It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
I heard from a lot of people about my essay last Sunday. Many of you wrote me to share the lies you have told yourselves over the years and how, like me, you are ready to release them and move forward. Bravo to you.
Several friends wrote to tell me that my column was so deep that they had to read it several times. That made me happy. Others told me they gave it to friends, adult children, and partners to talk about, which was great to hear as well. But it was my friend Tom's response that made me stop and smile the most. His was so unique that I figured I would share it with you this morning.
Tom is a beautiful writer. He’s also a deep thinker and a spiritual teacher. Now, he wouldn’t say he’s a spiritual teacher; he would say he’s a student. But good students are also good teachers, and that’s what Tom is to me. He always generously shares what he’s learned along his path to the open field.
Here is what he wrote to me:
Maria! I have completed my exercise in finding a lie in my head and questioning it and laughing at it. My lie came to me minutes after I sent you my last email, and I burst out laughing as soon as I said it. It is… I need to keep getting better.
I want to find and punish the sadistic and tyrannical bastar* that put that lie in my head, because it invited me into a life of subtle self-loathing!
I thought of it many times yesterday and today, and laughed each time. But I didn’t really get into loud laughter until this morning when I made it the subject of my practice of asking myself Byron Katie’s four questions of self-inquiry:
Is it true?
Can I absolutely know it’s true?
How do I react—what happens—when I believe that thought? (Ha! Tension, anxiety, pressure, irritability, a tendency to overlook wonderful moments and opportunities that don’t lead to “getting better”... a tendency to lie to myself and others that I am getting better.)
Who would I be without that thought? (Oh my God. Free! Kind! Relaxed! Forgiving! I would be DONE DONE DONE!)
Then I turned it all around on myself. Maybe I don’t need to keep getting better. Maybe I need to keep getting worse! HA! That’s the moment I exploded in laughter. I need to keep getting worse. I have to find a way to get just a little bit worse every day.
I flipped around a Louise Hay affirmation I learned almost 40 years ago and told myself, "Every day, in every way, I’m getting worse and worse and worse!" Go me! Get free! Then I said to myself, in a very “solemn” way, "I don’t know how many days or years I may have to live, but I want to make sure I use them to the utmost to become the very worst self I can be in the time I have left."
Maria! What’s happening?
I’m rebelling against my tyrannical inner scold. There is a mutiny going on inside me, and every molecule of the kid I used to be—the bad boy who would ring the doorbell of the grouchy old man on my street and run away giggling—is rejoicing and rejoicing and rejoicing. Wow, what an experiment: giving up the tyranny of self-improvement (while secretly making huge gains!).
Tom’s note made my day, and it definitely made me laugh. It reminded me that it’s important to laugh at the lies we tell ourselves. It’s a completely different approach, one which I find liberating. It also reminded me of the power of laughter and how it can take down our most toxic thoughts about ourselves.
“Lies need darkness to survive,” Tom said to me. “They need to trigger anger, fear, hatred. If the lies don’t stir up anger, fear, and hatred, they will lose their energy and die.”
He also shared with me something Viktor Frankl wrote in his best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning about the importance of humor in dark times and places. Frankl, who was a neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, and Holocaust survivor, detailed his experiences in Nazi concentration camps and the role humor played throughout.
"Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation,” he wrote. "It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds. … I practically trained a friend of mine who worked next to me on the building site to develop a sense of humor."
I share all of this with you because I know life is challenging for millions of people right now. There is nothing funny about losing your job, living paycheck to paycheck, or living in a divided country where everyone feels mad at everyone else. It’s not funny to live during a time when you find yourself yelling at people in our nation's capital for the lies they are spreading. It’s not funny when you find yourself mad or beating yourself up because you don’t like who you are, or don’t think you are who others want you to be.
This past week, I’ve been practicing what Tom wrote to me. I’ve been practicing Byron Katie’s four profound questions. I’ve been practicing laughing at the lies in my head. I don't want to trigger anger, rage, or hatred. I want to shift the energy in our country. I want to activate light, love, and generosity of the spirit because I believe we can all be vessels of light.
I want to elevate your voice and mine. I want you to shine and hear your truth. I want it to move me. I want to understand your journey, and my hope is that you will want to do the same for me. In my experience, when one feels loved instead of shamed—accepted instead of judged—then and only then can their light shine.
Psychologist and Wharton Professor Adam Grant’s new book Think Again, which we excerpt below, is all about questioning your opinions and opening other people’s minds as well. Helping each other open ourselves to new ideas and hearing each other’s truth is important at a time when so many feel closed off.
As Tom said, the light is what kills the lies. So this week, let your light shine by laughing at the lies in your head. Smile at someone else. Listen to them, seek understanding, and watch their face change and their body relax. As my friend Craig said, giving someone a break allows you to give yourself a break as well.
Fighting hatred with hatred isn’t going to get us anywhere. Fighting rage with rage isn’t going to help people. Laughter, love, and light…that’s how we are going to inch our way closer to one another. That’s not a lie. That’s my truth.
So, what did Tom think when I told him I wanted to share his thoughts with you this morning? “Yes, please do,” he said. "The tyranny and vanity of self-improvement, it’s a beautiful paradox, isn’t it? That our efforts to keep getting better can make us more self-absorbed, which keeps grace from seeping inside of us, which is the only thing that can really change us."
Grace, light, love. Give the lies in your head those three things and watch them vanish into thin air. At the end of the day, what will change our conversation, our politics, and our relationships is our ability to banish the lies and live in the light.
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Dear God, help me to silence the noise in my head and laugh at the lies I’ve told myself over the years. Rather than focusing on what’s wrong, help me to show myself grace, light, and love. Amen.
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