I sometimes wonder if we read, hear and see things in some kind of code, as if certain combinations of words and images and thoughts are desperately thrusting themselves in our face to make sure we don’t miss the intended message.
It can be lyrics, poetry, movie lines, phrases in books, you name it, but I feel as if I’m being bombarded by messages that are pushing my levels of self-awareness. I’m not sure what it means and what those messages are saying exactly, but I sense there are some larger life issues looming.
So many of life’s big questions remain unanswered and I’m beginning to think that maybe the answers aren’t what I need. Maybe it’s the process of inquiry, discovery, exploration that fulfills. Maybe it’s the journey and not the destination that holds life’s meaning. I’m not saying I’m obsessing about these questions, only that my awareness of how they play out in my life and my work is expanding.
I’ve been reviewing books about spirituality for The Plain Dealer for the past month or so. I nearly dismissed this project out of hand believing that self-help books were not of interest to me. But a wise person counseled me to think again and I’m so glad I did.
The words “self-help book” always conjured the scene from the movie, “When Harry Met Sally,” when Sally’s friend, Marie, says, “Sally, there’s a man staring at you in personal growth.”
Two years ago, I found myself standing in front of the self-help section at Borders with that scene playing in my head, laughing and then nearly crying at the absurdity of finding myself there. I had just come from my first visit with a counselor after suffering panic attacks and near-paralyzing fear. “How did this happen to me?” I wondered as I searched the shelves for the book, “The Anxiety Cure.” I found the book and quickly made for the exit, having set a record for shortest time in a bookstore.
The book didn’t reveal any magical cure for anxiety. In fact, it was not very inspiring at all. It had just a bit of common sense that allowed me to begin putting my fears into perspective. And it urged me to write down my feelings, something I had done faithfully for years in a journal, but had let fall by the wayside in recent years.
Now that I reflect on it, I’m not even sure my counseling sessions helped, short of giving me someone to whom I could vent my fears and insecurities. And yet I only revealed those fears that were at the surface of my anxiety. I never really tapped my deeper issues. With each session, however, I gained back a little more of my self-confidence and the belief that I could make my life better. My counselor didn’t tell me I could make my life better. In fact, she said very little. But then, maybe that’s the point of counseling, letting us discover on our own how we can make positive changes. If that’s the case, it worked well.
But now I’m finding inspiration in those self-help books that I mocked. I’m not saying there aren’t a number of charlatans out there. I remain skeptical at the beginning of most books. But in my searching, I’m finding bits and pieces of inspiration and wisdom that I can apply to my life. For example:
• Idealism and realism depend on each other. (That’s good news all around.)
• Peace is made in our own hearts and nowhere else. (I’m beginning to see that.)
• “In all thy getting, get understanding” (A Proverbial gem.)
• Joy is at the core of sustainable life. (This is my favorite.)
• True maturity is relational and involves our capacity to know and love others. (We need human connection to grow.)
• Loving relationships have a healing power that no one can measure or truly understand. (Yep!)
And that the practice of listening “is the soil out of which all the fruits of our human relationships grow” and will always raise more questions than it answers. But that’s okay because I’m also discovering how fluid life can be and that the best we can do while it’s in our grasp is to practice simple human kindness and then pass it on.