When Change Becomes Real Change

Old Way New Way

Chapter Twenty-five in my latest book begins with a well known quote from Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

We can see embarrassing evidence of how prevalent this addiction is throughout modern life, from bank bailouts that repeat because no new regulation was instituted, to people dieting, losing weight, gaining it back, and dieting again. And again.

A person learns that sugar is not healthy so they switch to the Diet version of their favorite soft drink. A quick Google unearths legions of doctors explaining how that’s no improvement; in fact, it may be a step backwards, like switching from butter to margarine on the basis of flawed science (or rather, marketing).

For those of us emerging from the enslavement of organized religious dogma into the empowerment of individual spirituality, it is no doubt challenging to consider that much of this change may also be no more than window dressing. The song remains the same. How so?

In Barbara Ehrenreich’s best selling book, Bright-sided, How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America, she escorts us from the roots of Calvinism, where hard work was the antidote to our burden of sin and God was a harsh judge, into the birth of the New Thought movement which grew the culture of positive thinking that prevails today in America, particularly in mega churches where fundamentalist preachers proclaim, “God wants us to be rich!”

Ehrenreich quotes televangelist Joyce Meyer: “I believe that more than any other thing, our attitude is what determines the kind of life we are going to have. It’s especially important to be positive, because God is positive.” Interesting, that this pastor pinpoints attitude as more important than relationship with God!

Still, this may seem like a long distance from the bleak outlook championed by the Calvinists, described this way by literary scholar Ann Douglas: “The task for the living was to constantly examine ‘the loathsome abominations that lie in his bosom,’ seeking to uproot the sinful thoughts that are a sure sign of damnation. Calvinism offered only one form of relief from this anxious work of self-examination…labor. Anything other than labor was a contemptible sin.”

Pushing Rock Uphill

Let’s fast forward to 2014. Yes, we too labor, the dreams of the 20 hour work week promised decades ago now a distant, shattered dream. In fact, we labor more than ever, often with both husband and wife employed, yet struggling still. More ironically, we still labor within ourselves, in an eerie echo of the self-examination described above. Here in the 21st Century, where many prefer to think God is friendly, not angry, His harsh judgment of us has transferred to harsh judgment of ourselves, by ourselves. And this likewise manifests as “inner work,” now operating under the guise of positive thinking and based on the belief that attitude determines life experience.

This, of course, is now a sacred belief for many, a tenant of the personal coach era where millions of sincere people blame themselves for their cancer, their lack of money, their relationship problems, etc. This new religion, which is really what it is, has been fueled by best selling books like Think and Grow Rich and, more recently, the films, The Secret, and What the Bleep, where the link between how we think and what we experience is validated by impressive references to science, particularly quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, upon closer examination, most of these proofs are perversions of what any genuine scientist has actually discovered.

This highlights what may be the largest elephant in the room, the most obvious thing we unconsciously ignore and therefore fail to change, namely that we tend to see what we want to see. “If you think you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” as the saying goes. Those embracing New Thought religion believe that attitude is primary, that changing attitude will change physical reality, and there are heaps of anecdotal evidence to buttress the argument. The problem is that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and impossible to dispute. If I don’t believe it, there’s the problem, my wrong belief! If I do believe it and don’t get results, there must be wounds from my childhood or karma from past lives. So, whether I succeed or fail turning thoughts into things, the belief remains inviolate, safe from attack by common sense. The song remains irrationally the same.

Let Go

True change would be something entirely different; let’s explore for a moment. Imagine letting go of work. Outer industry and inner self-examination… just let them go. How does that feel? Can you even do it, without feeling you are violating something sacred. If you can, just for a few moments of imagination, how does it feel to liberate yourself from the tyranny of duty, from the oppression of so called personal responsibility, from the burden of constant positive thinking? In this sudden vacuum, what remains? The Bible refers to the “still, small voice.” Well look at this! God – by whatever name and however conceptualized – is suddenly present in the stillness. Here, now, available to experience in the very moment that dutiful efforting stops.

That one who wants to find God (you the seeker), the one who uses positive thinking to lose weight, generate wealth, attract the perfect life partner (you the self-improvement veteran), is not – it turns out - who you really are. At least, not if you agree that you are one with God, which is the ruling mantra in the progressed spiritual wing of the positive thinking movement. Who are you, who am I? I am - and you can speak these same words - I am the one who simply is, an abiding presence, wanting nothing, needing nothing, lacking nothing, being everything. As Robert Frost put it in his exquisite two line poem: “We dance round in a ring and suppose. But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”

There is no secret other than the one I am. Experiencing that would qualify as real change and set us up to discover the flip side of what Einstein was inferring with his statement:“Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” Let’s wake up and find out what that would be like.

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