Happiness Is A Choice: Creating a Personal Vision to Live By
“The eye sees what it brings to seeing.”
A fifty-six-year-old man, married with children and grandchildren, viewed himself as a realistic, no-nonsense person, definitely not the romantic or sentimental type. His verbal communication tended to be gruff and blunt, delivered always without any sugar coating. He withheld more than he shared. If he described a person or an event as “nice”, he had given it his highest compliment. No one would ever accuse him of being exuberant. His childhood had been dominated by strict, sometimes abusive parents. When they hit him or punished him, they said they did it because they loved him. He came to hate the word “love” and never used it, not once, throughout his adult years. During a break in an afternoon class, he shared with me a discovery he had made.
“I always thought love meant pain,” he said. “Maybe that’s not so, Bears. Today, I watched people in class use that word in many ways. Unhappily. Happily. Then I realized, hey, it’s just a word. That’s all. My parents gave it one meaning, but, me, well, I could give it another. I kept thinking, yeah, I could even get to like that word.”
When class resumed, he asked to share his revelation with the other program participants. Then he turned to his wife, who had attended the seminar with him. He reached out and took her hand in an uncharacteristically graceful and tender gesture. He smiled as his bottom lip quivered and then, in a soft, sweet voice, said, “I love you.” Tears filled his wife’s eyes. In thirty-six years of marriage, she had never heard him say those words.
We can change. We can be different We can defy history. Our past is but a memory dragged into the present moment That moment is no more important or significant than the next. And in the next moment we can change it all. We do it by changing our point of view … by changing our beliefs, as the man above did, and the woman below.
— Barry Neil Kaufman
Creating a Personal Vision to Live By
She had just celebrated her thirty-seventh birthday. She came, she said, to work on anger and forgiveness. Her mother had conceived her after being raped by an acquaintance. Wounded and meek, the woman never filed any charges. Now the child of that act of violence wanted to make peace with what she called “the unthinkable.”
Her own successful marriage, her delight in her two sons, and the enjoyment of a developing sales career had been dimmed by the gnawing anger she directed at phantom images of a man she had never seen. Initially, she considered her intense emotions as a cross of outrage she would bear the rest of her life. Then, she held on to the bitterness to protect herself and those she loved from such “subhuman” behavior as the rape of her mother. Finally, exhausted by pain, she wanted to somehow move beyond her narrow view and come to a new understanding.
“This man has never seen me, though he knows I exist. He is old now, riddled with cancer. I have even located where he lives; I know his exact address. At first, when I found him I thought about cursing him or beating him with my fists. Oh, God, I want out of this misery and all I do is get myself deeper in. Instead of practicing peacefulness, I practice rage!”
No one would fault this woman for her wrath. Some might even see justice in a finger-pointing confrontation with her “father.” However, she knew she had been twice the victim: first, of a stranger’s violence toward her mother and then of her own emotional violence toward herself. The first violence had passed years before; the second continued simmering inside.
While exploring these issues, she came to a crucial awareness. “If I continue to see him as terrible, I will never let go. Never! I really have to look at this person differently for my own salvation.” She shook her head and sighed. “Okay. This will probably sound stupid, but the man’s a human being isn’t he?” She smiled. “I know, Bears, you won’t give me the answers; I have to find them myself. Okay, then yes, I agree with myself; he’s a human being. Violent, probably miserable, but still human like you and me.”.
“What does it mean to you to call him human?” I asked.
“It means he’s fallible. And it means I don’t have to hate him forever. If I could just figure out how to let go of this anger, well, then I’d be free and at peace with myself.”
“How do you think you can let go of it?”
Her eyes closed as she covered her face with her hands. In a muffled voice, she said “I know how to do it, I really do. Forgiving him would be letting go.” With those words she began to cry. In subsequent sessions and in dialogues with her own husband, she formulated a plan of action which would change her life.
Two weeks later, she flew to a remote Midwestern city, rented a car, and drove hundreds of miles to a small rural village. She telephoned this man’s younger daughter, the product of an eventual marriage, and introduced herself without referring directly to the rape. The other woman hesitated, then refused to invite her to the old man’s home. She announced that she would come anyway; they could turn her away at his door if they wanted.
Old paint peeled off the side of the house. Shutters hung askew beside blackened windows. As she walked along a dirt path to the front door, she saw the woman who must have spoken with her on the phone standing on the porch with her arms crossed.
“I won’t stop you,” the woman, declared coldly, then stepped aside while maintaining her obvious vigil.
After she knocked on the door several times, a man’s voice told her to enter. One small lamp cast its dim light over the room. An old man, his shoulders hunched into his chest, sat quietly in a wooden chair. The deep lines on his face seemed chiseled by a crude and unforgiving knife. His reddened eyes peered at her uncomfortably. When he gestured for her to sit, his physical pain became apparent.
“I know who you are,” he said in a whisper.
She couldn’t talk. He was just a man, old and dying, nothing like the phantoms that had whirled in her mind. She struggled to find her voice. She had rehearsed the words hundreds of times on the plane. It’s just a decision, she told herself.
Finally, in a whisper that matched his, she said: “I forgive you. I really do.”
He nodded his head several times and then looked away. In a voice more audible, he said, “I’m sorry.”
She rose to her feet. Just a human being, she thought, like me. Then she surprised herself by putting her arms around him. She had truly forgiven him. His words of apology had no meaning for her now; it was her new vision that had made her whole.
A sixteen-year-old boy fell off a roof during a summer camp experience. Although he had not been seriously injured by the fall, he developed a strong aversion to ledges and high places. In fact, he even refused to enter the protected balcony of his grandfather’s apartment. He avoided bicycle riding for fear of failing. When his parents pressed him to get help, he told them he needed time to conquer his problem and asked not to be pushed to do what he could not do.
One day, on his way home from school through a wooded lot, he heard the screams of two children. When he looked up, he saw them dangling precariously from the top walkway of a huge water tower. He considered going for help but realized they might fall before he returned. He thought for a moment more, then decided God had placed him in that exact spot for a reason and he could trust the reason. His fears evaporated. Without further hesitation, he ran to the ladder affixed to the side of the tower, climbed up over two stories and brought the children down safely.
Our beliefs about the world and ourselves have profound ramifications, affecting all that we embrace around us and all that evolves within us. During the last decade, the National Institute for Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke (NINCDS) conducted in-depth studies of people exhibiting multiple personalities. Some facts catalogued as part of the research leaped out at me and tickled my imagination. They demonstrated clearly the impact of our convictions and attitudes.
One woman, who had the capacity to display three distinct personalities, had three menstrual periods each month, one for each personality.
A man exhibiting multiple personas required completely different eyeglass prescriptions for each. In the morning, after assuming one personality, he was clinically nearsighted. At noon, after becoming the next person he wanted to be, he needed new glasses to compensate for farsightedness. Each subsequent persona required yet another prescription.
Another man, whose repertoire included nine distinct personalities, suffered a severe and, at times, life-threatening allergic reaction to citrus fruits. Any ingestion of citric acid would cause eight of his nine personalities to have hives, convulsions and seizures. His ninth personality, however, had a fetish for citrus fruits. While assuming this persona, he could consume enormous quantities of oranges and grapefruits without the slightest bodily disturbance.
If any one of us decided to see ourselves as many people within one bodily structure, then we could apparently create personalities so distinct that each would have its own physiology and could, perhaps, transform in seconds on a molecular as well as a cellular level. Such bits and pieces of information, as those from the NINCDS study, dance like excited children in my brain. I am awed by the wondrous possibilities they suggest!