There is God

A collection of essays on the subject of God, language, love, and forgiveness.

Eric Armstrong

Imagine for a moment that God is. Imagine that there is a powerful force in the universe that you can merge with, become one with, experiencing divine ecstasy in the process. Imagine that, in that state, your head clears of all confusion. Ideas and insights leap into your mind, unbidden. Imagine that your heart clears of all worry, all fear, and that you are filled with love and the joy of life as you experience the magical oneness of all creation.

Such a state of being has certainly been written about before. It has been experienced by many. If you have never experienced it yourself, it's tempting to take the notion of "God" on faith. But faith is a tricky thing. When you believe that something exists, but have no true knowledge of it, your imagination has a way of taking you down very strange paths. That insight could help to explain the world's many and varied religious teachings--even though, at their core, all religions share a common truth.

Language, too, is a tricky thing. The kind of language you use has a way of directing your thoughts. Even more, it has a way of directing the thoughts of the people you communicate too--especially the children who are so frequently indocrinated into religious teachings.

For the moment, be open to the possibility that God is. These articles tocuh on the nature of that concept--a force of love woven throughout the fabric of the universe, touching everything. They start by examining the language we use to talk about the subject--language that all too often misleads us in ways that keep us from having a direct experience of our own. After that, they dive into some of the paths that lead you to that experience.

There is God.

There is God. Not "a" God. Or "the" God. The use of an article indicates a singularity. Something separate from other things. Mostly, something separate from us. Language is a funny thing. It's a tool that helps us figure things out. The right language makes it easier to think about things. But language can also mislead us -- especially in areas that are not well-suited to language -- like God.

Similarly, "he", and "his", or even "she" and "hers" are misleading. They make God into some sort of person -- rather than expressing "that which is woven into all that is". Even when you understand the truth, using terminology like that can confuse others. It can even confuse you!

Phrases like "God's forgiveness" are borderline. It's possible to misinterpret them, but there isn't any better way to express conceptual relationships of that kind. Other examples are: "sanity's hallmark", or "love's joy". On the other hand, phrases like "God wants you to..." or "God asks that you..." definitely anthroporphism the concept of God into some sort of individual person, which creates a verbal separation where, in reality, there is none.

For more, see God, Potter, and Social Systemics.

Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Saw a sign in front of the church the other day. Something to the effect of:

We forgive others...
He forgives us.

That struck a chord. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Yeah!

It's a shame the religion has gotten so bogged down in the concept of "belief", and that somehow this "belief" ensures "salvation". There was a wonderful PBS special on early Christianity the other night. It wasn't always so. The Gnostic Christians, in particular, were focused on receiving Jesus' message. What better message than, dying on the cross, to ask for one's persecutioners to be forgiven? Yeah!

Conversion while-u-sleep

Happened last night, in a dream. Most wonderful. I was on "leave" of some sort, and working with a blonde-headed woman. Don't recall the details. Something she did, or something she said, made me glow. I had a conversion/epiphany/enlightment right then. It felt minor. Not big at all. But it was a change inside. A new understanding. (I wish I could remember what she did, or what happened at that point. But the story goes on...)

Time passes. I did other things, though I don't recall what. I returned to prison (!). When I arrive, I have two packages -- a framed picture (in real life, I have one I'm waiting to give to a friend) and a small wrapped cube of some sort. I get in, take my seat, and immediately get up and go to the (warden's?) office. She is there, talking with three other people. I interrupt for a moment and give her the gifts, lingering just long enough to see the radiant look of joy when she sees the picture. That was the effect I intended! Yeah!

I go back and take my seat. I had returned with one person, and we had "dessert" waiting for us. "Dessert" was a pair of dirty shorts. I remember thinking, "What an indignation!", but I begin eating without complaint, and I don't feel indignant. The overseer comes over and starts putting crumpled things (like stones) under my toes, in my sandals. It's supposed to hurt when I walk. My initial reaction is to stand and ask, loudly, if torture is allowed. But I stand, and I feel no pain. More importantly, I feel no animosity.

At this point, I realize that I have been a hardened criminal most of life, and I am being treated this way because of my past interactions with these people. There is no question of forcing them to change their opinion. It does not even arise. I simply accept. And I say "sir" a lot.

I'm standing, and being addressed by the fellow. I have to apologize for a distraction, and I give him my full attention once again. He asks, were you praying? With some surprise, I realize I was. I say yes, sir. But the prayer was without words. It was a prayer to remain in God's Grace, to continue experiencing and expressing God's love.

I wake, and lie in bed trying to remember what the event was that precipitated that entry into Grace. I've had angry dreams in the past, bordering on violence. This could have been one. But it was far from that. Last night, I had watched a Stephen Segal movie about saving the ecology. He'd blown up lots of stuff, and knocked around a lot of people. But he'd had a wise counselor, and it ended with a call to connect with the environment -- with the universe that is God.

Maybe the movie played a part in that dream. I kept recalling how I didn't react in the prison. Was I forgiving? Yes, but there was no action of forgiving. There was no start to the forgiving. There was simply a "space of forgiveness" that I was in the center of.

After waking, I thought how well that attitude played with the authority hierarchy, but how it was likely to be a problem with the prison crowd. But I could see persevering until it was accepted, just as it would take perseverence before the authorities would accept that it wasn't an act.

But, of course, there was no goal of getting them to accept it. The reward was in the attitude, not in others' recognition of it. I could see a parole hearing:

"Do ask us to believe that this conversion is real?"
"That is for you to judge."
"It's pretty convenient timing, isn't it?".
"Yes. I have to agree that the timing is convenient. I can understand why you would be skeptical."
(Shrug shoulders. Smile. Not much I can do about the timing.)
"Are you going to agree with everything I say?"
"No. Only to the truth, as far as I can perceive it."
But is the answer to the first question that is the most intriquing. "That is for you to judge." Interesting answer, that. That is the only possible (honest) answer, because the question deals with the person's perception of you. Only time forms their perception. What they experience, what they hear from others, over time, creates a perception. And an initial perception, once gained, is not easily changed, in most cases. To respond, "I don't ask you to believe that", is to deny your inner truth. To respond, "I do ask you to believe that" is to change your focus from living your truth to making another believe your truth, with an emphasis on making.

Somehow, the insight that was transmitted from the blonde-headed woman's actions included an awareness that you can't make a person believe things -- and that it was wrong to try. They have to come to accept it of their own accord.

This dream occured after a song-writing class I was taking. A girl had been singing a song she wrote about some of the painful moments she experienced in high school. I remembered when I, too, had dwelled in the pain of the past -- literally carrying it with me from moment to moment -- and I realized how lucky I was to have had the guidance I needed to drop that burden. (My guidance had come from Grandmaster Tae Yun Kim.) The gratitude I felt and the recognition of the freedom I experienced undoubtedly led to the dream!

Freeway forgiveness -- No harm, No foul!

A fellow cut me off on the freeway yesterday. Immediately, I felt anger. Then I did the forgiveness thing. Right afterwards, a most amazing realization struck me -- I was not harmed! It seems silly, right? I mean, how could I have been harmed? But the alternative (which I've experienced many times) was to dwell on the situation, to be frustrated, to think of how the person was slowing me down, or how they were endangering me, and on and on -- and to add that frustration to the last thing that annoyed me, and add them both to the next thing...

But here, the cycle was broken. That "forgivessness space" led to the perception of myself -- as a being, as a whole entity -- still sitting in my car, completely unharmed, and still making progress toward my goal -- at sixty-some miles an hour, no less!

The amazing part of that experience was the feeling of wholeness. Like in the dream, I was in the situation, but no damage, no hurt resulted from it. "I" -- the "I" that is going somewhere, making a living, working to achieve goals --was untouched! I was still there, still going forward, still making progress, unharmed. Too cool! (My martial arts master called this "rising above". And there is definite sense of floating upwards -- an emotional "lift" you experience in the process. I never really understood those words before. I do, now.)

Later, I noticed that when someone cut me off, the forgiveness was immediate. Instead of waiting for the anger, the action itself triggered the forgiveness. It reminded me of something a gymnast friend once told me: When you're learning something new, you tend to "back it in". Let's say you decide to take your lunch to work every day. The first day, it's lunch time and you thing, "Darn! I forgot to pack a lunch". The next day, that thought occurs to at the midday break, when you're starting to think about lunch. The day after that, it occurs when you arrive at work. The following day, you think of it while driving to work. The next day, it's when you go to the car. Then it's on your way out the door. Finally, you remember it before you leave, and you actually pack a lunch!

That's the way we learn new things -- we back into them. So anger/frustration/annoyance is the initial indicator of a need for forgiveness. (And, typically, for admitting one's own culpability!) The act of forgiveness then dissolves those emotions. (Perhaps more accurately, entering the forgiveness-space produces the realization that they were never there -- they disappear like a chimera, like a movie image when the projector is shut off, like shadow puppets when the lights are turned on.) Eventually, the things that trigger those emotions triggers the forgiveness-response instead!

Observing the Process

When you consciously forgive, the excuses for others' behavior come second. The process goes something like this: Something upsets you. You recognize the upset. You focus on the source of the upset, and forgive. Various "exusatory" thoughts then occur, like "Oh, they probably meant well", or "they were just tired, or had too much to do", etc. The interesting thing is that NO excuses are acceptable until you forgive. Iif someone tells you, "they just weren't thnking", it means nothing at all. But after you forgive, you readily accept such explanations, and even generate them yourself.

What is the path to God's Grace?

I wanted to recall what it was the woman did in my dream to precipitate that wonderful state. I wanted to program myself to revisit that dream situation the next night (although the dream did not reoccur), so I began asking myself, "What is the path to God's Grace?". In other words, what was the situation that got me there?

The short version goes like this:

As you express gratitude, your joy intensifies, so in a very real way, gratitude is an amplifier. There is no particular action you can take you experience it, so you know it is a gift. But forgetting that it is a gift allows it to slip away. You have to open your heart and let it come in, from wherever it comes from, filling you from within. That opening is an act of awareness, of recognizing its presence.

Once experienced, that meditation helps you reconnect with the most powerful state of being you are ever likely to experience. But how do you arrive at the experience the first time? How does one come to experience a state that can only be described as "God's Grace"?

The Many Paths

I recalled my "marital arts" training with Grandmaster Tae Yun Kim. "Spiritual strength training" is probably a more accurate word for it. I recalled that I had experienced periods of real "enlightenment" (a feeling of lightness, incredible energy, spontaneous bursts of insight occuring frequently, feeling an emotional "lift" around the clock, 24-7).

The first of those period had occured while actively practicing gratitude (for anything I could think of) every waking moment. That one lasted a solid 2 weeks. The last had occured when I really connected with forgiveness. That one lasted a week. In between, there had been one when I was generating love for a week. (I think. That one does not stand out in my memory as clearly, and the details are buried in about 90,000 words of diaries I kept during that period.)

In computers, a "path" is defined as a chain of directories from the "root" (or top of the tree) down to a particular directory. So one path might be: God/Grace/gratitude. Another might be: God/Grace/Forgiveness. A picture of those paths, and a few others, might look like this:

        |           |        |       |       |
    Gratitude  Forgiveness  Love  Helping  Healing

There is an old Taoist saying that a religion is one path up a mountain, and there are many paths -- all going up the same mountain! The diagram above shows how that is so. And these are just a few of the paths. For example, many meditations arrive at a state of Bliss. So Bliss might be next to Grace, directly under God. And meditation might be under Bliss. (There are undoubtedly dozens of other possibilities, as well.)

Christianity is unique in it's insistence on confusing the result (God) with the path (Christianity). That there is God (what Christianity would call "one God") is a given. But from there, the "orthodox" religion leaps to "one path", which is absurdly arrogant, at best. (It calls for a lot of forgiveness!)

So God is the root of the tree -- or the top of the mountain. Grace is a "communion" -- feeling of oneness -- a joining together (which is what the word "Yoga" means, too!). And the various activities at the bottom are all paths to achieving that state, and actions that spring naturally from that state when you are in it! Finally, those actions are required, in response to various situations, in order to maintain that state. (More on that coming up.)

Learned Responses

Two other things I gained from my martial arts experience were:

In the same way that a physical attack produces an immediate response to ward off the attack -- blocking and punching -- the intrusions in our lives which precipitate anger, frustration, and annoyance, need to provoke an immediate "learned reflex" of forgiveness -- one that becomes second nature through persistent training.

But oddly enough, the gifts in our lives need to provoke a response as well -- a response of gratitude. The reason? A sense of gratitude is essentially an act of humility. A recognition that the good thing in your life really is a gift, that it came from somewhere. When gratitude is not present, the result is pride. And that emotion, oddly enough, indivuates you! (If Grace is a communion with God, then pride is a separation which removes you from that state. The emotions stay high for awhile, but outside forces eventually make you succumb.)

Like the prisoner in the dream, we all find ourselves in a situation that results from who we were. High and low, rich and poor, our "lot in life" stems from our past. If you believe in reincarnation, then you have an explanation for your "starting position" in the race of life -- it's a matter either of choosing the experiences you need to learn and grow, or the result of some cosmic plan that puts you where you need to be to get those experiences. But, either way, "loving acceptance" appears to be the only graceful way to deal with the situation until, by persistent loving and demonstrating your truth, the situation changes.

Most of all, it is important to express gratitude for the gift of grace! The actions of forgiveness, gratitude, etc. can help to maintain that state, but it is wise to pray for the inner strength to do so, and to be grateful when you're successful -- because pride in the ability to perform those actions also individuates!

In trying to write my understanding, as best I can, I am in that very process succumbing to pride -- to thinking that I really understand it. And that feeling individuates me, and imperils my inner serenity. I have to remember that this whole essay started as a result of a dream! In that dream, the gift of grace descended on me as a result of some action or demonstration that I no longer recall. Even when I experienced those periods of enlightenment, I undertook some action for a period of time, and I eventually found myself in that state. But was there a cause and effect? Do I understand the process that well? I think not! In a very real way, grace is a gift!

Taking Action vs. Forgiving

As always, the concept of being a forgiving person runs head long into the concept of preventing harm to yourself, or others. One response, when asked for your coat, is to give your shirt also. That is a valid, and possibly the best response. Another response, favored in the martial arts tradition, is to act to prevent harm. So you punch, not to retaliate for a grievance, but to prevent further harm from being perpetuated -- either on yourself or on others -- by the transgressor. It's a matter of "tough love" -- you hit hard when necessary, to preserve and defend life and the spirit. (Watch the spirit being taken out of someone who is oppressed, and the necessity becomes apparent.)

Interestingly, in that tradition it is highly desirable to strike emotionally, rather than physically. Physical actions are such a total last resort, that they hardly ever come into play. (I am not a master of this process. Far from it. I'm as ineffective as the most untrained white belt. I am only reporting here. But I admire the capacity to do it, and have seen it, so I feel I can say something about it.)

Emotional blocking and punching can take many forms. With words and gestures, mannerisms and behavior, one can act with humility, and remove another person's aggression. For example, sincere apology can remove the desire to punish. On the other hand, you can berate and intimidate another verbally -- not to punish them, but to enlighten them. Done with love, this can be a very effective process. How do you know it's done with love? Only when it's over. Someone who really hates you will keep the grudge, even after they've expressed it. But when someone loves you, even if they hate what you've done, it's over when it's over -- completely over (and that can be hard to understand or accept).

Emotional blocking can also take the form of deflection -- for example by defusing a tense situation with humor, or by distracting a person from their original intentions, or any number of other ways. Like any skill, these are actions that require practice to be perfected. Understanding how to do a somersault is not the same as being skilled at doing it.

Taking emotional action to improve behavior is the fundamental act of parenting. The hard part is to be acting from love, from grace, rather than from anger or frustration -- yet to still take the appropriate action to shape future behavior. I was fortunate in my martial arts experience to have the opportunity to do some "surrogate parenting". God, was I awful at first! At this point in time, parenting is definitely an "apprenticeship" skill. It's one you learn from a mentor. In most cases, those are your own parents, for good or for bad. But in the martial arts group, I had access to many folks who were much wiser than I, including Grandmaster herself when the occasion warranted it. I grew enormously as a result. I also witnessed abilities in these areas that I have yet to achieve!

Whatever the action taken, the deliniation is between past and future. Whatever action you can take, that is appropriate, you do take -- when it will have a beneficial effect in the future. But things that are in the past are forgiven. What makes that tricky is that "now" keeps becoming the past, and the "future" keeps becoming "now". That is the essence of the "flow" in Taoist and martial arts traditon.

Situations and Responses

In the martial arts program, Grandmaster's number one student, Master Salton, once said that Grandmaster gave us a variety of "tools" we could use in different situations. Over time, you wound up with an array of tools "hanging from your tool belt", and you became more skilled in their use. In retrospect, that analogy is particularly apt. This section describes some of the tools I managed to acquire (or observe in use) during my seven years in that program.

Like a carpenter working on a project, you need to pick the tool appropriate for the job at hand. (Sometimes, there are several possibilities. If one doesn't work, you can always try another!) Once you have learned how to use a tool on one job, it's hanging on your belt from then on, ready to use in other situations.

In any given situation, the emotions serve as an indicator of which response is required. This table lists some situations and responses:

Situation/Emotion Response
anger, frustration, annoyance forgiveness
elation, happiness, joy gratitude
calm, tranquil ("in between") appreciation, Love God
overwhelming situation prayer
uncertainty seek help
depression persevere, future focus, seek help
attack defend, forgive
undirected listen for guidance
fear Trust in God, pray, future focus
addiction motivation, belief, forgiveness

The first two, we've talked about. The remainder deserve a few words of explanation:

Calmness and Tranquility

Note that even calmness and tranquility requires a response! You can get to where the constant intrusions of daily life make you whiz at forgiveness, and yet still forget to appreciate the quiet and beauty in your environment. When nothing is happening to occupy your attention -- either bad or good -- it's a good time to turn your attention outward and recognize what is there. After all, things could be a lot worse!

When you look outside yourself and somehow can't seem to muster that sense of profound appreciation, focus on the source. Look inward and Love God. With that connection established, God's presence in natural beauty is revealed. A tree, a cloud, a single blade of grass -- all are one with God. To see a tree, and at the same time see God, is to know the oneness, the unity, the Yoga that is God. Appreciation, then, is a recognition of a particular manifestation of God. To see a thing, and to perceive its essence as God, that is appreciation.

Overwhelming Situation

When a situation is too big to handle -- when your inner strength is not sufficient to deal with it, there are two responses. The first is prayer -- an inner asking, not for the situation to change, but for the inner strength to make the appropriate response. If there is any doubt about the correctness of the response, or your ability to do it effectively, then it is important to seek help.


When you are handling the situation is a sure-handed way, when you know what you are doing and know that you are doing the right thing, you have achieved mastery of that situation. Would that all situations were like that! But whenever there is doubt about the right move to make, it's wise to seek counsel. Being remarkably full of pride and very stubborn, that was not something I was good at. But as I encountered situations that were beyond my capacity to cope, I found it helpful to talk to a mentor who could help me find the best way to deal with the situation. It makes even more sense to utilize such a mentor before a situation escalates to that point.


For me, depression is a sign that an overwhelming situation has occurred too long, and I no longer have any idea how to cope. I've been there a couple of times, close enough to become really familiar. The first response is perseverance -- to keep going, regardless. To endure. The second response is a positive future focus. Grandmaster once wondered why other people don't do what she does -- to look forward to the wonderful days ahead, when the situation is over. Vividly visualizing that scenario makes it real that the current situation is temporary, and that positivity becomes a powerful resource to draw on. (One I need to get a lot better at!). Finally, seek help. Talk to people -- especially to wise people, whose opinion you trust. Listen to their advice, and act on everything that makes sense.


When a real attack occurs, there is a danger of imminent harm to yourself or others. You must be ready to defend, if only for the sake of your spirit, your honor. But when you are in one of those impossible situations where no action is possible, then the only response is to forgive! Even when you are defending (which sometimes takes the from of counteratack), there is a continuous flow of acting to prevent future harm, and totally forgiving any harm that has already occurred, and (more importantly) forgiveness for the intention to do harm. Tough job! Not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot more practice than I have devoted to it, so far in my life. But mastering that flow is the only way to maintain that state of grace while at the same time having a positive impact on the future! (Note: The intention to do harm is the most hurtful part. If someone hits you by accident, it is no big deal. If they hurt you because they intended to, it hurts a lot.)


I've spent entire vacations laying around, doing absolutely nothing! With dozens of projects I could be working on, hundreds of big and small improvements I could be making in my life, I can spend hours in front of the TV, making no difference at all. Bad! The only thing that changes that is a sense of direction -- a goal you want to achieve, and a commitment to spending time on it. It helps to schedule time. When you plan on performing some activity at a specified time, you're more ready to do it when the time arrives. But it can also be hard to achieve the appropriate balance of flexibility. You might skip doing things when you really could have done them, or you might force yourself to do things when you really shouldn't. And choosing which things to do is also tricky -- there are so many choices!

A PBS special called Uncommon Friends of the 20th Century gave a useful answer. In it, the fellow who was a mutual friend of Edison, Ford, and Charles Lindberg -- all of whom hung out together -- described a scientific experiment he took in his youth. In that experiment, he decided to "turn his life over to God", and see what happened. So each morning, he spent a few moments quietly listening for guidance on what to do. The experiment was so successful that he continued it over the course of his life! And he taught it to his remarkable friends, too.

Now in eastern traditions, those moments of quiet listening are also known as "meditation". Doing it before going to bed makes sense as well. Grandmaster always recommended both morning and evening meditations. And I know that I when I go to bed with a project in mind for the next day, I wake up ready to tackle it!

One of the Yoga traditions is actually focussed on sleep-creativity -- on going to sleep with a problem, and waking with the solution. Early in my life, I found that the relaxed time before sleep was when creative energy was often at it's highest -- with the result that I often couldn't get to sleep until very late! But as I've gotten older, I've found that I write and think best in the morning, and that going to sleep with a question or two in my head "primes the pump" for the next day.

Given the salutory effect of thinking about a problem before going to sleep, it makes sense that "listening for guidance" would be remarkably effective before retiring, as well as after rising.

A remarkable book entitled Consicousness Explained by Daniel Dennet has a fascinating explanation for why this would be so. It's well worth a read. In it, Dennet describes a party game where someone is supposed to guess what someone's dream was about, and who had it, by asking yes/no questions. The rest of the people are supposed to pick one person's dream an share it, but instead they decide to answer every question that ends with a letter from the from the first half of the alphabet with "yes", and every other answer with "no", except that they will achieve some consistency by agreeing with previous answers, when necessary. When the person starts asking questions, in this scenario, they in effect create the dream as a result of the questions they ask. Dennet's contention is that "random images" in our heads are interpreted in light of the questions we are asking! That is a userful observation that explains why "chance" favors the prepared mind. That's why a falling apple suggested gravity to a newton, and mold on a cantalope became the source of penicillin -- because someone was asking the "right" question. (Lots of people were probably asking the question! The ones that became famous were the ones with the luck to come across the right stimulus, and the insight to see things in the right way!)


In my seven years' training with Grandmaster, I saw people actually change. At no time in my life prior to that had I actually witnessed sudden, dramatic changes in people of the kind that I witnessed during that time. I saw people overcome fear of heights, fear of public speaking, and many other fears, and make all sorts of changes in their lives. The common factor in these changes was trust. Not trust in themselves, or belief in themselves -- but trust in Grandmaster. They would do things because Grandmaster asked them, because they believed in Grandmaster -- it was Grandmaster who believed in them. After taking the steps and conquering their fears, over time they developed a belief in themselves -- because they had proven to themselves that "they could do it", whatever "it" was.

If you are not fortunate enough to have a Grandmaster you can lean on, trust God! After all, that was the goal of Grandmaster's process, anyway. Like a mother, she gives her students someone close they can rely on. But the goal of the process is make them able to stand on their own -- to forge their own inner connection from whence they can draw their strength. So, when facing fear, reach inside and trust in God, and pray for the inner resources that are surely there!

A future focus is also helpful when you are attempting something new. One of Grandmaster's great lessons to me was understanding that you will be good at thing, after a time. Even if you're horrible at first, and you fail miserably, eventually you will learn what you need to succeed. To paraphrase Shakespeare, "The ability to persevere, undaunted by failure, doth make a success of us all." The basic principle here is: "If they can do, I can do it, too." Looking at others who are successful can give you an image of what you will look like when you, too, are successful. Focus on that image and "look to the future" to overcome fear in the present.


There are large addictions and small addictions. But by definition, no addiction is easy to overcome. I've licked some major ones in my time (smoking, drinking), but still have some to overcome (TV, for one). The one common factor in successfully overcoming an addiction is convincing yourself (thoroughly) that you don't want to give in to that temptation any more. After that comes dealing with the habit. But the key, the root of success, is motivation.

It is said that a drunk has to hit bottom before he will go to an AA meeting and work to set his life straight. The "bottom" is the point at which a person comes to realize "I can't live this way anymore". Some sink lower than others before they reach that point. So the "bottom" is not so much a defined location. Rather, it is the point at which a person reaches an internal decision, and ceases to desire that which was previously attractive.

My Experience with Smoking

It is possible to concsciously program that desire, without having to hit bottom first. When I quit smoking, I did it with "sleep teaching". I had speaker that fit under the pillow, a 15-minute repeating tape (a tape-loop), and a timer that turned on the recording for 2-1/2 hours as I went to sleep, and for 1-1/2 hours as I woke up. I created a list of things to tell myself, and then recorded the collection of positive messages like this: "You know, Eric, you can stop smoking....You know you should stop, and you know how much you want to stop...You know you'll be healthier, and your clothes will smell better, and you'll save a lot of money...So go ahead and stop smoking...You can do it...You know you can."

Today, I would keep each message burst to under 1 second, and leave a 5 second gap between bursts. As I recall, that was the optimum timing found in the Russian studies on relaxation-learning. The time between messages lets you go back to a totally relaxed state before the next item arrives. But even without that refinement, the tape worked wonders.

Here's what happened: I listened that tape morning and night for 3 weeks. I wasn't on a time table, so I wasn't looking for results at any particular time. I wasn't concerned, therefore, that I hadn't stopped. But got darned sick and tired of listening to that tape! So after 3 weeks, I shut it off.

A week later, I picked up a copy of Reader's Digest, and saw an article on the effects of smoking. I read it. (That is a significant event, because I had skipped over such articles for years, prior to that.) The article said that smoking kills something like a million lung cells every time you inhale, and lung cells don't regenerate. That gave me the "reason" I needed, to stop. (All I needed was the motivation, really. But having a mental reason to hold on to really seemed to help.)

It occured to me that I was running and exercising to be healthy. Yet I was smoking, which had the opposite effect. It was clear that I was working against myself, and that one or the other would have to stop. I decided it would be smoking. (That's one of those "life defining" choices. I made a decision for health in my life, right then.)

So I stopped. Right then. I put it out the cigarette I had been smoking, and stopped. I left the carton up on the refrigerator, and kept the opened pack I had in my shirt pocket. I decided I would quit because I wanted to, not because there weren't any cigarettes around. (Another significant event. In the past, if I thought of stopping at all, I figured I would stop after finishing the pack, or the carton, or whatever.)

But the story doesn't stop there! The following afternoon, I was in a boring, 2-hour lecture on statistics in psychology. I'd been fighting off the desire for a cigarette all day. At the 1-hour mark, we took a ten minute break -- and when I came back and sat down, I found a half-smoked cigarette in my hand!!

At tht point, I laughed out loud. I had to. No other response was possible. I mean, my body had been so desperate for a cigarette that it had managed to send my mind off in other directions and then, totally on autopilot, take out a cigarette, light it, and be halfway done with it before I even noticed! As I said, I laughed, and put out the cigarette.

And that's when I knew I had it licked. My reaction told me all I needed to know. I could have been despondent about being overpowered by the desire. I could have called myself weak, a failure. I could have given up. But I didn't. Instead, I marveled at the complexity and ingenuity of the human design, and put the cigarette out. The positive message had paid off. I was in charge, despite the minor setback.

In the ensuing weeks, I would discover the situations that triggered the desire to smoke. One was drinking. Beer tasted completely different -- I had to relearn the taste for it all over again (since I was still drinking, at that time). The other was talking. I had never known how much I depended on cigarettes to create a little pause now again, to give me time to think. It also gave me something to occupy my hands, and raised my blood pressure just enough to make me a little more light on my feet, intellectually speaking. It took many months, and in some cases years, for those triggers to dissipate, so that they no longer created an urge to smoke.

My Experience with Television

My experience with television, on the other hand, was completely different. In the "full-time" martial arts training program I was in for a while, television was considered unhealthy, so it was strictly off-limits. We'd watch movies and videos occasionally, but never sit coms or anything with commercials in it.

I was in the program for seven years. After leaving, I avoided television for awhile, but eventually got right back into it, killing a lot of time in front of the tube. You see, no matter how "good" I had been for those seven years, it had never been my decision, my desire, to stop. And, as of today, I have yet to make that decision. It's a difficult one to make. The thing is, every once in a while there is something that is really good on -- something educational or incredibly entertaining that I would never have discovered unless I had been "surfing", because I wouldn't have been drawn to it even if I saw it on a program listing! (Examples: A recent infomercial on a smile-brightening method I plan to try, RiverDance -- a program on Irish Dancing that inspired to me to devote 5 years to it, PBS specials on science, and things that are just spectacular.)

On the other hand, it's more comfortable for me to sit in front of the tube than it is to go out and meet people. (There is something about noisy crowds that makes me anxious and, for pity's sake, something about listening to someone talking to me that makes gives me anxiety, as well.) So it would be better if I found ways to occupy my time that got me out and about, more in touch with people. (I do engage in activities that get me out several times a week. Still, I need to work on intimacy. One of these days, the TV is going to have to get under control...)

The Response

The bottom line in all this is that motivation and belief (in your ability, in the "rightness" of kicking the addiction) are the keys to overcoming. So when you connect with Higher Power / God / Life Energy / Universal Energy, that is what to look for.

But the most important thing to remember is that if you forgive others, you will be forgiven. It is not necessary to live with guilt. You don't have to feel guilty about your addiction, and then add even more additional guilt because you are not able to forgive yourself for your addiction. You don't have to forgive yourself at all! You need only focus outward, not inward, and forgive with all your might. If you can succeed in that, heaven will be yours.

Leaving Your Past Behind

I'm in a song writing class. One woman, who on the surface appears to be as happy and friendly as they come, wrote about some of the terrible times she experienced in high school. It was one thing to recognize how essentially wrong those situations were, and to recognize how the song might possibly help others to be more sensitive. But it was quite another to realize that this person was still dwelling in those experiences. She was carrying them with her, every day of her life.

I realized then how fortunate I was. Somewhere in the midst of my martial arts training, I had managed to leave all of that behind. I still have behavioral patterns that were forged in the past -- habits I still need to overcome to live a better, happier, and more successful life. But the fact is that those behavioral patterns are only habits. The negative emotions that stemmed from the past are long gone. I am truly free of them -- a fact that became totally real when I listened to that woman sing her song, and recognized how much that emotion was still part of her.

I had been working on a song that involved forgiveness, and that night I added two more verses to it. What had originally been a chorus, in fact, was now threatening to expand and become the entire song! Before the course is through, I intend to finish that song and perform it for the class. If it only reaches that one person, it will be worth it. Because if you truly forgive, you can wash the pain away!

Managing Anger, Emotional Flow

I recently encountered a situation that brought home to me the kind of "flow" that Grandmaster talks about. It occurred just a few days ago (a couple of days before her birthday, in fact), and it taught me lot about both what she teaches, and how she teaches. The experience made it possible to look back on a number of situations I've either witnessed or experienced, and make sense of them.

The situation was this: Several months ago, a pager company had sent me a bill for a lost pager that had been returned. It was a typical fee for such things, but since I had not been a customer for more than a year, I sent them a note to that effect and forgot about it. But they kept resending the bill. The bills were annoying, but I figured that sooner or later they would get the idea that I wasn't going to pay them, and they would drop it. But then I got a notice from a collection agency! They had turned me over to a collection agency for $21, and I was livid. (It was no small thing to me, since I've been trying to rebuild my credit rating.)

I had to wait until the next day, but as soon as I got up, I made a beeline for their office. On the way, I thought of things I planned to say. Fortunately, I'd been working on software for some legal systems, recently, so I had a few thoughts on why the bill was wrong. At first, I thought of harassment. But that was rather weak. Then it occurred to me that since we didn't have a contract (I had terminated it when I got a cell phone) that I was under no obligation to pay. And since they never gave the pager to me, they were charging me for a service they had never delivered. So that was two strikes against them. Finally, since they turned the issue over to a collection agency, they had generated a false credit report, which surely counted as libel. Strike three!

Those were the logical thoughts going through my mind. But more important were the emotional and spritual thoughts that were relevant to energy management. I was, of course, agitated. But one of things you train in the martial arts, and of the things that is evaluated in the testing process, is "controlling your nervous energy". I knew I had to keep from flying off the handle, and explain things clearly. (In fact, I did just that. I started out by explaining that I had been a customer for something like four years, and that I had bought two pagers in that time.)

That was good, but as I drove, I ran over the concept of forgiveness in my mind. Here was a case where I needed to forgive what they had done, and to forgive whatever happened in the future, but at the same time, I needed to take action to direct the course of future events. Obviously, it wasn't a matter of money. Heck, if they needed twenty dollars that bad, I'd give it to them. (And I said as much, when I spoke to them.) But we didn't have a contract, and no service was delivered, so it was a matter of principle -- a matter of standing up for myself.

So here I was in the exact situation that requires the ability to flow. I needed to forgive what was in the past, and yet channel the energy that sprang from anger in order to have a positive effect on the future. I needed to forgive, yet be active, rather than passive. I needed to be forceful, yet unchained to anger.

The result of that contemplation was an entirely new experience for me. The anger was there. There was no pretense about that. But it was on the surface of my emotions. Underneath that lay the calm stillness of forgiveness. Like the depths of the ocean, the surface waves made little or no difference to the deep water below.

As a result, I'm happy to say that the situation worked out perfectly -- both internally and externally. When I strode into that office, several smiling, expectant faces looked up. When I forcefully announced, "I need to see a manager, now", everyone suddenly got very busy with their computer screens, and one fellow scurried off to find the manager. But again, that anger was at the surface. When the fellow came back and said the manager would be with me in a minute, I was able to appreciate the effort he had made to respond to my needs quickly, and thank him sincerely.

When the manager came out, I went through the whole story. To her credit, she listened calmly to every single word I had to say, waiting through the pauses until I had finished every last sentence. And only when I was completely done, did she speak, saying that she would reverse the charge and inform the collection agency, adding that I should receive a letter from them indicating that the credit report was fraudulent.

Once again, the fact that my anger was at the surface allowed me to recognize the calm, professional manner in which she had handled the situation, and thank her sincerely. I said, "Thanks. You've been great." In the background, you could see the startled reactions of the people at their terminals. They literally jumped. They just never expected such sincere appreciation, so suddenly. They had been braced against the storm, and it vanished on them!

But the real value came afterwards. As I left, I continued forgiving, and added appreciation to that. I appreciated my own efforts in standing up for myself, using what I knew of legal principles, and exercising what skill I've gained at energy mangement. And I appreciated the way the situation had been handled by the manager. Most of all, because I wasn't carrying a lot of emotional baggage, I was free to drop it and appreciate the white puffs of clouds in the sunny blue sky. I was free to experience the joy of life and the beauty around me -- I was free to be in the present moment -- because I wasn't caught up in past.

After that experience, I understood I lot more about how Grandmaster teaches. In my time at her Academy, I saw people change, which was a brand experience for me. I never knew that people could change before that. Grandmaster has many tools for bringing about change. Sometimes, it involves building a person up and getting them to believe in themselves. Sometimes it involves hammering them until they realize they've been wrong.

Now, it is fascinating to watch Grandmaster work. She is a true force of nature. She can be as gentle and loving as a summer breeze, as calming as a tranquil day in the country. She can also have the thunderous impact of a hurricane. In short, she can chew your ass with the best of them. When she really gets going, you'd rather be just about anyplace else in the world!

But, when it's over, it's completely over. She can go from outraged, vehement, anger to sweetness and light in a nanosecond. It's amazing to watch. You ask yourself how anyone can be that angry, and yet drop it completely, with no lingering traces at all. You wonder if the anger is some feigned, or fake.

My experience taught me that, no, the anger is not fake. It is quite real. And the ass chewing that comes with it is sincere. But that anger is at the surface. The energy could be dissipated, and the anger dispelled. In fact, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that's what happens -- because no good can become of expressing the anger.

But that 100th time, Grandmaster is dealing with someone who has a deep enough calm themselves to let the waves wash over them at the surface, someone who is capable of taking that energy, and redirecting it to make a positive change in their lives -- a change that they would not be able to make without the motivating force provided by that energy.

For some folks, it takes a lot of energy to make a change. The amount of energy that would swamp one person would not even be noticed by another. For others, very little. Timing is involved, too. The same person can be receptive or not, at different times, depending on their own maturity and their recent experiences.

Needless to say, balancing all of these factors is an art, rather than a science. The decision about when to drop the hammer, and when to lay off, is not an easy one. A master can go through life unruffled by events, and make no change in the world at all. Of what use is such a master? Or a master can act to help a person make change -- changes they have expressly stated they want to make. Because it is an art, there is always the chance for making a mistake. The intervention could be too forceful, or it could be misinterpreted. As in a medical intervention, there is always risk. But only by attempting to make the world better can change come about, and only by making better people can we make a better world.

Finally, only by maintaining that calm stillness within can you maintain a clear heart and a clear head. That is important, because in the cut and thrust of any dispute, it is necessary to respond quickly to the challenges posed by others. I have always marveled at others' ability to think on their feet, and wondered how it is done. I now know that the calm center induced by the "forgiveness flow" makes it possible to maintain the clear head necessary choose your response. It's a great lesson.

§ Home  ·  Books  ·  Health  ·  Music  ·  Dance  ·  Golf  ·  Yoga  ·  Essays  ·  Store §

Copyright © 2000, 2008 by Eric Armstrong. All rights reserved.
Subscribe for announcments.

Contact me to send feedback, make a donation, or find ways to help others.
And by all means, be sure to visit The TreeLight Store.