Chapter 1: Learning How to Live Well

Understanding the way the mind works is to understand the reality that we make for ourselves.

Library science is my profession, but learning how to live well is the mission.  And I don’t mean monetarily well.  We can’t truly help others until we find the still point within that makes it all make sense

At what point does a strong sense of Self become egotism rather than protection against Hamlet’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”?  Self-confidence with humility is a boon enjoyed by so few of us—but what a joy when it visits even in fleeting moments.

A failure to view life positively is not benign.  It creates momentum, and if one doesn’t watch it, negativity will snowball to become a veritable avalanche.

We are sometimes told, “Live each day as though it were your last.”  But this is not helpful advice if one has the wrong attitude toward work—an attitude that everything should have been done yesterday maybe, if not before.

Some of the best advice in this vein I ever received was from an older and wiser family friend who reminded me, as I embarked on a new job that entailed establishing a middle school library, “Remember that you don’t have to do it all on the first day.”

A recurring theme in my journal is the need to enjoy all the moments of my life.  If you are doing something (or failing to) that makes you crabby, you are yourself ruining the very essence of living.  If life is not lived in daily moments, it is not “lived” at all.

Journal writing is an invaluable tool for the centering of one’s life and work.  Once I went for 19 months with only two entries.  It is instructive that the last entry before starting this dry period was entitled “New Centering.”  I had reached a plateau and was willing quietly to rest there for awhile.

Creative assessment of real desires can help bring them about.  But too much introspection can become retreating, and this fuels neurosis.

On making good decisions:  “I’m feeling reassured that I will know the right decision to make if I pay attention to my nocturnal dreams, keep a positive and happy outlook, and listen to my heart (i.e., the Holy Spirit dwelling within).  Psychic inclinations help, but I must check them out and not go overboard.”

When a song goes through my head, I pause to remember the lyrics.  It is a fruitful path to the unconscious.  Like a dream, the lyrics frequently take me a step deeper in my psyche.  When I found myself humming “Mona Lisa,” I had to ask the obvious question, “Am I being cold to the people in my life?”

Ego is such a powerful motivator that when it is let go, one must find a substitute worth living for.  Mine is a genuine but perhaps grandiose desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world.

But that is not the whole of it.  One still must fill countless hours with the minor chores of daily living.  One cannot always be doing great things.  And if these chores fill so many hours, can anyone say what “great” really is?

A candid personality attracts because its owner seems to have dropped—at least for our eyesight—the mask that we normally wear.

Too much talk can kill a dream rather than increase the likelihood of its coming true.  Often the words are a weak substitute for truly living an experience.  Paradoxically, excessive verbaliza- tion can be a smokescreen set up to hide one’s inner being, which we believe (inaccurately) would be worthy only of rejection if viewed without its mask.

My family doctor asked, “What are you doing for fun?”

“Everybody,” he continued, “needs something to look forward to.”

There is more common-sense emotional advice in those brief words than in most hours of psychoanalysis.

I wonder if I’ve sometimes created a tempest in a teapot out of boredom.  If I get upset about something, then I have the upset to deal with rather than the boredom.

Do I seek fear to avoid boredom?

For the anxiety-prone part of me:  “Sometimes I simply have to disengage my mind from worry.  That seems the healthiest way to live, and I have not always been able to do that.”

There is a truth about mental illness that mostly only the mentally ill see.  At the heart of a split from “reality” is a sharp glimpse, however imperfect, of Reality.  Always there is a partially formed mystic crying to get out.  Who knows but that a psychotic sufferer has opted to jump ahead by one of the most wrenching means?  Who knows what contributions the next life will bring?

Many psychotic periods are a kind of trial-by-fire to purify the soul.

Choosing a pathway without suffering may take longer, and so is it any wonder that we in our impatient world sometimes opt for the shortcut, however stigmatizing that may be?

“I think I choose sickness when I’m ready for a break from the world.”  A day after writing this, I came down with a virus that gave me a fever and mild aches for a week.

My pipe dream that I could be happy just reading all day quickly evaporated, and in its place came a great need for people, which sent me to the phone.  When I wrote those words, did I know I was getting sick, just below the surface in my unconscious mind, or was I doubly psychic (intuiting sickness and giving my reason for it)?  It is also true that I was at a turning point in my work, ready to take a new direction after finishing the tasks of the past months.  Was God trying to get my atten- tion?  It is only in retrospect that the answers to questions like these ever come.

A decision made upon facing possible illness:  “I’ve been my own worst enemy in fearing health conditions in the past, and it’s time to put faith into action and not aggravate the situation with meaningless fears.”

Recognizing that a behavior is irrational is the first step toward changing it.

On understanding the way the mind works:  “I’m realizing that my superego (as Freud would say) is very strong, even severe.  Maybe if I were more forgiving, my thoughts of what I ‘should’ do  would be less punishing.  The choice to do the loving thing is not at all coercive.”

Chapter 3: On Decisions Proving Tough to Make

Years ago I was director of admissions at a small college for six months.  It didn’t work out for the college or for me.  When I left, I learned secondhand that the college president didn’t think that I was “suited for administration.”

That remark stung more than leaving the job.  Once I entered library science, the specter of administration loomed as a career ladder.  Because I have always had way too much ambition, I’ve tried to reconcile innermost needs with that specter many times.  But it can’t be done.  Yet have I really wanted to prove, all along, that my old boss was wrong?  Is that really why administration has been such a bugaboo for me?

Sometimes I think library science as a career just fell in my lap.  In this work I’m able to plan ahead and therefore have few deadline pressures.

Yet my first ambition—journalism—would have been filled with those very deadlines that I most dread.  What benign destiny altered my life plan for the better?  I can claim no credit for this, because I gave up on the idea of journalism and opted for library science for all the wrong reasons.

Many of our life decisions—as we “remember” them—may be based on myth.  The “reasons why” that I’ve told myself may have had no basis in fact.  We construct a fiction in retrospect that sounds more rational than the decision was at the time.  Or am I just more of a mythmaker than the average person?

Individuals sometimes “fight all the way” decisions that are providential.  This learned from reading anecdotal accounts of heavenly guidance.

Is this what has been going on for me as I resist library administration?

Not that anybody has asked.  I say ahead of time that I’m not interested so that I won’t be tempted with an offer I can’t refuse (an offer that “can’t” be refused normally appears, at least for me, to be ego-inspired).

I have to be certain that the ego is not the motivator here.  Perhaps I am destined to be in indecision about this for awhile.  Maybe I should stay in non-resolution until I learn what my soul is trying to tell me.  Yet non-resolution over a long period of time, I have learned, usually counsels “no.”

On a decision proving tough to make:  “Earlier this week I intuited, ‘You’re already made up your mind,’ and I hadn’t (consciously) about library administration.  But then soon I realized that my unseen partners probably know more about my life’s intentions than I do, at least what seems to be the most rational or logical way to carry out the purposes I set before I was born.”

I think I’m finally clear on “no promotions” at my job.  For years I’ve been pushed about by the impetus to succeed in my profession, and there has lately been some spillover in my writing.    It’s what Joseph Campbell calls a “concretized symbol” that will “push you around.”

I had a lovely synchronicity in that I read a journal entry and found total agreement with a passage from Campbell that I read the night before.  Campbell warns the artist (and specifically a writer) not to let his work (the art) get contaminated by his job (his employment).

For people with such impetus, he affirms, “. . .to keep up with your responsibilities and your fitness and still nurture your creative aspect, you must put a hermetically sealed retort, so that there is no intrusion, around a certain number of hours each day—however many you can honestly afford—and that time must be inviolate.”

In my case, my writing is informed by my employment.  At my job, I enjoy the social inter-actions and they teach so much about how people respond in all sorts of ways.  (Not surprisingly, that’s also the greatest personal benefit I got from the study and teaching of literature.)

All second-guessing and other vacillations aside, sometimes just not wanting to do some-thing is sufficient reason not to do it.  And even if it flies in the face of one’s habitual pattern of decision-making.  Maybe that pattern has always been flawed, even though it served in another time and place.

This is a new day, as described in a biblical passage:  “. . .rejoice and be glad in it.”

Sometimes timing is everything.  I was once extremely ambivalent about taking a given job, but the moments in which I needed to act always seemed to arrive when I was in a positive attitude.  I did take the job; it did have drawbacks; but that early contradictory work life made possible the smooth pathway on which I walk today.

Persistence will carry the day (and the goal) when thoughts of indecision and low self-esteem threaten to block leaving the gate.

If the process of making up my mind is unduly protracted and conflicted, I have come to realize that the option I’m considering is wrong for me.

Very high moments create a kind of super-sentient emotional tone from which we can see and understand far more than possible in the routine of daily normal living.  It is a bit of an artificial state of mind, but is nonetheless a better time to suggest new pathways than moments of depression.

I was on a high from successfully defending my dissertation when the dream to publish first emerged.  Years later I can say that the impulse to write was a genuine idea possible of  accomplishment and the instigator of some of my most rewarding hours.

A “godfather’s offer” (one I can’t refuse, as in the classic movie) is at least tangentially related to the fatal flaw of Shakespeare’s tragic characters and, for me, is virtually always coming from the ego.  If one makes the decision not to be ruled by the ego, the whole Force of the universe comes into play to reinforce this truly holy endeavor.

On the unreality of reflection:  “I have noticed a tendency to ‘resolve’ issues in my journal, and then–later–impulsively to choose a different answer.  I think I try to form a certain reality from wishful thinking, but then make a different decision when life seems to suggest otherwise.”

A vacation is not always the best time to make decisions about puzzling problems.  At least twice in one year I made that attempt, only to find when I returned to my normal routine that my decisions did not make sense.

Written upon reflection, two years subsequently, “It is easy to plan when very rested, as I was during that Christmas.  But the unreality of my thinking gives me pause for thought.”

On the impetus not to hide talents in the ground:  “My tendency to find a ‘should’ in life is causing me some problems.  I am too rigid (and unforgiving of myself) when believing that I must always try to do what I ‘should.’  In particular, right now the ‘should’ is taking the form, ‘I have these talents, so I should. . .[whatever].’

“All of this is a monkey on my back that I can’t seem to shake off.”

When I awaken with a certain idea, I wonder if my subconscious has served up a message.

On self-tolerance and self-acceptance:  “I remember waking up one morning with the thought, ‘A lot of us believe in a world where everything is not a matter of life and death.’  It seemed a thought from the Other Side, a plea for common sense in decision-making.  Maybe I need to meditate on why I have such a problem with a ‘should.’

“Am I too irresponsible?

“Am I not dependable?

“Am I innately lazy and try to whip myself into shape by manufacturing imperatives?

“Have I accepted a big challenge in this lifetime and probably take myself too seriously in trying to work it out?

“Do I fear regretting to work as hard as I can?

“Do I just have too strong a superego?”

Later . . .

“I know now that if I forgive more readily, I will realize the world can forgive me as well when I don’t measure up to some standard of unreachable perfection.”

There is a way of living by intuition and a way of living by rational choice (the latter usually called just “reason”).  The two are not mutually exclusive, of course.  But I have found that life is freer, more natural, happier, when I am brave enough to let intuition rule.  And it does take some bravery.

It takes a certain willingness to follow intuition.  Maybe there will always be a question in my mind about whether I am being rational.  But time and again events prove the correctness of following yet another hunch.

Do we have “free will”?  I once read someone’s remark to the effect that we act as if we do when we cross the street, so why not assume that we do?

Many years ago I was in a frame of mind in which unlimited possibilities seemed open to me.  The salient aspect of this period of time was that I was living with an attitude filled with love.  In making decisions, invariably I would come to a fork in the road.  It seemed that I could choose either way ahead and—this the questionable part—that either would be equally “OK”—just different ways to work out my destiny.  Maybe we really do live in a safe universe when we are at home in Love.

Reality offers what I really want–the prayer of the heart.

Sometimes the unconscious guides us to a certain familiar pathway as a warning.  If I find myself gazing vacantly out a window and fantasizing about the future, the future that I see is best avoided.

Remember not to try too hard to predict the future; probabilities change.