At some point this summer I will be doing a workshop locally on “Lasting and Viable Change.” The reason for the workshop is that I feel that many people have a tendency to WANT change but do not ENACT change. In a lot of cases they begin enacting the change only to revert back to old habits. Any workshop I do for others and anything I write about is not done without the admittance that I have done the same. After all I’ve been heavy, I’ve been light, I’ve been strong, I’ve been weak. I have not committed to change previously. Now I’m on that road and I want to share how that came about.
Change begins only after we examine who we are at our core. The ego, as defined by Sigmund Freud in 1923, is “that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world.”
Our sense of Self, therefore, is composed of and modified by our experiences within the world. This includes cultural experiences like how we were raised and who we were raised by. It includes religion which may have a variety of norms and mores that vary depending on the religious upbringing. We are also composed of the influences of friends, family, educators, and media. In many ways this makes our intrinsic value harder to quantify and in other ways we define our intrinsic value based upon these factors.
This multi-compositional ego builds a terrific foundation for movement both forward and reverse in our spiritual development. Both directions involve either embracing or escaping from that foundation. Some will feel opressed by their religion; the example of teens in the 50’s wanting to express their spirit through dance to rock music especially comes to mind. The there are those who feel released by their religion; here we consider the Christians who feel the weight of their world lifted up by their religion’s savior. The religions are the same but the decision to escape versus embrace expresses in completely different ways. I’ve seen several other examples similar to this in Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, et al. Culturally the same cognitive dissonance occurs. There are those who may grow up in a predominantly white environment who end up running from their culture to black culture. The same occurs within the black community where you do have black men and women letting go of their cultural past to embrace an “outside” culture. In none of these cases is the issue considered “wrong.” It is simply an observation on very real actions people take. Let’s examine the “why” a little bit more closely.
We, as human beings, have a tendency to operate within the range of ego. Within our most primal Self we have a further tendency to face life and its conflicts with the simplest of resolutions. Do we need to eat? What is fastest and brings me the most joy? Am I feeling lustful? What is the quickest path to resolve that? You’ve worked through an incredibly difficult and hard day. How do you spend your time after work? The list of questions with short and simple answers can go on and on.
When we look at change through this scope we see that lasting change has a tendency to be impeded by three core traits — fear, self-indulgence, and ignorance. I’ve displayed the Three Impediments within a venn diagram to purposely display how combinations of the impediments create secondary impediments. A future article will dive more deeply into the Three Impediments. This article’s purpose is to discuss change through the scope of the Impediments and Openings.
Fear: Fear may be the primary motivator for impeding change and spiritual growth. In regards to diet and exercise fear’s impact looks different than you may suspect. When I went through the change myself and examined what it was that impeded me from growing I found that I was becoming very self-involved with my identity of all things. I was the fat, depressed, out-of-shape friend. Sure, I could change! However any time I came close to success I would fall apart! Why? I would fall apart because I was afraid of what my identity would be without the identity I had learned to embrace. If I was no longer the fat, depressed, and out-of-shape friend then who was I? By embracing the fear we are compelled to take the past of least resistance — continue taking the actions that would make me a fat, depressed, out-of-shape person. At this point you can begin to see how this ties fluidly into the next impediment — ignorance.
Ignorance: “Ignorance is bliss.” This phrase is the bane of spiritual development. The unwillingness to explore the Self or Truth leads us down a path where we become mindlessly controlled by our base instincts and the overempowering will of others. While at first glance it may appear that ignorance is bliss, that bliss is no more secure nor blissful than that which has been worked towards. On a more grounded level like we addressed above ignorance impedes our ability to change both diet and exercise as well as fear does. If I ignore the health issues imposed by my poor diet and exercise strategies I’ll be fine! I get stressed out just thinking about what my addiction is doing to me. This pervasive attitude of ignorance leads us to again finding the path of least resistance. We can “know” that exercise and diet are good and important to us, but do we really own that understanding on a deeper level.
Self-Indulgence: Self-indulgence is an entirely selfish act of giving in to our base instincts and surrendering to our ID. I feel great when I eat sweets so I will eat more. I feel great when I spend money so I will spend more. I forget about my thoughts when I drink so I will drink more! Over and over we give into the path of least resistance because it’s easier for us. It was certainly easier for me to eat junk food for a year and isolate away from my friends than it was to eat healthy, come lift with them, and pull myself out of my own shell. I engaged my own self-indulgence to my own peril.
It is absolutely possible to flip the Impediments on their heads and open ourselves to lasting change via the Three Openings — acceptance, courage, and gratitude. These are active movements and, as such, move us away from the path of least resistance towards a path of Truth, Love, and lasting change.
Courage: Courage is embracing the understanding that there is always a way forward. When I looked at myself in the mirror on a daily basis I lost my courage. Why? Because I didn’t hold on to it. Because I was afraid that I could never change my body. That fear is irrational! Consistency bred through courage will create change! It’s simply not on the path of least resistance and seems further out of reach. Thus I implore readers to please have courage that things will not always be as they are.
Acceptance: Acceptance is the action of starting where you are. It is an error to think of things in terms of starting over. If we focus so much on starting over then we will never finish anything. If, instead, we accept that we are where we are then we can continually and perpetually move forward. Part of the problem with losing weight through diet and exercise is that continual thought in the back of our minds that if we had just stuck with it for the past few years we’d already be where we want to be. That isn’t acceptance. That is self-indulgence and embracing the path of least resistance. Look at acceptance in regards to diet and exercise this way — though you may have started, lost weight, stopped, and then gained weight, something moved forward whether it was new knowledge in our capabilities or something else. Accepting that we were there, accepting that we are here, and accepting that there is a future, will lead us to crossing that abyss we fear so strongly.
Gratitude: Gratitude is the simplest action to take in expression of the spirit. With the expression of gratitude we immediately open ourselves up to positive reinforcement. The very act itself rewards those who practice. I would like to again examine the diet and exercise issue in regards to this opening. Using myself as an anecdote between 2013 and 2016 I had some of the roughest years of my life. I was pushed around with travel for my job, my biological dad died, I was fired, then I moved to another state away from my kids, fell into depression, hospitalized, suicide attempt, another hospitalization, and then a bad breakup with someone I loved very much.
I want to spend a little extra time on gratitude with regards to my own personal experiences. This is to show that even though all of the above looks horrible when viewed all at once, gratitude can be found for even the worst experiences. I had to travel a lot between Asheville, NC and Augusta, GA for my job. Even though it was hard on me to constantly be moved back and forth I was grateful for the experience, the leadership learned, and how to conduct myself when traveling for work. When my biological dad died I learned a lot about myself as I recognized that, even in his absence my whole life and his abusive nature, I became who I am today by not being him. In that way he actually had a huge impact on my life that I was grateful for. Being fired from my job made me grateful for the opportunity to move back to Minnesota — an act I wouldn’t have taken without being fired. There is an incredible amount to be grateful towards my mental illness. Depression has allowed me insight into a dark state of mind that the most optimistic people could never reach without being traumatized. That depression has allowed me to connect with others on an incredibly deep and vulnerable level. The suicide attempt really capped the experience off by showing me just how much I wanted to live and how the “Self” before the attempt could be released to make room for the healing Self. Though I strongly do not advocate suicide attempts to reach that point. For me it was a moment to find gratitude for.
Lasting change is more possible than we realize. While the Impediments may certainly hold us back when we embrace them, recognition of their impact on us may actually strengthen us to embrace the Openings. In this way we are both challenged and inspired to change. When we use that inspiration to seek change with courage, acceptance, and gratitude change can be forever.