The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Secret Formula" 4-13-14: Gratitude


All right, the last basic piece of the puzzle (we’ll discuss minor or supplemental pieces soon).

Gratitude is the one that kicked my butt in Atlanta.  How am I supposed to be happy about something causing me so much pain?  I could see the trap: while it is possible to power yourself with negative emotions (fear, anger, hate) that is a different path.  “The Dark Side of the Force.”  I don’t deny that it works, but that was not, at all, what was being discussed in Wattle’s book.

Not “THE” path, but certainly “A” path, and the one that called to me.   Even if I could find things to be grateful for in this instance, could I apply this across the board?  Can a person be grateful in ANY situation?

This is going to be a delicate one, but I’m going to mention it anyway.  One of the great teachers of my life was a woman named Dawn Callan, teacher of a fabulous self-defense/empowerment workshop called “Awaken The Warrior Within.”  In two days, Dawn could teach women more about self defense than most instructors can in two years.  She did this with a combination of simple techniques drilled endlessly for two days at high intensity, combined with spiritual therapy-group style introspection and sharing.  Then, at the end, you practice your skils against a padded attacker, in a combat exercise that has to be experienced to be believed.  INTENSE.   Breakthrough stuff.

I watched hundreds of women go through this process, including some who had been raped or abused.  And they came out the other side with a sense of power and possibility that was astounding. Dawn was, in the space of that workshop, an avatar of power and responsibility and pure Goddess energy, fierce as Kali.   About five two on the outside, and seven feet tall on the inside. Amazing woman.     I asked her what was the hardest thing she had to face in helping these women (and later, men) through this challenge.

And what she said blew my mind.  With a woman who had been raped, her greatest challenge was getting her to take responsibility for what had happened.  What?  What the hell?  

She was very precise in her language.  “Responsibility.”   Not guilt, blame, or shame.  Response-ability.  The ability to respond.   Without that, she believed, you were a victim forever.  Taking responsibility for what HAD happened opened the door to taking responsibility for your future actions and behaviors and encounters.

With that, you tap into your deeper perceptions, intuition, and pure animal survival drives from a spiritual perspective.  Without that, all you can do is plead for help or mercy.  And that was most definitely NOT where Dawn was coming from.

And it was difficult, because the natural tendency IS to confuse “responsibility” with guilt, blame and shame.  But if you remove those emotions, what have you?  

Commitment.  A sense that, even if you cannot always see or understand the pattern, you have agency. can you embrace a philosophy like that?   What of abused children?  What of people born into unbelievabl poverty?  What of people born with childhood diseases?  Can you ask them to take “responsibility” for any of that?

You cannot demand it, no.  And it is totally understandable that saying this can be uncomfortable. Even worse (much worse) some people use such a philosophy to justify cruelty or neglect.  “Why, they chose that miserable state…”

What the hell, indeed.  And Dawn, a woman of titanic, ruthles compassion, understood that.  So she would NEVER ask people to accept such a position until she had shifted their emotions to a powerful state in which they could view their lived out of the “victim” mindset.

This is a tightrope.  Huge.  But every woman I saw cross it found something that she thought she had lost: a sense of power in her life. She could not change what had happened, but by God, she could take every ounce of that pain and turn it into motivation. Strength. Resolve. She could define what had happened to her as the trigger to turn her into a tiger committed to protecting ALL women, ALL children, and that she was willing to die before losing her commitment.

Taking power like that, as hard as it clearly was, opened the door to a kind of power and clarity that was...unique. Never seen anything like it.

And if hundreds of women could do THAT, what was I being asked to do?  To find a way to be grateful in the midst of pain.  Was there a way?   Could I even imagine looking back ten years from now and seeing ANYTHING to be happy about?

Well...sure.  Maybe .01% possibility, but…

And if that was true, if there was only a single cold star in a bleak, black night sky, didn’t it behoove me to concentrate on that star, if doing so brought joy to my life, and that joy made me a better husband and father...and writer...and coach...and then made me a more attractive, dynamic person, drawing in allies and opportunities...which then could lead to me getting out of Atlanta and back to L.A.?

I could see the line of causality.   I could “grasp” it. Could see how something analogous had worked in other circumstances.  Had had the people I trust most in the world tell me, every one of them, that I had to find joy, peace, happiness...GRATITUDE...where I was, when I was, or I was on the wrong path.

I could have my pain and anger and despair...or I could have my life.  I just had to step away from the damage, not define myself by my ego trainwreck.   I was not “that.” My life was not defined by “that.”  I had agency.  Had made choices.  Could MAKE choices...if not in what had already happened, certainly in my interpretation: what does it mean? Who am I?  What is true?

And if I could line that up so that every event was empowering, even the negative ones...if for no othr reason than I HAD LEARNED THE LESSON AND SURVIVED...then everything that had ever happened to me in my life could be an empowerment.  A doorway. A bridge. A motivator.  

Every enemy an ally.   Every happenstance a miracle.   Every day of my life a building block to the man I am today. And if I love that man...I must be grateful for all of it. To all of THEM.  

Forgiveness is not a gift to your enemies. It does not mean forgetting, or allowing them to hurt you again.  It is a way to unburden your heart.  

If you learn the lesson, you can release the pain and fear.  And what love.

And gratitude.  For another day of life.  For a strong, healthy body. For the people who love and trust me.   For Jason, and Nicki, and my beautiful, brilliant wife.  For the chance to help one more person by embracing the truth of my own existence.

And the only cost for this lightness of being is giving up the need to be right. And the fear that if I don’t dump my negative emotions and fear onto others, it will rebound upon me.

Could I be that strong?  Could I?  Well...if I was committed to being the man I’m committed to being, yes.  If I am to be the father and husband I am committed to being, yes. The role model I’m committed to being. The friend. The writer. The coach.

It made sense, even if I couldn’t quite attain it.  So I did what I have done before: I made it a prayer.  To God, to my own Higher Self--you decide.  I don’t care.

“God,” I said.  “I’m going to give up my anger.  I’m going to take the leap.   I can’t see what is in front of me, it’s a leap into a fog bank.  All I ask is that you either catch me, or, if there are rocks down there...let me hit them before  I see them.”

And I jumped, into a world of love, and acceptance, and...gratitude.

And was caught.  And transformed.


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