The Law of Attracting Trojan Horses

People talk about “the Law of Attraction” as a way to hook Hollywood headlines, Washington power, and Wall Street wealth. I believe in the Law ofAttraction, but I don’t think it’s that simple. In fact, I direct a slightly bitter laugh at the whole concept of thinking ourselves to success. Haha.

Here’s the sobering truth: We don’t attract what our minds want. We attract what our souls want. The mind, despite its amazing abilities, is powerless to do miracles unless it’s in cahoots with the soul. And what do our souls want? Not the cabana on the beach, not the well-oiled, nubile partner, not our names in lights.

Our souls want us to wake up.

Dammit!

Because of this, we draw into our lives—inexorably, unintentionally, with maddening repetitiveness—exactly the things that lead most directly to awakening. In many cases, that’s our deepest suffering.

You know how the road to hell is paved with good intentions? Well, the road to heaven is paved with apparently horrible mistakes. In order to wake up, we must not only observe people who bring up the most unenlightened parts of our egos—not even merely encounter them. We must give birth to them, move in with them, invite them into the bathtub and the bed right along with us.

So many of the things that transfix us, the things that make us fall madly in love, are Trojan horses. We think they’re a gift that will make us happy, and for a while they do. But then our time to awaken arrives. The new baby who’s slept angelically for two weeks develops colic. The perfect lover quits antidepressants, cold turkey. The friendly new coworker smilingly throws us under the bus in a meeting.

The soldiers are out of the horse.

There’s an awful period of resistance when this first happens. We go through all the stages of grieving our own deaths, because part of us is dying: the ego’s attachment to the story of the thing that’s going to make us happy forever.

So, here we go. You know the steps to this dance:

Denial
This isn’t happening. At worst, it’s just a blip. Everything will go back to normal soon.

Bargaining
If I try harder, if I do a better job and really make them happy, everything will go back to normal.

Anger
I WILL NOT PUT UP WITH THIS HAPPENING! EVERYTHING HAS TO GO BACK TO NORMAL, NOW, NOW, NOW!!!!

Grief
Nothing’s ever going back to normal. I want to die. I can’t get out of bed.

Acceptance
Maybe I can find a new normal. True, Troy is now being run by the damn Greeks. But on the other hand, we’ve got a really nice big wooden horse.

This sequence happens when we fail to get an expected email or our favorite sitcom gets cancelled, let alone when we lose a job, a love, or a lifestyle. I’ve been through it several times lately, on a moderate scale. And here’s what I’ve seen, every time:

I’ve seen that what we’re most afraid to lose is never a thing, person, or situation, but our story about how that thing will make us happy, conform to our ego’s desires, and remain forever unchanging. This is true even when the thing is our own body.

I’ve seen that when we relinquish our stories—when the truth of our soul kills the narrative we’re spinning out to impress ourselves and others—we reach acceptance and suffering ends.

I’ve seen that on the other side of death lies peace. Not the peace of the unsuspecting Trojans before they got that awesome horse, but the peace braided through their epic poetry and psychologically compelling myths.

This is what our souls attract. This joy, this disappointment, this euphoria, this depression. This death after death after death. Ultimately, I believe that we can let all our stories die. Then we’ll accept every Trojan Horse, every betrayal, as precisely the gift we most needed in order to awaken.

The meta-learning I take from all this is simple: know that your story is your own invention, and that it will die. Hold it lightly. Enjoy your gift-horse. And when the Greek soldiers pour out of it, offer them your sword.

Are you following love into fear?

 

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. –Helen Keller

When I was 14 years old I realized that I could either: 1) do something that scared me every day, or 2) live under my bed hoping to catch and eat the occasional mouse, like a snake. I was so frightened of life that I could see my life as an agoraphobe rising over the horizon.

I chose a life of fear. Thank God.

I’ve been guided by fear my whole life, but not the way you’d think. Being afraid of something—as long as the something sounded remotely interesting—became my cue to throw myself into that very thing.

All my life, I’ve addressed crowds because I’m scared of public speaking, traveled because I’m afraid of jetlag, written books because I’m pretty sure that everything I’ve ever written flat-out sucks.

All I wanted was a life that kept me out from under the bed. I didn’t expect that my full-frontal-fear lifestyle would give me a profoundly meaningful career, deep and lasting love, and countless experiences so amazing I’d think I dreamed them if I didn’t still have the receipts.

I’m so grateful for all this bounty.

And I’m still terrified.

Today, I have to pack for a retreat I’m running in Africa, write my column for Oprah Magazine, and begin shaping my ideas for a new book. These activities all scare me spitless, which means I absolutely will do them.

Damn it!

Of course, even though my fear never vanishes, things are easier now. Because these days, I know that other terrified people (maybe you’re one of them) are walking right beside me. People who’ve joined my tribe of hardy life coaches, or ripped open their souls for the Write Into Light group, or started their own books.

I won’t tell you that you can’t get hurt doing this. You can get devastated. It’s happened to me a hundred times. It’s happened to everyone who follows love right into fear. Too bad. Try it anyway. Climb out from under the bed. Spit out your last mouse tail. Grab one of our clammy, shaking hands, find a fear—got it?—and forward march.

 

Are you ready to live like Jumping Mouse?

One of my favorite stories EVER comes from many Native American traditions, and is estimated to be at least 10,000 years old. I read it when I was 15, in the book

Seven Arrows, by Hyemeyohsts Storm. I didn’t know why I began to sob as I read this apparently simple tale of a mouse who wants to find his way to the sacred lake that is the source of all things. I didn’t know until decades later that the story is a guide to awakening, that it metaphorically traces every step on the way to enlightenment.

The story is called “Jumping Mouse.” It’s about an ordinary mouse who can’t stop hearing the call of the rushing river (which symbolizes spirit or source). Little Mouse heads off on a journey to awakening. As it begins, a frog appears and insists that to follow his yearning, Mouse must jump. He must jump very, very high. After a few hesitant tries, Mouse puts all his tiny strength into one huge jump. He falls down into the sacred river, which terrifies him, but the magic has happened—at the highest point of his highest jump, he has seen the mountains of his soul’s home, where the still lake of spirit waits to show him his true self.

After that, Mouse gets a new name: Jumping Mouse. He no longer moves by creeping and crawling. He bounds along, leap after leap. (There actually is a species of mouse that gets around this way).

The point—everything that happens to Jumping Mouse has a point—is that once we’ve set out in search of Home, we can’t move by creeping and crawling any more. We can’t tiptoe, keep our profiles low, avoid exposure. Life becomes one leap of faith after another.

This is not an easy way to live. Jumping Mouse doesn’t have an ordinary mouse life. He has adventures that terrify and injure him. But along the way, he encounters and integrates great realizations, unusual friendships, deep wisdom, and finally his true self. Have you been to the river? Have you begun to live by leaping? If not, start now. Leap at the next chance that speaks to your heart. One leap of faith at a time, we’ll all get Home at last.

Stop Doubting and Start Writing

“When I write,” Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” We all feel that way when we set out to do something truly important. I doubt that Vonnegut ever believed his writing achieved as much as he wanted it to. But it changed a lot of things, all over the world. For one thing, it changed a Mormon girl growing up in Provo, Utah. It changed me.

The best parts of my childhood were made of books. That’s why, as I grew up, I came to see every task as trivial compared to sacred process of writing. Written language is such a huge magic, such a magnificent castle to explore with our minds, that it’s both magnetic to me, and scary as hell. The first time I had to write a poem for school, I didn’t sleep for five nights. They had to put me on Valium. But after that—even when the Valium ran out—I found that I felt much, much better when I continued writing. Writing became my sanctuary, my trusted friend.

Do you feel this way too? If so, I have some good news, and some bad news.

Bad news first: Those of us who know we’re supposed to write can no longer afford the luxury of procrastination. The world is a freaking mess, have you noticed? The madmen are running the asylum. Monstrous narcissism and lethal short-sightedness dominate every sort of social pyramid. Earth’s ecosystems are failing. Something has to change.

Now the good news: WE CAN CHANGE THINGS! ALL THE THINGS! We can change them in our pajamas! We just have to use the full, healing magic of writing.

For decades, I’ve been devising ways to use writing as a two-stage healing process. First, I use different strategies to “write inward,” discovering and expressing truths I didn’t know I knew. Then I find the flow reversing direction, finding different strategies to “write outward,” sending my newly discovered truth out to help someone—anyone—else.

Writing, you see, is equal-opportunity magic. It loves us all.

I believe with all my heart that if we use writing in this way, we can fix almost everything have broken. I know it’s an audacious belief, but what the hell, writing is audacious magic. One clear thought, powerfully phrased, can literally change history. You don’t have to create a book. Your message can be on a blog, or a tweet, or a damn T-shirt. But you have to write it.

I can sense you out there, feeling armless and legless, mouthing your one pathetic crayon. You probably feel like your crayon isn’t even the right color. Dear one, we all feel that way. IT DOESN’T MATTER. The time has come to stop doubting, and start writing.

Need community to cheer you on? Join the Write Into Light Teleseries. Need a role model? Read great writing. Need a reason? Look around. As Toni Morrison says, “There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

So put fear aside, my brave world-healer. Wriggle your way over to the nearest wall. Take your crayon firmly in your lips. Begin.

Celebrating the Ebb Tide

You are an ocean. You’re about 60 percent plain water, with an admixture of chemicals that approximate the sea in which your most ancient ancestors evolved. Also like the sea, you are tidal. You ebb and flow. Your heart and lungs continuously contract and expand.

Your circadian rhythms alternate between alertness and sleepiness. You also have ultradian rhythms, multiple physical systems that ebb and flow within each day. Ultradian rhythms control things like your hormonal levels, heat regulation, appetite, and nostril dilation. (Yes! Nostril dilation!)

Unfortunately, you’ve had your natural rhythms disrupted by a culture that praises you for working continuously, and makes you embarrassed or ashamed of the need to rest. But in high performing roles, from musical performance to office work, human beings function best in bursts that max out at 90 minutes. These work periods are interspersed with at least 20-minute periods of R&R (I myself find that 70 minutes on, 30 minutes off, is the best way to get things done).

Here’s my life-coachy challenge for this month: Try tuning into your innate rhythms, allowing ebbs as well as flows, and see what happens. When you settle into work, or play with your children, or clean the house, set a timer for an hour. Before you start, rate your energy level from 1-10, with 1 being “I am so close to dead I can see Grandma beckoning from heaven,” and 10 being “I am on crack and plan to take over the universe.” Work with full attention until the timer rings, then check your energy levels again. If you feel like resting, even a little, do it. Lie down. Wrap yourself in a soft blanket. Read a book. Close your eyes and feel yourself descend into an ultradian peace. After 30 minutes, check your energy again. If you feel like working, set the timer and dive in again. If you don’t, rest a bit longer, then re-check. All day, follow your own rhythm.

Just paying attention to this will tune you into your own best working pace. If you can keep yourself from comparing your rhythms with others, or insisting on mechanical consistency, or panicking about everything that’s still left to be done (dear, there will always be infinite things left undone) you’ll eventually find yourself working more powerfully and resting more deliciously.

Just to reinforce the importance of ebb, as well as flow, let’s celebrate the resting times. Go to Facebook and post a photo of yourself letting the tide run out. Show us how you curl up and rest, cuddled up, eyes closed, nostrils dilated out to here, and trust that when you stop fighting the pull of the tide, the ocean in you will bring everything you need.

Imagic-nation

I have two magical daughters. This story concerns the younger one, Elly, who as a toddler befriended an imaginary red fox. I won’t divulge the fox’s name, because he told it to her, not me. I used to hear her side of their conversations. “My friend Leah said God is everywhere,” I heard her say when she was three (she was in the empty kitchen, I was in the adjoining room). “Does that mean God is sitting on me?” I think this is a solid question, though I didn’t hear what the fox answered.

The first time Elly visited me in the California countryside, a red fox–rare in these parts, where grey foxes prevail–walked in front of our car, stopped, and stared at us calmly. We began to give her fox-themed gifts. The holidays, when my kids come to stay, got ridiculously foxy. Look:

This year, the day my daughters arrived, so did Sol (short for The Solstice Fox). Mangy, skinny, and shivering, he crouched right by the front door, squinting at us as if to say, in a quavering mangy-skinny-foxy voice, “Is Elly here? Elly, is that you?”

He looked so miserable a visiting neighbor suggested a festive holiday euthanasia-by-shotgun, which didn’t go down well in our animal-loving, bleeding heart family. Instead, we had the following discussion:

“Hey, why don’t we give him what’s left of that chicken we ate last night?”

“Wait, do foxes eat chicken?”

“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Fox in the henhouse’? What do you think he’s doing in there, sketching?”

I left the half-eaten chicken carcass a few feet away from Sol, who looked troubled, but was too weak and miserable to run away. A few minutes later, my other magical daughter, Kat, saw him with the chicken, not sketching it:

 Watch another Sol, The Solstice Fox, video.

The next day, Sol trotted past the house, eyes open, head up. For the rest of the holiday, we put the leftovers of our feasts where he could find them. By New Year’s Day, he was downright frisky.

I’m glad Elly’s imaginary friend wasn’t a bear, or a mountain lion, or a dragon, because we don’t have room up in here for that level of festive. Sol the fox was perfect.

So happy 2017, my friends, and remember this year to use your imagination deliberately and wisely. It really does seem that whatever holds our attention, whatever calls to us, eventually comes calling.

This Holiday: Remember the Elur Nedlog!

giftsI don’t think people talk nearly enough about the Elur Nedlog. True, I never talked about it myself until it occurred to me a couple of months ago, but that is no excuse! The Elur Nedlog is the Golden Rule spelled backwards. Where the Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the Elur Nedlog says, “Don’t do unto yourself anything you wouldn’t do unto someone else.” I think the sentiment has to run both ways. That’s just math.

So especially in this season—this festive holiday fairyland strewn with its festive holiday fairylandmines—I plan to hang onto the Elur Nedlog the way your cat would hang onto you if you took it out for a nice ocean swim. Before I do any little thing unto myself, I’m going to ask if I would ever, ever do that thing unto a random other person.

I don’t mean my loved ones, here. I’m way more impatient and demanding toward my loved ones than toward strangers. No, the Elur Nedlog has to apply to everyone. Like your favorite celebrity. Like the Dalai Lama, or Malala Yousafzai, or Baby Jesus—what the heck, Jesus at any age.

Here are some things I would never ask any of these people to do, even though I customarily do them to myself each and every December:

  • Make them go to a holiday event that has a proven history of making them want to jump off a bridge.
  • Require false cheer from them even if they’re feeling sad or anxious.
  • Insist that they give all their loved ones perfect gifts at the perfect moment with the perfect presentation.
  • Hate them for eating too much.
  • Insist that they spend money they don’t really have to please people they don’t really like.
  • Demand high activity from them when they’re tired.

Just the thought of not doing any of these things to myself seems radical. Scandalous! Which sort of proves I’ve been breaking the Elur Nedlog right, left, and center. Enough, I say! I’m going to make this my first Elur Nedlog holiday ever. If I can. If I can’t, I’ll cut myself a little slack even on that. Because not to do so would be to break the Elur Nedlog yet again.

Manifesting 202

november-2016I don’t often yammer about “manifesting” because I think the whole topic is a bit cheesy. On the other hand (she said, blushing) I know it works. Call it the Law of Attraction, call it selective attention, call it karma, call it long distance and tell it to jump off a bridge if you want—the plain truth is that we basically experience the world we think into being.

I’ve been mulling this over for years. I wrote my most recent book—Diana, Herself— as “fantasy fiction” so I could describe the magic I experience without being institutionalized. But after all this time, I’ve only just noticed a detail about manifestational technique that (she said, blushing harder) has made a huge difference for me. I want to pass it on to you.

We all know (she said, trying to make everyone blush) that focusing intensely on something, then letting go of all attachment to it, seems to manifest what we think. Intention, attention, no tension. Those are the basic ingredients.

I was recently surprised to realize that in addition to the things I want, I’ve also been using those ingredients to create logjams and stalemates in my life. I realized that my unhealed traumas—or, to be precise, the erroneous beliefs that come from them—are sending out strong manifesting signals that contradict what I want to experience.

For example, say I want to bring more love into my life. I can intend the hell out of this desire. I can spend hours picturing myself embraced by a wonderful community, including hundreds of puppies and kittens linked together in some Lady-Gaga-costume-like configuration. That intention goes out into the universe. So far, so good. BUT…

If a childhood trauma once made me feel alone, and I haven’t healed and integrated that traumatized part of myself, my child-self is still insistently projecting “I’M ALONE!” I may not even know my traumatized self is there, but her fears and mistaken beliefs will “manifest” exactly what she’s saying. She may cancel out my positive statements, such as, “I am surrounded by countless friends who love me so much they carve my bust in cheese for their annual Thanksgiving festival.” The net result for me is…not much. I’ll just repeatedly manifest the same blend of hope, itty-bitty improvements and setbacks I’ve had all along.

IMPORTANT: THE FIX FOR THIS IS NOT MORE POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS.

Positive statements mean nothing to a lonely (or frightened, or impoverished, or powerless) child. That child needs you to put down the vision-board glue and turn your attention to her (or him) the way you would to any traumatized person who stumbled, lost and broken, into your proximity.

This is where manifestation meets self-help, coaching, and therapy. Stopping everything to turn inward and clear out false beliefs created by trauma is the way to empower your “magical” self. Go to a shrink, a coach, an AA group. Find any pain you haven’t yet addressed. Notice how you’ve attached beliefs to the trauma, like “I’m alone” (or “I’m not good enough,” “I don’t have enough money,” etc., etc.). Dissolve those beliefs with sharing, compassion, connection, and/or The Work of Byron Katie. As the trauma-beliefs dissolve, they’ll stop shouting their pain into the void—and manifesting what they shout.

At this point, you’ll find that desires you’ve had for years will begin to manifest like mushrooms after a heavy rain. Everything you want now has a clear, unblocked channel through which it can reach you. You will not believe the stuff that shows up (write me a Facebook post and tell me)!

Today, try setting the intention to track and identify the hurt aspects of yourself, the ones that are shouting the opposite of your desires. Then, instead of trying to suppress them, give them positive attention. Love them. Teach them. Get help for them. Don’t give up until their story about the world begins to warm and soften. Then the state of no tension will emerge by itself, more powerfully than you’ve ever felt it. Lie back and relax. Everything you’ve ordered is on its way. Before you know it, they’ll be carving your likeness in cheese.

Like Ten Thousand Knives When All You Need Is a Spoon

spoonIt’s been a long day, and I’m almost out of spoons. I have a couple to use writing this, but I’ll need a good sleep to forge more spoons for tomorrow.

Does this sound odd to you? Let me tell you about “Spoon Theory,” my current preoccupation. Spoon Theory is a real thing—you can find it in Wikipedia, listed as a neologism (a phrase just entering popular usage). Spoon theory is the brainchild of the wonderful blogger Christine Miserandino, who has Lupus. She explained life as a Luperian (is that a word? A neologism?) by using spoons to represent the energy it takes to do things.

According to spoon theory, every task we ever do—getting up, taking a shower, driving the kids to school—costs a spoon. Most people, most of the time, have dozens of spoons. But there are times when some of us wake up with only ten, or four, or one.

If you’ve only got one spoon, you have some decisions to make. Should you shower, make breakfast, pay your bills, or focus on a crucial work project? Choose carefully. Your options are practically nil.

As someone who’s had various autoimmune diseases since my teens, I’m acutely aware of everyone’s spoon count. I raised my longsuffering children on a king-size bed, since I usually couldn’t walk, sit, or stand without pain.

So the other day, when someone with her own autoimmune issues offered to check my email for me, I said, “That’s not happening. You’re out of spoons.”

“No, you don’t understand,” she said. “That would give me spoons.”

Wait. What?

“If it were my email, it would take spoons,” she explained. “My email makes me want to join a witness protection program. But doing it for you makes me happy. See?”

And I saw! I did! Her cheeks were pink, her eyes suddenly, subtly, brighter. She had accrued a spoon! Just one, but still.

The implication of this event, while shocking, must be faced squarely:

SOME ACTIVITIES CAN GIVE YOU SPOONS!

This isn’t part of classic Spoon Theory, so far as I know. But as I cast my mind back to my own most spoonless times, I remembered occasional, inexplicable surges of energy. I’d hear a bit of wisdom, and feel my baseline vim spike up to near normalcy. Or I’d have a good cry and then feel lighter, stronger. In fact, most of my self-help advice comes from being absolutely out of spoons, and then noticing that certain thoughts and actions added to my inner silverware drawer, instead of robbing it.

Now, please don’t think I want you to buck up, ignore your depression or fibromyalgia, and clean your damn house. Dude, you might as well just fling all your spoons into a live volcano. No, no, no. I just want you to go wherever your spoons take you.

See, we don’t get to choose which effect a given activity has on us. I can’t make my email give me spoons—I’ve tried, and the effort left spoon-shaped gouges all over my soul. But sometimes when I’m low and miserable, I notice a topic, a book, or a person, and hear a tiny plink! inside. My ears perk up. My mind clears.

Spoon!

I believe we’re all being steered by our true selves, and our true selves’ favorite steering mechanism is spoons. When we stray off course with actions or even thoughts, nothing on earth can make us feel spoonful. When we take a single step in the right direction: Spoonage! Maybe a teeny espresso spoon appears, or maybe it’s a big old soup ladle. A spoon is a spoon. Just keep doing whatever created it.

If you long for the world to be a saner, more loving place, please be advised that you must start inside. Care for your sick, anxious, exhausted self as lovingly as you want to care for every suffering thing. And when you find something that gives you spoons, go toward it. Go right into it. Go wherever it takes you. If I’m brave enough to follow my own heart, I know I’ll have the spoons to meet you there.

How to Live Your Truth

candy-machines-1321898-1599x1066“If you think life’s a vending machine where you put in virtue and you get out happiness,” a character on the TV show “Six Feet Under” once noted, “then you’re probably going to be disappointed.” Most people find this out the hard way. I suspect you did. The times when you obeyed all the rules and got punished anyway, ate righteously and still got sick, worked yourself half to death to achieve a goal only to feel depletion and disappointment rather than the happiness you expected — the happiness you paid for, by God!

For thousands of years, wise observers have pointed out that whatever’s in charge of the universe “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” And for thousands of years, the rest of us have answered: “Wait — what?” No matter how routinely it happens, we’re shocked and appalled to see good folks shivering in downpours of ill fortune while their villainous, luxuriantly tanned enemies send postcards from sunbaked beaches.

Perhaps this indignation arises from some innate sense of justice. That’s what the French doctor Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard started testing in 1801, when he took on the care of Victor, a “wild child” who’d spent an estimated seven of his first 12 years in the woods (being raised by wolves … or squirrels — we’ll never really know). Victor had only a rudimentary understanding of human language and social convention. Yet when Itard experimented by punishing him for behavior that usually earned him a reward, the poor child struggled mightily against his punishment.

Whether or not we’re born with it, we’re certainly socialized into the belief that the nickels and dimes of virtuous acts will drop snack-size potato chip bags of happiness into our lives. Our parents offer praise for obedience; our bosses give productive employees promotions and unproductive ones pink slips; our courts (at least try to) punish misbehavers and recompense the wronged. And of course, an endless stream of books, movies and TV shows offers us narratives in which the good guys win, over and over, while the bad guys ingloriously fail.

No wonder we’re stunned when we follow the path of compliance into catastrophe. This doesn’t feel like bad luck; it’s like an unfathomable malfunction that, in the words of Anne Lamott, “would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.” While we’re coping with our misfortune — the cancer, the divorce, the bankruptcy — we may also lose faith in the basic rightness of life itself. Some of us spend years kicking the cosmic vending machine, raging at anyone (parents, psychiatrists, lovers, politicians) who might be in a position to cough up the happiness we’ve paid for, or at least give us our money back.

Of course, like any impossible task, this effort produces only exhaustion and despair. At some point, even the strongest burn out. Maybe you’ve reached this limit, plunging from violent outrage into numb nonresistance. Or perhaps — especially if your suffering has been intense — you’ve tried to find relief. Maybe you finally went to a therapist, or learned to meditate, or found yourself downward-dogging away in the yoga pants you swore you’d never wear.

These kinds of responses teach us to stop attacking the imaginary vending machine; instead, we sit down beside it, in all our furious disappointment, waiting for new insight to arise. And here’s the thing — though this approach won’t prevent a lifelong do-gooder from getting cancer or keep a lightning bolt from striking down the nicest person in town, that insight will arise. Following paths of stillness and curiosity, rather than rage and despair, we eventually make a fascinating discovery: Although the righteousness-reward theory hasn’t worked for us so far, it contains a bright thread of truth. There is a kind of virtue that really does buy happiness. The problem is, we’ve been taught to use the wrong kind of virtue and expect the wrong kind of reward. We’ve been plunking euros into a machine geared for dollars, expecting chocolate from a machine that contains only fresh fruit. To get the machine functioning correctly, we need to tweak a couple of definitions.

Let’s consider virtue first. Most of us have been taught that it’s a trait synonymous with adherence to social rules: our family’s way of loving, our peer group’s way of achieving, our social class’s politics and manners. We think it’s virtuous to do what other people want. We may believe this so deeply that we override our innate inclinations. Psychologist Stanley Milgram famously designed a study in which a researcher instructed ordinary people to administer painful electric shocks to a fellow study participant (actually there were no shocks; the subject was an actor pretending to be in pain). Even when they heard a fellow human screaming and begging for mercy, many people went on shocking him just because a scientist intoned, “The experiment requires that you continue.” Following rules? Not always virtuous, it seems.

Now consider happiness. You may believe it comes from external phenomena: praise, money, status, adoration. But even when we attain these things, the happiness they create is temporary and unreliable. External rewards may bring a surge of elation, but it quickly fades, leaving the millionaire still fearing financial loss, the beloved actor still suicidal, the aging supermodel still hating her body. If you’ve experienced this pattern — effort, followed by achievement, followed by elation, followed by a letdown — you may still be tenaciously striving, thinking just a little more money, fame or beauty will make you happy. Observe the evidence. Save your strength.

Try this: Define virtue as living in perfect alignment with what you most deeply feel to be true, and happiness as an upwelling of joy that arises directly from this alignment, regardless of external factors. Then run your own experiment. With these new definitions, you’ll find that the virtue-in, happiness-out vending machine works. It really, truly does.

I’ve experienced this myself. Several times, I’ve broken the rules of my culture to follow my sense of truth — ended my marriage, left my church, chosen to be vocal in my dissent. Each time, I’ve lost relationships and money, experienced social shaming, even suffered threats to my life and liberty. I won’t lie: It hurt. A lot. Yet, paradoxically, each choice also increased a flow of happiness that seemed to arise for no reason except that I’d stopped blocking it. I was amazed to feel peace trickling through sorrow and disappointment, gradually dyeing everything some shade of happy.

When people experience this — despite outward losses — they begin blooming like flowers, from misery to surrender to thoughtfulness to inner peace. Alignment in, joy out. In sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, that machine works.

If you’d like to experience this for yourself, join me in something I call an Integrity Cleanse. The word integrity (from integer) means “wholeness.” Living in integrity means expressing and doing what’s true for you in all situations. Depart from your truth in any way—offer a fake smile, flatter your awful boss, marry for money—and you become two people: the truth knower and the lie actor. That’s duplicity. And duplicity, not social noncompliance, is the real enemy of joy.

To start the Integrity Cleanse, first ask yourself, “Where am I out of integrity?” Where are you not feeling what you feel, knowing what you know, saying what you believe and doing what feels most right? Once you’ve identified the duplicity, come back into integrity. Speak your truth. Act on it. No matter what.

Sound radical? It is. Plop integrity into an unfair system, and you’ll get back disapproval or attack. People have been imprisoned for living with integrity. People have died for it (sometimes moving society a little closer to equality and liberty in the process). Even if your consequences are relatively minor — your parents object when you leave graduate school, your book group mocks your political stance — they’ll still sting. At first you may feel the same old outrage: “I put in virtue and got back punishment!” Stay the course. See what happens.

I’ve watched many people take Integrity Cleanses. They often leave (or experience rejection in) situations that don’t match their truth. This can feel like the end of the world — because it is: the end of the illusory world where rule following buys happiness. Refusing to give a drug-addicted loved one more money; quitting the secure, horrible job; stating your beliefs to bigots — such actions may feel like dropping atom bombs on your own safety. You’ll certainly be afraid. Maybe sad and angry as well. But almost immediately, you’ll also feel an indescribable relief, as if a broken bone that healed badly has been reset in its correct alignment.

Continue your Integrity Cleanse and you’ll begin to see how the cosmic vending machine really works. You’ll find ways of thriving in the world as yourself, not someone else’s puppet. Despite all the challenges, that will feel good. In fact, it will feel amazing.

But don’t take my word for it. Try putting complete integrity into the vending machine of your own life, and sample what you get back. Even though the reward may not be what you expect, and although some bitterness may mingle with the sweetness of living your truth, I doubt you’ll ever have tasted anything quite so delicious.


ic_shop_200x200Discover the Ultimate Path to Peace: The DIY Integrity Cleanse Kit

How would it feel to be grounded in your truth, in every area of your life? No more saying “yes” when you mean “no.  No more stifling your truth to avoid rocking the boat (even a little) No more striving to please no matter what it costs your soul.

Find out how to live your truth from a place of peace>