20: Being Practical

A long-standing mood of depression or anxiety needs more than a great theory to be healed. While we can study the great abundance of God’s blessings and joy, we need to do more than just examine it. Even though all things are possible, some of them can only be activated if we serve as their agent! Converting our dreams into reality takes more work than hope and wishing.

While our imagination can be the workshop for creative thinking, only a focused effort will bring our dreams into manifestation. We can imagine, for instance, being relaxed and serene in our moments of meditation and contemplation. For some, this is a useful achievement, but it is only a preliminary step toward becoming calm in our daily activities. The capacity to translate an ideal state of mind and sentiment into how we behave in our waking life requires us to think and work in practical ways. Our capacity to work pragmatically with the resources and opportunities we have—not the ones we wish we had—is the linchpin between the ideal and reality. Without methods for doing this and the hard work needed to make it happen, we are doing little more than exercising nice fantasies.

Unfortunately there is a long tradition of substituting dreaming for practical work and wishing for prayer—although many users of these techniques do not yet understand the difference. A clear expectation of where we want to be in terms of our psychological state, health, or achievement is a good start, but only a beginning—and sometimes not even that. When wonderful visualizations and dreamy hopes are the largest part of our effort to change, we are wasting time that could be better spent.

A good way to initiate a practical approach is to remember those times when we actually experienced the state of confidence, cheerfulness, and calmness that we seek now. Almost all of us can remember times when we felt strong, optimistic, and assured. By remembering these times, we can re-experience the states of mind and attitude we need to restore our health. This can be a seed or pattern we can use to direct healing energies into our subconscious each time we revisit these good memories.

Indeed, anyone who has used misery magnets to practice psychic self-destruction already has vast experience in using this healing strategy—in reverse! Just as we can recall the embarrassment of humiliating mistakes and throw ourself back to a miserable state of mind, we can also recall memories of triumph and lift up our mood and confidence. We can do the same with happy memories filled with confidence. We can recall times of great achievement, when we reaped the rewards of our efforts.

Once we recreate these healthier states of mind and mood, we need to let this conviction of strength spread into our self-concept and view of the world. This is how we anchor a change of mood into a more positive perspective about how we view our current situation. We might, for instance, notice that we are more attentive and appreciative of many good things in our circumstances. We may be able to let minor annoyances fade away as almost irrelevant. In addition, we become more aware of our strengths and capacity to accomplish great things. As we sustain these states of mind and mood, we bring new healing energy into our subconscious patterns of belief. This use of good memories will create permanent improvements in our basic attitudes and convictions. It is one of the strategies for converting our ideals into reality.

There are many other ways that pragmatism generates repair and healing for the devastation of psychic self-destruction. A common error is to try to fix what is the responsibility of others. Trying to fix the unfixable and change the unchangeable can be a huge frustration and waste of time.

There are large numbers of people, for example, who endure terrible frustration trying to convince others (parents, relatives, or spouses) that they chose the right career or married the right person. We might be in conflict about how to raise our children or where to live. Sometimes politics or religious beliefs become the battleground. These kinds of problems can produce years of heartbreak and annoyance.

The practical approach is to back off and realize we do not need to convince anyone that we are right—as this probably will only cause more distress. Instead, we need to restrain our defensiveness and put our energy into reassuring ourself that we are okay. We do not need everyone to agree with us and support our beliefs. A little bit of self-control, self-confidence, and tolerance will cure the bulk of our frustrations. These are activities that we control and impose on our mood and thinking—a good example of how practical methods can save us years of misery. Sometimes focus of self-desruction is not the beliefs of others—it is something about ourself. Perhaps we are too short or too tall and we are forever feeling out of sorts about it. Or we may be too thin or too heavy and are continually embarrassed. In other cases, we feel handicapped because we have an introverted personality in an extroverted world. Perhaps we are rather shy and not good at small talk, so we feel uncomfortable in social situations.

Whatever the irritation is, it is possible that healing and contentment will come to us by quietly accepting things we cannot immediately change. We can change our weight, but not our height. We can influence the beliefs of those who are reasonable and friendly, but not the stubborn and fanatical. Like the weather, we may need to accommodate it instead of fighting it.

This does not mean—as some rush to conclude— that “God made me an unhappy person, so I will remain this way until God changes me.” This is a terribly self-serving rationalization that dishonors our human and spiritual potentials. There are always many things we can do to augment the comfort of our life—even when ongoing problems and hardships exist. We do not have to give up trying to help ourself when we realize that we cannot “fix the unfixable.” Instead, it is a recognition that we have the wits to stop wasting time on what is impossible, so we can concentrate on what is possible. This is the essence of pragmatic thinking— and a vital strategy for our healing.

Part of pragmatic living is to think, plan, and work within the realm of the resources and opportunities we have. This requires us to take time to consider what we can control or influence and separate them from those situations where we have almost no control or influence. When we do this, we will always be planning and working from a center of strength rather than being in a position of weakness.

This idea should be obvious, but it is often ignored. It is common for people to protest situations where they have no control or influence. Being stuck in heavy traffic is an example. Getting annoyed at the cars ahead of us or the government officials who failed to build a wider road several years ago produces no positive benefits. Being upset because of bad weather or big crowds in stores where we are shopping also serves only to put us in a bad mood and exhaust us. We all know this, yet we tend to let our annoyances take control and repeat the pattern of making ourself upset and grumpy. We need to take time to recognize where we have little or no influence and turn to adjusting our expectations to include these situations as they are—not demanding that the situation must change to what we want.

It should be obvious that the only person we truly and correctly control is ourself. If we are committed to being practical about healing our frustrations, then we need to work in the most efficient and effective manner. This means that most often we need to change ourself—not our spouse or boss or neighbor. Over a period of time, by our example and encouragement, we will have some influence over others, but this will be weak compared to what we can do about ourself.

In other words, if another person annoys us, we have the primary responsibility to learn how to get along with him. Aside from polite requests to change a few things or negotiate some compromises, it is in our best interests to work on developing our capacities for tolerance, goodwill, and minding our business. Of course, outrageous behavior does not have to be accepted, but most of the rest does. If we learn to be less judgmental and more patient and understanding, we can become more calm, generate a spirit of harmony, and liberate our capacity to enjoy life.

The need to change our attitudes and expectations applies to everyone without exception. We have an obligation to live in this imperfect world as it is. Perhaps our world consists of a marriage or job or living condition that is less than ideal. We need to be able to tolerate some annoyance in these situations or we will destroy our health, more by our reactions to outer circumstances than by the situation itself. This is a primary rule for building mental health.

If we get ourself under control and manage to be calm and cheerful, we may be surprised how much our circumstances and other people will begin to become less irritating. We must remember how our annoyance and anger can stimulate the same mood in others. If we are continually broadcasting the ener-

gies of our discontent, we must expect that we will often experience the return of these attitudes as they “bounce off ” the inner frustration in others. Moods can be just as infectious as a virus. For the sake of our own serenity, we need to be as calm and patient as possible.

As we find better approaches to coping with whatever annoys us, we will define the strategies that truly help us heal hurts and soothe our irritations. Pragmatism is an essential ingredient.

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