This is text from the notecard I used to handle my presentation in Second Life at the International Weekend of Peace festival. I adapted talks I’d given at First Presbyterian Church of Glen Ellyn last spring that accompanied a video found on TED Talks given by Shawn Achor.
The video will run about 12 minutes. Feel free to cam closer to make it fill your screen, I’m just going to sit here.
If you have questions, best thing to do would be to text them in Chat so all can see. I will try to address them once the video is done for everyone.
*Ask for reactions to the video*
Do we feel affirmations? Confirmations? Aha moments?
Let me make a disclaimer that my orientation toward what we’ve just seen is Christian. However, unlike far too many of my brethren, my own Christian experience recognizes that God is larger than any box I can put Him in. I am better off not making Him exclusive, indeed I am grateful that He honors free choice among his creatures, and has no favorites in terms of paths to His truth. So while I am speaking about experience that cleaves me to my Christian beliefs, I know in my heart that the value of spiritual disciplines cleaves humanity to one another all too often in spite of our beliefs rather because of our beliefs.
In short, I am not here to convert but to converse.
Let’s look briefly at the discussion of how television [and social media] affects us. My experience with Facebook over the past seven months as my job involves getting our Like stats up. I have been getting upset reading so many accounts about all the nastiness going on in this election year. It takes my attitude right down to the floor. How do I overcome this? You know what? Just recognizing that this process has this affect on me allows me to overcome [some of] the effect.
That’s a big point that Shawn makes: if we can’t avoid these sources of irritation, we need to find a way to balance them out. We also need to remember that we all have a tendency to average things out and disregard the outliers, the dots that rise above the normative. But maybe we need to pay special attention to those things instead. Go beyond the average because it holds us down.
The other big point that Shawn points out is that happiness isn’t so much a goal as it is something we can choose to practice. Let’s look at the list of five things people can do to improve their ability to be happy, what Shawn called rewiring your brain:
[pull out the chart]
It’s obvious that exercise helps you spiritually besides the dosing of happy chemicals your body receives. You have accomplished something that is good for you and reminds you that your body is part of your life journey, not your enemy.
Gratitude (Ignation practice of the Examen)
The Examen is a daily exercise of reviewing your day. It can be a way of looking for consolations and desolations, or it can be a review of what one has to be grateful for on a given day. I cannot stress what an amazing difference it is to look back at the day, the week, the month, your whole life and see where God touched you. It all adds up to seeing your life filled with gifts of grace no matter how much you may have suffered or are suffering. So, it’s not alway easy, but it’s an important spiritual discipline to undertake.
Random Acts of Kindness
What happens when you begin to see so many reasons to be grateful, is you recognize the value of grace and kindness. You become more cognizant of the present moment and of opportunities to show grace and kindness. Whether you forgive someone for a big hurt in your life or you smile at the person who cut in line in front of you rather than object with anger, that act of random kindness works on you just as much as on the other person.
To my mind, journaling provides me the opportunity for performing the Examen. Finding time to write is difficult, but having done so for more than five years now, I can look back and read about this trail of gratitudes and hurts, trial and triumphs, and I have evidence of how I’m being transformed into a happier person.
In the Christian tradition, this is sometimes called Centering Prayer. One sits quietly and empties the mind of worries and concerns. Listen to God, to the Cosmic Heartbeat of the world … be still for twenty minutes and really really relax. It’s not easy at first. Sometime during your pratice of meditation a word will come to you that really helps you. When concerns start to clutter your mind, you can say this word and it will bring you back to center.
All of these can be considered spiritual disciplines. Let me share with you how these disciplines helped me through a particularly bad patch in my life: 26 months of unemployment. It took a year, but the bad economy had affected where I worked: week-long furloughs, layoffs. What became very apparent in the pattern of people being released was not one of last in, first out, but those with longer tenures and higher salaries were released. My 19 years of good service didn’t immunize me from the disease that was running through the American Library Association (ALA). My position was outsourced and I was let go, with a generous severance package.
October 28, 2009, Facebook citation, two days after being released: “I’ve had a great run at the ALA and this change of circumstances is an opportunity I am embracing. Thanks to so many friends for so many wonderful years!” Was I just putting on a show of words? Often, after we’ve been through a dark night of the soul, we have a tendency to minimize it.
So let’s not do that. Outsourced or fired, it was a crushing blow to my ego. I’ve seen other people who seemed to just be there, putting in their time as if ALA owed them the job. Had I become one of them? Were there times when I’d dropped the ball and made myself vulnerable to this layoff? I was a popular person at ALA, and I was known to the very top executives of ALA. Why wasn’t I given some kind of chance to make amends? In the back of my mind, for twenty-six months, a number of very dark despairing paths would beckon me to walk down them and wallow.
So like Shawn Achor suggested but long before I saw his video, I chose my attitude from the very day my life went off its rails. I took the graceful exit and embraced God’s plan rather than some desperate ego-centric plan. I veered away from bitter recriminations against my supervisors and indulging in victimhood as well as letting the What-ifs, which are inevitable in such circumstances, rob me of sleep. Let me tell you, that alone is huge. You cannot avoid depression if you aren’t getting adequate sleep. I had some sleepless nights, but not as many as when I was working wondering if my job was safe, truth to tell.
Having been involved in spiritual direction through the Christos Center for Spiritual Formation for three years prior to my layoff I was given the tools to deal with it. The disciplines of journaling, meditation, and gratitude via the Examen as well as having learned to see prayer as more than just “Help me get a job fast, Lord!” — prepared me for handling this devastating situation.
First and foremost, my wife, a spiritual director, had my back. I’d had a row with my boss and lost my job 20-odd years ago and she had not been happy about that. There was a lot of tension until I regained employment. Not this time. She never once …. never … once … questioned my efforts to find work, my activities that didn’t correspond with looking for work. We were unified and shared the same faith, not belief, but faith that God’s plan was the better plan. We would have liked more details about that plan but that was a joke between us. This was the “hard times” part of our wedding vows and we lived it, and I cannot express how that kind of love can carry you after you get a call: “Sorry, we went with the other candidate, but you were very well qualified.” I had too many of those calls in the course of my jobsearch.
Having peers in spiritual direction as well as a spiritual director to listen to me and in their non-directive ways, affirm me also provided grounding. I took advantage of the free time to rejoin a men’s Bible Study and was welcomed with sympathy and love. Support came (and went sometimes) often from left field but those disciplines allowed me to discern and accept such support. (Examples: return to praise team, self-care with chiropractic, dealing with kidney stones, bike riding, Weight Watchers Online, etc.)
Over those months, I heard many people in my congregation admire my attitude and I would shrug. I really didn’t know how to respond because I felt so much gratitude that people cared. I also observed over time that my semi-retirement was a refining process making me a better person, more accepting of grace and capable of returning grace. The good and the bad situations were part of the same process of transforming me. Therefore, I came to see this period of my life as a gift rather than some cosmic punishment.
This is the power of happiness that Shawn Achor is describing. Well into my ninth month of employment now and I am very well settled in my work. I walk to work in downtown Chicago and I look around at the buildings and the people very pleased to be there. I am in the moment and glad to be there. The people around me in our cubicles can sense the peace and good vibes coming off me.
I am living in grace having let go of goals and agendas of what people expect of me, living a life that has been given to me by my creator.
The text of this presentation is copyright 2012 by Donavan Vicha, feel free to excerpt with credit.
Shaped by the Word, M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.
Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr
Weeds Among the Wheat, Thomas Green (also When the Well Runs Dry)
Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf
The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelick
Prayer by Richard Foster
Coming Home to Your True Self by Albert Haase
Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther
Recommended but not read by me
Wonder by Robert G. Fuller
Positivity by Barbara L. Fredricksen
I sneak these last two in from my wife’s bookshelf. I suspect these are the work of Shawn Achor’s peers and mentors.
After I was done, the people who chatted with me asked what I meant by “grace” and our discussion followed lines of differences between Buddhism and Christian disciplines. I had not been able to attend much of the events going on that weekend due to the usual “first life” activities. But I was very impressed by the international flavor of the programming and attendance by people from all over the world, something that Second Life does well. I am putting together a blog about this event from the professional side of the experience on my professional blog.