Previous Next

  Check out "Bad Habits of Mind"




One's life is like a deck of cards - it is a mix of red and black, of high cards and low cards, of a heart suit and other suits. This is true of everybody - nobody escapes the king and queen of spades, and in every deck there are an ace, king, queen, and jack of hearts.

However, in the game of life the deck is yours alone. The game is so constituted that you are in charge of it, and you can riffle through it and choose the cards that you want to be showing.

"Choose" is the important word here. When the king and queen of spades are showing, you can speak to yourself: "I choose the heart suit, despite everything and everybody." In other words, you can say to yourself, "I choose good nature, despite everything and everybody."

The high cards in the heart suit match up with aspects of self - the king of hearts is like kindness, the queen of hearts is like compassion, the jack of hearts is like forgiveness, and the ten of hearts is like mercy. They are always in the deck, even though at any one time they might not be showing. The person can choose them.

On the other hand, the ace of hearts, love, can't be directly chosen. Rather, it is a gift of one's own life and is bestowed by life itself on a person, not by the person's frontal determination but rather as a result of other choices - kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy.

(A note of caution: please repudiate any association between the black suits in a deck of cards and racial color. The spades and clubs have nothing to do with racial color.)

The vehicles for choosing good nature are (1) self talk and (2) awareness of breathing. These topics are dealt with extensively in these pages.

This mix in a person that resembles a deck of cards is basically mysterious. Nobody knows what it is that adds life to matter.

Every person is an aggregation of many components. There is no truth that applies to every component. The disadvantageous way of thinking of a person as a unity is similar to the way of thinking of a person as a sum, as if who I am were the sum of all my memories, thoughts, feelings, sensations, and everything else in me. The sum is an arithmetic simplification and does not include the complexity of all the parts, just as the sum of persons in a town does not include the complexity of the individual inhabitants.

Everything that is a part of you is, indeed, a part of you, but it is also something in itself. A cell in your body is a part of you, but it is also something in itself. It has its own structure and its own life as well as being a part of bodily structure and bodily life. Any experience, such as moving, seeing, or talking, is something in itself as well as in the life of the person. It is an event in the processes of the universe. "When I dream, the universe dreams." Each experience leaves its own memory, which, again, is something in itself as well as in the life of the person. The memory does, of course, interact with other parts of the person - attitudes, values, and so on - but it continues to be something in itself. All of the things that constitute a person, then, from bodily cells to behavior in the present, are things in themselves occurring as processes of the universe as well as parts of the person. A person is a colony of memories, attitudes, values, reasoning processes, sensations, creative thinking, feelings, bodily processes, behavior, and much, much more.

The idea that a person is a colony is supported by the history of evolution. As life evolved, one-celled organisms joined together to form a colony. In time, the cells became differentiated in function.

People often take advantage of oversimplification, leading other people to think that some derogatory remark, for example, is all there is to the person. Once they have you thinking that you are some derogatory name, they have you in their power. At the extreme are the know-it-alls. They never admit to a mistake and are never wrong. It is always the other person who is in the wrong, deserving of such appellations as stupid, fool, jerk, dumbbell, and sap. They don't learn about life, because they don't want to be in a position of needing and asking, which, they think, would make them look weak (to themselves).

There was - and is - more to you than who you thought you were. What a person thinks of himself or herself is a selection of opinions, some derived from experience but most derived from what the person has been taught. Much of this teaching has to do with group membership. The place of an insider is the place of most safety. Everyone values it, and so its values are taught to each generation in turn. The effects of these teachings are profound. For example, take the influence of religious teaching on one's view of oneself. This influence is so profound that people go to war for it. In these cases, the people at war see themselves in ways that they have been taught, as Christians or Moslems or Jews or Hindus or other. They see themselves in a limited way.

Who you are is a complex reality. Who you think that you are is a verbal simplification. The mind, too, is a complex reality. It is not something single and unified. From moment to moment it contains a stream of different sensations, ideas, attitudes, memories, or intentions.

All of us, in one way or another, are stuck in the ideas that constitute a view of ourselves. We see ourselves in a limited way, to the exclusion of other, opposite characteristics that are or could be a part of us. One step in changing your point of view is to realize that the pieces that make up a human being are in a sense independent pieces and not all welded together into a rigid whole. Knowing that who you are is much more than who you think you are, you can entertain the possibility of being different from who you think you are. You can enlarge your vision of yourself. When, for instance, you seem to be stuck in some cruel name that you are giving yourself, you can seek an area of your mind where you are not cruel. From this vantage point you can address your own cruelty. You can say to yourself, "I entertain the possibility that I can reform my pool of originations."

When you get off the side of self-doubt, you are like the drunken man who was lurching down the street with one foot in the gutter and one up on the curb. A passerby watched him for a few moments and then remarked, "Why are you walking with one foot in the gutter and one up on the curb?" The drunken man looked down at one foot and then at the other and then up at the passerby, and his face broke into a delighted smile. "Oh, thank God," he said, "I thought I was a cripple."


Home Page - Commonplace, Ordinary, Everyday Life