By Dr. Howard Samuels, Author of Alive Again: Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
Editors Note: If you feel that your life isn’t where you want it to be, and you are not sure what to do to change it, pay close attention to the information below – you will be glad you did!
Life is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re living in a huge mansion or standing in line at a soup kitchen, the truth of the matter is, not many of us are given the tools while growing up to cope with the many stressors in our lives. But, there are people out there who seem to have an idea of how to stay optimistic in these changing times. I spent much of my adult life perplexed by their good natures, and even more confused by their good will, until I learned that there were principles — and, by principles, I mean universal truths — that I could apply to my own life and literally change how I felt, not only about myself, but about the world around me.
Some of them seem like common sense, but you need to understand going into the exercise that reading these principles and actually practicing them in your day-to-day lives are two entirely different things (and that the latter requires vigilance and willingness). The phrase, “easier said than done” applies here. But, the truth is, if you’re reading this, then chances are you’re in the same place I was when I first discovered these practices; and that means you’re ready.
Here are the 12 Spiritual Principles I try to live by on a daily basis:
There’s this thing called The Serenity Prayer which goes something like this: God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference. What painful, awful thing in your life are you accepting that, in all truth, you can actually change? Once you deeply accept that only you have the power to move forward in your life, then you can take the action to do it. But there are also things that you cannot change, and the work here is to accept that you can’t manage that situation or this person or that thing. There is power in powerlessness also, because it frees you from conflict and allows you to enjoy the rest of your life with real aplomb.
LIVE YOUR TRUTH
You’d be surprised how many lies I told myself and how many times I suffered because of them. Indeed, the lies I told myself fed into the lies I told other people and left me isolated when all I ever craved was connection. Can you believe that? My cure for loneliness was isolation. But I changed all of that when I started to speak my own truth and gave the people around me the opportunity to truly know who I was and what I stood for. We live in fear of what other people will think or say about us, but do you really want those kinds of people in your life today? Tell your truth; embrace who you are and let the naysayers know that, if it’s going to make a difference as to whether they love you or not, then it should start making a difference Now.
I have a friend who, for one morning every month, pretends to be blind. He wakes without opening his eyes, fumbles his way to his kitchen to make coffee then heads off to the bathroom to shower and brush his teeth. He eats a bowl of cold cereal and dresses himself and doesn’t allow himself to open his eyes until he gets behind the wheel of his car to go to work. And he does this so that he can live in gratitude of the many gifts in his life, least among which is the gift of sight. I try to practice gratitude also, although not with as much verve as my friend; but I recognize that, in today’s world, it is easy to become entitled and walk around with a sense of indignation and lose sense of the things that really matter, and fall away from gratitude. Everything in your life is worth exploring, whether it be the fact that you can walk and run or the knowledge that, if it ever gets to be too much, the world is designed to accommodate you and help you not feel so abandoned or alone.
HAVE FAITH IN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
We come into the world, each of us, with our own baggage (sometimes it’s an abandonment issue; sometimes it’s simple trust issues, etc.). We acquire these as children, but we discover that these lessons no longer serve us in adulthood, and we become forced to re-parent or reeducate ourselves. Part of this means learning how to trust our friends and partners and spouses. These relationships are important and you need to think of them as a carefully concocted stew of love and patience and understanding. When we distrust the people closest to us, what we are actually doing is adding negative ingredients to the pot — jealousy, possessiveness, suspicion . . . of course, they are going to react in a negative fashion. And we are often shocked when conflict arises, but it is conflict that could have been avoided if we’d made a conscious decision to come from a place of love than one of antagonism and unrest. People are sometimes going to let you down. This is a fact of life. But it is our responsibility to not create an arena for them to do so.
BE OF SERVICE
My wife is an amazing woman. I am in awe of her, but still got a bit resentful one night when I did the dinner dishes and didn’t get so much as a thank you when all was said and done. It was then that I realized that I was looking for a payoff for simply being of service, and that was when my life changed. It isn’t an act of kindness if you expect something for it, and once you remove the payoff from the equation, you will find yourself catapulted to the next level of true selflessness, and that is the understanding that the reward for loving is loving; the reward for being of service is being of service. And the self-esteem that comes from reaching out and helping other people is invaluable. Because it gets you out of your own head and helps you not feel overwhelmed by problems or other concerns. It helps you feel connected.
LAUGH AT YOURSELF
It never ceases to amaze me how sensitive I am. People who care about me — who I know absolutely love me — will sometimes point out one of my idiosyncrasies or talk about something stupid I did in mixed company and, for a long time, it would hurt my feelings and I would over-react. Granted, we all need to monitor how we are perceived (you don’t get a second chance at first impressions), but learning how to laugh at yourself can help build stronger relationships. You family and friends should not be made to feel as though they need to walk on eggshells around you; it’s up to You to create a safe, non-judgmental space for those around you because it is only in this space that you can experience the joy of authentic laughter. And, the fact of the matter is, I can’t possibly be the only one to leave a public restroom with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe.
LIVE IN THE MOMENT
Your past is inescapable, your future is unavoidable, but your present is forever unrestrained. We sometimes spend more time obsessing over things that have happened and dreading some unforeseen future that we forget the simple truth that, right now, in this moment, we are okay. No matter what is happening, even now — reading this — you are okay. Take a breath. Enjoy this one, perfect moment, because it is yours. You have plans and obligations, sure, but we’re not there yet; right now, it’s just us, living in this wonderful moment, and reveling in the fact that, in and of ourselves, we are complete, we are worthy of connection, and we are enough. When things get hectic, remind yourself of this and get centered. Only in the moment are we ever our perfect selves.
PRACTICE RESTRAINT OF PEN AND TONGUE
This was a hard one for me to learn. But then I realized that a lot of the conflict in my life was of my own design. I had to adopt a new way of relating to other people. I had to ask myself, “Does this need to be Said?”, then, “Does this need to be said Now?” and finally, “Does this need to be said By Me?” The three simple questions, in one fell stroke, eliminated so much pain and drama in my life that it left a huge space in my life that could only be filled with a new influx of love and understanding. Not only did people suddenly want to be around me, but the problems that I thought could only be managed by me seemed to work themselves out on their own. I had, for lack of a better term, inadvertently learned how to get out of God’s way.
LEARN TO FORGIVE
This one’s a hard pill to swallow, because I’m not a huge advocate of “Turn The Other Cheek”; I believe that you have to talk about (and really process) some wrongs that have been done to you before you can get to the part where forgiveness is possible. But, I also believe that it gets easier every time you do it, and that the emotional work involved is worth the effort it takes to get there. Some transgressions are unforgivable, true. But most aren’t. Bear in mind, I am not telling you to run out and forgive everyone; I am telling you to LEARN to forgive, because that’s where the spiritual growth will come from: it will come from the journey toward forgiveness.
I have a friend who is a huge naysayer when it comes to new concepts and ideas. The simple truth is, he’s so busy seeing THROUGH everything that he can’t See ANYTHING. And, sadly, as a result, he will always be right where I left him, because his capacity for growth is stunted by his inability to embrace new ideas. But this doesn’t have to be YOU. Allow yourself to have an open mind. Accept that even the worst-dressed person at the party may have something interesting to say to you and put your hand out to say hello. Rediscover your sense of wonder. No matter how old you are, the world still has a lot to show you. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having very Human experiences. Avail yourself to each and every one.
EVERYTHING YOU CAME HERE LOOKING FOR, YOU CAME HERE LOOKING WITH
I cannot tell you how much time and energy I wasted searching for some sort of outside “thing” to fix me. And everywhere I went, the answer was always the same: We’re Perfect. In and of ourselves, we are whole and complete. Inner Peace comes from accepting this as Your Truth. Granted, there are things about ourselves that we can change, and there are outside things that we can acquire that will enrich the quality of our lives, but none of those things are the destination of any spiritual journey; every spiritual journey is designed to help you find yourself. Because it is only when you’ve found, accepted, and learned to love Your Self that you are capable of connecting with anything else, whether it’s other people, your family, or a God of your own understanding. Believe it.
BE COURAGEOUS IN LIFE
Maya Angelou is a celebrated American author and poet who once taught that Courage is the most important of all the virtues because, without it, you cannot practice any of the others consistently. It takes Courage to Love. It takes Courage to be Honest and to speak your own Truth. It takes Courage to Forgive. It takes Courage to Reach Out and Help Other People. The list goes on and on. I had to learn very early on how not to let Fear dictate my behavior ; I had to learn how to not let Fear inform my decisions. You can do this, too. I promise you. It’s in you. If you’re reading this, then you’re ready to take a few chances and truly Grow. And, if worse comes to worst, keep this in mind: A Turtle cannot walk — it cannot move forward — unless it sticks its neck out.
© 2013 Howard C. Samuels, Psy.D, author of Alive Again: Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
Remember, as Dr. Samuels says in the beginning of this article, that it is easy to read the above descriptions of these 12 spiritual principles laid out here. If you want to make a change in your life, start applying these to your life. This is the time of the year that many of us try to start living in a different way, so why not start with these principles? But don’t try to incorporate all of them at once, why not choose one each month and make it part of your routine? By the end of 2014 you will have them all!