This is the fifth in a series of eight posts detailing concepts and attitudes for sustainable personal change. As one would expect of someone maintaining a 155-pound loss for more than 20 years, my examples have to do with food and weight, but their point is to illustrate how anyone can achieve and maintain healthy change. Today’s concept: “Working together isn’t enough.”
If you’re reading this series in order, this concept may seem in opposition to the previous one, “working together is a selfish act,” and I concede I was playfully implying conflict when I chose it. But to me, not only are they entirely consistent, they’re connected.
I started the transformation I’ve been describing as a lonely isolator, intent on separating myself from others while wishing I weren’t alone. One of my ways out of this — not of my own design, I assure you — was to join several support communities, including the one in eating-disorder rehab and in therapy groups before and after.
Relating purposefully with others was much better than where I began, but as the headline says, it’s not enough. Its upside is that even if I was still running my show, or attempting to, at least I had input from others. I could follow others’ examples, I could ask for help, and I had others to whom I could offer mine. Collectively, we had experience, perspective, even some wisdom.
But it was well to remember what had brought us into contact, a set of related deficits for which he needed instruction and support. To greater or lesser extents, we were a bunch of wackos! But even short of that harsh interpretation, we were certainly all humans, guaranteed to err eventually, to have a bad day, to be subject to all manner of pettiness and selfishness.
So if you’re not self-reliant, or other-reliant, who you gonna call?
For me, It’s what a friend calls his “deeper power,” though most people refer to it as God. I often use that name, too, but “deeper power” not only has less baggage but better describes my experience.
Right about here, some readers may feel disappointed (or worse), as in, “Bummer, I thought there might be something here for me, but now I see it’s just another theist, spouting off about crap I know not to be true.” To them, I can only say I can relate, or could, for years. So before I get specific about this deeper power, I’m going to be very specific why it has to be in this discussion: If I leave it out, I’m leaving out a big part of how I sustain personal change.
I hope it will comfort skeptics, nonbelievers, and disbelievers that I have no tie to religion and that case is firmly rooted in practicality:
When I relied on my own power, I didn’t have enough to get where I wanted to go.
When I relied on the strength I found via community, I had more power, but still not enough. So I needed something stronger.
Merely when I became willing to overcome my entrenched spiritual prejudices, I began making progress I hadn’t theretofore been achieving.
I used to worry that flipping from one side of the question to the other, merely for personal gain, would reek of hypocrisy. Now, I compare the risk against what I consider to be very real, practical improvements in my wellbeing, and wonder why I ever let it stop me. This stuff works, and isn’t that the bottom line?
I was born into a tradition my parents firmly believed in, and I attended years of school and worship services religiously. But I left my parents’ home militantly, arrogantly opposed to God, convinced both that he was an jerk and that he didn’t exist. If you think about it, it would require a God-like figure to pull that off: You can’t be anything if you don’t exist.
My fallacy was exposed in rehab, and thereafter, when I kept encountering people for whom seeking God’s will seemed to be working for them, I eventually had to concede the truth of it — that regardless of the existence of God, the *seeking* of God’s will was helpful to many.
Today, I have a spirituality that I not only believe in, but can explain — which helps for someone who was so stuck on logic. Its basis begins with realizing that I’m not in charge of the world. Anyone want to argue that?
But if I’m not in charge, what is, or is anything? To me, there’s too much evidence of order for the universe to be random, and the existence of such order implies a design and therefore a designer. I think this designer has complete control over its creation, but I differ from many believers on how much control it chooses to exert. Or, perhaps, how it chooses to exert it.
I used to think that if a supreme being could make everything perfect, but refused to, it was evidence of the being’s capriciousness, and I just couldn’t back someone like that. Like so many before me, my flaw was in thinking that I could evaluate such a being’s motives, based on the parts of the whole I could observe.
Having had much more time to consider, I now see that if everything were perfect, then nothing would be perfect, in that we’d all be flat-liners. Where’s the challenge of living when nothing can go wrong? How does one know good without knowing bad? How does one grow if there’s nowhere to grow into.
Is not growth one of the recurring principles observable in the physical world, from youth to old age, from finite to infinite universe?
I think our task in each plane of existence is also to grow. We’re in this enormously complicated system in which uncountable — but not all — outcomes are possible, and our task is to deal with whatever happens. I believe there are immutable principles (be loving, help others, be honest, etc.) and our job is to learn them and put them into action.
So how does all this speculation constitute a practical argument for relying on my deeper power, as I claimed earlier? At its root, I’m sharing what worked, and that is the essence of practicality. When I relied on my own lights, I was utterly lost. When I relied on the lights of others, I did better but I still encountered situations in which I felt let down by them.
I have removed the habit and training of relying on what appeared, to me, to be a capricious, vengeful God, and replaced it with the belief that I’m on the same footing as everyone else, regardless of birth circumstances. Being born wealthy doesn’t guarantee happiness (it might foster the opposite), any more than poor beginnings ensure misery. All stations carry challenges. Any circumstance can be improved, or worsened. God, or the fates, or whatever, aren’t out to get anyone. Everyone has something to be learned. And so I can look into each event and try to find what I need to know, or practice what I think I already know, without having to be afraid.