arises and we seem to be at an impasse! I’m pretty sure I’ll smile and so will my wife.
So now as I come to an end of this booklet, I’m wondering. Should I maybe retitle this booklet as “Do Ducks Fart? A Path to Self-Acceptance.” On second thought, I don’t think so.
One of the benefits of not taking ourselves so seriously is that we can begin to laugh at ourselves instead of having to drag out a self-judgment in order to prove to ourselves and others that “we’re serious about our spiritual progress.” It’s easy for me to recall some of that self-defeating and inauthentic scripting I use to follow and I really doubt anyone was fooled by it, even me.
As strange as it might seem, when we fully embrace all aspects of ourselves, consciously owning those parts (and not blaming them on ourselves or on someone or something outside of ourselves), it is through our opened-heart connection with our sacred selves that we are able to easily laugh and say, “Silly me! There I go again!” So, guess what? That means God is laughing right along with us and loving us all the more for our willingness to love and accept ourselves unconditionally! I think maybe he’s my kind of guy. How about you?