By Alan Cohen
I had a neighbor I saw as a nasty alcoholic. Brenda would regularly sit around the kitchen table with her husband, drink, and complain. I did not find any good in her. Then she and her husband took in a young man to live with them. Mark helped the older couple around the house and stayed with them for years. When Brenda passed away several years later, Mark told me, “Brenda was one of the kindest people I have ever known. She and her husband treated me like a son. I will always remember and love her.” In that moment I realized how skewed was my interpretation of Brenda. I was focusing on one aspect of her that brought me pain to consider. Mark, on the other hand, had focused on an aspect of Brenda that brought him joy. Each of us was reaping the result of our interpretation. From that moment on I began to think of Brenda as a kind person, which has brought me peace.
“A Course in Miracles” tells us that perception is not a fact, but an interpretation. The world we see is determined by the kind of vision we use to observe it. When we view the world as unsafe and threatening, populated by ignorant, evil people, we will find plenty of evidence to prove our assumption. All belief systems are self-validating. If, on the other hand, we view the world as a place of kindness, filled with people willing and able to make life easier for each other, that is the world we will experience. An infinite variety of realities exist simultaneously. The one we live in is the one we focus on.
If the reality you are currently living in is not bringing you joy, abundance, connection and healing; pray to be wrong about the judgments that form the platform of your beliefs. You cannot simultaneously be right about your limits and your possibilities. For one to proliferate, you must release the other. Jesus said, “A man cannot serve two masters. He will hate one and love the other.” You can live in but one belief system at a time. Jesus also said, “Choose ye this day whom you will serve.” Ultimately there are only two belief systems: love and fear. You are either serving love or serving fear. Nothing in between.
Last summer a crazed gunman killed the parents and four siblings of fifteen-year-old Cassidy Stay, and, after shooting her, left her for dead. Miraculously she survived. At her family’s funeral service she quoted Harry Potter’s mentor Dumbledore: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” This young woman made an extraordinary choice about how she would process such a horrendous ordeal. She chose love. On the day I read the news article about her eulogy I was upset about a credit card bill. Suddenly my upset felt absolutely trivial. I realized that if Cassidy could choose love in the face of such a terrible experience, I could choose love over far lesser challenges. “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling heard about Cassidy’s oration and sent her a personal handwritten letter in purple ink from Dumbledore, a wand, and several autographed books. While these gifts could not undo the tragedy the young woman underwent, they demonstrate our power to soften each other’s pain. “What are we here for but to make life easier for one another?”
This holiday season you will have plenty of opportunities to pray to be wrong about what’s wrong and to be right about what’s working or what could work. You will have many chances to make life easier for yourself and others. You may experience the stress and pressure of shopping for holiday gifts; crowded travel during high season; family upsets, feuds, and dramas; financial fears; and handling end-of-year details. The season of joy, for many people, is not so joyful. This would be a fabulous time to remember that perception is not a fact, but an interpretation. When faced with fear, anger, or guilt in yourself or another, ask yourself, “Is there another way to look at this that would bring me more ease, relief, or peace?” If there is, pray to be wrong about the way you have been looking at the event so you can see it from a new, more healing perspective. “A Course in Miracles” asks us, “Would you rather be right or happy?”
The approach of the New Year brings a powerful invitation to let go of the limits that have kept us feeling small during the past year, and replace them with greater possibilities for the new year. Pray to be wrong about everything that hasn’t worked in your life, so you can be right about everything that could work, and will. Bless the old year for leading you to the new one, for both the challenges and blessings have lifted you to higher ground. As you consider what hasn’t made you happy, heed the profound advice of Kahlil Gibran: “Knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”
A happy and blessed holiday season and New Year to you and yours.
Alan Cohen is the author of many inspirational books, including “I Had it All the Time: When Self-Improvement Gives Way to Ecstasy.” For more information about Alan’s books, free daily inspirational quotes and his weekly radio show, visit www.alancohen.com.