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Strategies pertain to long-range goals, or a basic posture one means to maintain over a long period of time. Tactics are plans of what to do from moment to moment. In this chapter and the next I set forth the strategies and tactics known to me, that I personally use.
Other may know others; others may know better. In my work in therapy, I have been astonished how much is known to psychologists that is not common knowledge — probably because the media would rather keep people at each others’ throats than help them improve their own lives. (Compare, for example, at this writing, the recent spasms of abuse by Senators Feinstein and Grassley in the Brett Kavanaugh matter.)
“Seek and you will find.”
There’s no end of irony in that I write this now not based on what I have accomplished, but based on what I have yet to accomplish. I myself do not yet do these things.
Seek peace, and you will find it — or create it. Seek turmoil, and you will find it — or create it. The Way of Peace entails seeking peace.
One may face dozens of decisions each day, between a path that will maintain or enhance one’s peace of mind, and a path that would destroy it. It can be as simple as choosing a self-affirming, self-loving act over a self-destructive one. It can be a choice of attitude towards a project or a relationship that may occupy one’s attention for hours or days.
In “the rooms” of the Twelve Step movement, we speak of changing “people, places and things.” People, places and things that were associated with one’s former life of addiction, may need to be sacrificed in order to maintain one’s recovery — one’s newfound peace of mind. Don’t go back to the corners you used to hang on, let alone the bars you used to hang in. Give up activities that used to accompany your drinking or drugging; find new ones. Old friends who used to egg you into self-destructive activities, aren’t likely to be friends to your chosen, new and better course in life.
A change of spouse may be necessary. This is not at all unusual in the recovery movement. The tantrums and turmoil one used to create, while in one’s active addiction, may have left the spouse so emotionally (and/or physically and/or financially) scarred, she or he cannot cooperate with the new self one seeks to be. Given something like PTSD, the spouse may be unwilling or unable to forgive, but instead keep reminding the recovering person of her or his past offenses and behavior patterns. To maintain peace of mind, one may need to get away. Permanently.
There are influences and thought systems to which I will not voluntarily expose myself; for the sake of maintaining peace of mind:
- Noir film or literature: Scenes of torture, betrayal, and evil schemes I would never have thought of on my own, are not consistent with the way I want to think about people.
- WERQ: The only radio station one heard anywhere in Barclay, it was everywhere, spewing forth material produced by and for gangsta wannabes.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates: Currently the darling of the American intelligentsia, he seems to champion exactly that values system most prone to keep the black man bankrupt and in jail. That’s not what I want for the black man.
- Critical theory, including critical race theory and critical gender theory: As I am more oriented towards feelings than ideas, these systems seem to me to be all about deconstructing others’ hopes. I want to create hope, not deconstruct it.
Many times, one can simply choose to be happy — just wish it, and one will be there.
More often, one faces choices among different courses of action or ways to look at things — some of which are more likely than others to let one feel happy, or to bring happy results. It is wise to choose the course of action, or the point of view, most likely to leave you feeling happy. Even in very little things, in minor things, it matters.
Circa 1985, Frank Minirth and Paul Meier produced the landmark Happiness is a Choice.
It is chock full of strategies and tactics, and even exercises, to help one learn to consistently choose happiness. I never read it myself, because it’s written from a perspective of Biblical inerrancy, which was sure to offend me again and again. But it is revolutionary.
Look on the bright side
Look at opportunities, not obstacles.
Stumbling blocks can become stepping stones.
Almost every cloud has a silver lining somewhere.
The novel Pollyanna told the story of a relentlessly optimistic girl. Years ago, I was fearful of becoming “pollyanna” — relentlessly optimistic — because I supposed it involved denying that the cloud exists, denying that bad things ever happen. In fact, it involves instead a radical acceptance that bad things do happen, and a choice to move through, rather than dwell in, the grief and get on with life.
|If you’re going through hell, keep going.|
|— Winston Churchill|
Opportunities for grief are and always will be available. There will always be a reason to feel sad or angry. The question is how often, how much and how long one will choose to feel that way.
Related: Life in the outer darkness
Look on the bright side.
Rodgers and Hammerstein are about the last place I’d look for wisdom. The song, “My Favorite Things,” from The Sound of Music, is very wise:
|Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
|* * *|
|When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad
It works. And in almost any situation, replacing bad feelings with good ones is a good thin in itself. It’s worth it. It leaves one in a better position to deal with the grief one can’t help but feel, and to move on, making positive decisions for oneself and one’s neighbors.
Related: I will not be disappointed.
In Silentium Altum, Amrose Worrall states:
What is an opposite thought?
Worrall was an engineer by trade, and so oriented more towards thoughts and ideas than I am. I am more oriented towards emotions and feelings. Note that the changes speaks of — hope replaces despair, confidence replaces fear, faith replaces doubt — are actually changes of feelings, not thoughts.
Sublimation is the change of one feeling into another, and we each have the right and ability to change one’s own feelings any way one likes. Here is an example of what I actually call “incineration;” from the post, “Some prayer exercises:”
In silence, the normal way to deal with a negative thought or feeling is to just let it leave your experience, like a stray piece of paper on the sidewalk that is blown away from you by the wind.
From time to time, however, some mass of bad feelings may come that seems like it just won’t go away, no matter what you do. A visualization like this one can be useful in such a situation.
Visualize a pile of firewood. As a child colors in the spaces in a coloring book, fill up this firewood with all the bad feelings. Pour the bad feelings into it. Add more firewood to the pile until you have enough. Let the images become as vivid as you can make them. Feel the weight of new logs in your arms as you carry them toward the pile. Pick up some of the pieces, feel how hard they are, how heavy they are. Tap one piece against another, and hear the thunk, thunk as you do so.
Then set the thing on fire.
Watch it burn. All the bad feelings that you poured into it are now there, rather than in you; and the fire is changing all that material into light, warmth, and heat — which you can choose to be positive feelings, optimism, comfort, love and joy.
Watch it until the firewood is all consumed. Then the bad feelings will be gone.
One can use whatever before-and-after images one likes, “from” whatever ugly image may symbolize one’s ugly feelings, “to” whatever lovely image may correspond to one’s desires; with the substance involved changing — substantially — as one makes the change.
One who practices Presence becomes able to do all this without having to enter silence and without having to imagine.