A good beginning for rescuing ourself from the habits of psychic self-destruction is a thorough understanding of what to do, what to stop doing, and how to do it. However, this will not be enough to accomplish most of the healing changes we need. It is wildly presumptuous to believe that our knowledge about what needs to be healed or how to do this will accomplish much by itself. Great ideas will not work unless we apply them. Good intentions will also produce few changes unless we have the skills to express them in our daily activities. Detailed images of perfect serenity and health will also accomplish little unless we follow up by expressing right attitudes and behavior.
If we want to be more cheerful, we usually need more than good intentions to achieve enduring change. If we want to be more calm and confident, we cannot “just do it”—we need to cultivate some major changes in our beliefs and outlook. We need to improve our knowledge and skills for transforming our major beliefs and habits.
The common mistake many of us make in the rush to peace and health is to indulge in magical thinking and tempting short cuts. We attempt to “release” our anger and fear to “the great void.” We “give” our depression to God. We visualize pink light around our enemies in hopes of converting them to friends. And we convince ourself that angels are at our side pumping us full of peace and confidence. These activities may bring a few moments of comfort, but they actually help us only to escape our distress for short periods.
Much of this over-confidence is rooted in the notion that intense faith in ourself and a strong desire to accomplish our worthy goals is all we need. Somehow this belief will magically draw to us opportunities and abilities to achieve what we seek. However, as important as confidence and faith are, we cannot substitute belief for the knowledge, skill, and strengths we need for most important tasks. For instance, if we want to learn to play the violin, we cannot just “do it” by haphazard scrapings of a bow over strings. We must take the time to acquire the appropriate knowledge and skills.
The knowledge and talents we need to help us recover from the worst aspects of psychic self-destruction include skills in detachment, forgiveness, thought control, goodwill, optimism, changing beliefs, finding meaning in our struggle, being proactive, courage, and many more. These abilities and virtues are specific talents we need to acquire and express in an effective and timely manner.
At this point, it is tempting to assume that we know enough about these things. For instance, most of us assume we are fully competent in the art of forgiveness and in being proactive in our views and methods. Too often, however, our actual results do not justify this confidence.
Forgiveness is one of the major techniques for healing the roots of our hostility, alienation, and general discontent about past and present experiences. Unfortunately, there is widespread misunderstanding that forgiveness is just a matter of “forgetting” the harm others do to us. We just “let go” of the anger, and suddenly, peace and good feelings erupt about us in one quick step. And if this healing does not seem to work, it must mean—according to “experts” who recommend this method—that we did not truly want to forget this person or event.
Of course, this is total nonsense. The art of forgiving is much more complex. We cannot just figuratively spit out our anger. Our accumulated anger has to be transformed within us. This means we must digest our unpleasant experience by:
- Extracting its nourishment (accepting the lesson).
- Assimilating these insights (revising beliefs and habits).
- Flushing the remaining angry emotions (letting go of old negative reactions).
We need many skills to accomplish this—not just strong desires to change. For starters, we need to learn how to:
- Detach ourself from our feelings about past events.
- View painful experiences from a more thoughtful perspective.
- Reframe how we see this issue in light of our new insights.
- Accept (at least partially) these events and the dark feelings that go with them.
- Give up our “right” to seek vengeance as well as an apology and compensation. (Note: Our continued anger and demand for some sort of material or emotional payment will keep us strongly linked to our worst enemies and memories and prevent the completion of our effort to forgive. Review the chapter on misery magnets if this is not clear.)
We also need to learn the importance of using these healing methods. The majority of people who attempt to use these methods fail to follow through with them until the healing work is completed. The usual reason for this is the bizarre expectation that great ideas and methods work by themselves. Just “understanding” why we are anxious or annoyed is supposed to be very healing, but it is only an illusion created by our over-confidence and laziness. If we know why our kitchen floor or clothes are dirty, this understanding does very little to clean them. The same principle applies to using virtues such as self-control, detachment, or cheerfulness to manage our distress.
Merely admiring the virtues of forgiveness and tolerance is not enough to activate the power of goodwill. We need strong and compelling motives to empower us to begin and continue the work of forgiveness. Putting good ideas and methods to work seems too difficult for many people, so they just “expect” these things to happen and rarely go beyond this point.
Knowing what we want may be a good start, but very little happens until we engage in right thought, attitudes, and behavior. Waiting for rescue or to “get lucky” is not a strategy for repairing our wounds or building up the qualities of mature health. We need to know what to do and how to do it, not just believe and hope.