This is the sixth 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: “Not everything has to make sense.”
Which seems more damning: Being too stupid to learn, or being too smart? I’d have to say it’s the latter, and I’m sheepish to say, I speak from experience.
My foremost example is my path to spirituality, which I raised in the previous article in this series, “Working together isn’t enough.” As I explained, my parents included thorough religious exposure in my upbringing, but at 18, I left their house without any discernible spiritual connection.
This is not to say I didn’t have faith. I believed in plenty of things, foremost among them my ability to analyze, evaluate, and effect. I didn’t need no stinkin’ white beard in the heavens to tell me what to do; I had it covered.
Root and branch, I was wrong, wrong, wrong, so it’s hard to decide where to begin. But I’ll start with this: No fair evaluation of the evidence could have concluded that I had anything covered. Well, except my dingy, worn, and misshapen spot on the couch.
Entering my 30s, I was barreling toward 365 pounds. I had attained a fairly high post at the newspaper I worked at, but soon been busted back in rank because I was unable to work with others and therefore ineffective. I had never had a girlfriend, though I had succeeded in alienating dozens of women in the effort. My clothes were worn, ill-fitting rags whose only virtue was shrouding. I had few friends, and no intimates, including myself: Asked what I felt, I would tell you what I thought.
So there’s the obvious flaw: I relied on evaluation, and my self-evaluation was horribly lacking.
But there was another flaw as well: On the divide between intellect and spirit — if even such a divide exists — I had thrown down on the wrong side. I had evaluated the logic for a spiritual life, decided it was unsupportable, and never looked back. Believing in some all-powerful being to explain everything around me was absurd, but I had no problem believing not just in the power of logic, but in my ability to apply it flawlessly.
But I was my logic was multiply flawed. I had equated spirituality with religion, but at most, they overlap; there is spirituality without religion, and religion without spirituality. Also, I had failed to credit that millions of people had been praying for thousands of years; I saw it, but explained it away instead of trying to get in on it.
Perhaps most significantly, I ignored the implications of paradox, which allows that seemingly contradictory conditions can both be true. For me, it is paradoxical that prayer could be illogical and also effective. but where I once perceived the former and barred the door, I now perceive the former, crinkle my nose at the paradoxy, and do it anyway.
My willingness was glacially slow to develop, but the pace quickened when I entered eating-disorder rehab in 1991. One of the perspectives that jelled during that time was embodied by the question, “If I’m so smart, how did I end up in rehab?” There’s something about being institutionalized that encourages a new approach.
I no longer regard prayer, or other facets of a spiritual life, as a political issue, or moral issue. I’m just being practical. My experience is that I am better off when I do it: happier, more willing to change, more loving and supportive not only to myself but to others.
Is it self hypnosis? Self delusion? Outright quackery? Call it whatever you want; I don’t care.
I did that, now I do this. This is better.