Sensational Living®

March 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall


I have often said that I am one of the luckiest human beings on the planet. However, that doesn’t mean that I have always been happy. One bit of early luck was to encounter a philosophy when I was 16 years old that taught that it is our obligation to learn as much as we can from life. That is, when something (good or bad) happens, it is an opportunity to grow. Of course, such lessons do require practice, and being a human being, I was not always successful putting them into practice!

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a “Why me?” moment (if you are reading this, and have not had a “why me?” moment, please introduce yourself; I would like to meet you). The key here is “Why not me?” What makes you or me so special that we shouldn’t have unpleasant things happen to us? Unpleasant things happen to everyone. How one REACTS to those un-pleasantries is the key to success.

A common response is to wallow in one’s woes. This is a type of “victim mentality” (something that I find really annoying because I used to have it, primarily agonizing about this or that not being “fair”. It took my valued counsellor Judi Arbetter to point out to me that “life isn’t fair” and that I should “get over it.” Thanks, Judi!). Anyway, just to give you an example, a 75-year-old man was complaining to me not too long ago. Now, keep in mind that this is a man who has had two loving wives, an internationally-famous successful son, and is extremely comfortable physically; yet, he was uncomfortable psychologically, and could only see the negatives in his life. When I told him he was exhibiting “victim mentality,” he said, “Well, I AM a victim.” That label makes me shudder.

Something else that makes me shudder is the notion of “evil.” Just what is “evil”? Can you identify it objectively, or is it a matter of “knowing it when you see it?” If the latter, with its inherent subjectivity, I would hope that you would begin to question the validity of the concept of “evil.” I’m serious. If something is labeled as “evil,” it almost earns an excuse to avoid being thought about. But, if we label it as “very, very, very unpleasant,” it is easier to approach it. Many have debated why “bad things happen to good people,” and even why “good things happen to bad people.” Each spiritual tradition has its own details and specifics to deal with those questions, but in general, the answer is not to view such un-pleasantries as a scapegoat (that is, that you are a victim of the inevitable), but rather as an opportunity. An opportunity? Yes!

You can take these un-pleasantries as an opportunity to learn something new, or to learn that one has healed psychologically. If something unpleasant happens, ask yourself, “What can this teach me?” The answer is NOT always easy to discern; in fact, it may take years sometimes to figure out the significance of something. But, if you believe that everything happens for a reason, the wait is worthwhile. [Sidebar: please note that I used the word “believe.” That is because we have to rely on faith here. While one can accumulate “evidence” that supports the notion that “everything happens for a reason,” thus developing a sort of “consistency argument,” the idea itself is outside the realm of science; that is, the methods of science are not able to address an absolute statement like “everything happens for a reason.” Since GOD-DESS is about merging science and spirituality, among other things, I wanted a full disclosure here for clarification].

Before moving onto the next response, I want to help those of you who were shocked when I said that the lesson in an event could take years to understand. Not that patient? Well, as long as you don’t let the lack of understanding fester in your psyche, you’ll be doing OK. But, let me provide some personal anecdotes here. At times, my childhood/adolescence were not terribly happy or pleasant. This was due to an innate shyness, being an only child, living on a farm in the rural Ozarks, and being “husky” until puberty hit (but puberty brought its own issues!). More than once I went into victim mentality in those days; now, years later, it is quite clear that my current empathy and compassion are as well developed as they are because of those experiences. Patience and introspection were the keys.

I also mentioned that an unpleasant situation can be regarded as a “test” … a test of the progress you have made of purging yourself of personal, emotional demons. This is what is happening when the same negative experience recurs numerous times. First, it is a sign to “fix something,” and then, once you think you fixed that “thing,” and those negative experiences continue to recur, you have the opportunity to monitor your emotional response. Do you have a visceral reaction? Are you ambivalent? Are you somewhere in between? I find myself continuing to have “Aha” responses to unpleasant situations that once would have sent me into a rage, and now I react with complete calm and understanding. Guess what? They don’t recur anymore. Or, some recur less negatively, and I can see that I still have personal growth to attain (most recently, I found myself reacting viscerally to a client, and couldn’t understand why this was happening NOW. But, the client’s negativity continued, and my reactions continued, and suddenly, I had the insight that I had more forgiveness to do. That will be another column in the future, but once I started a long series of forgiveness, my responses to the negativity in my client changed to ambivalence, in which case I knew that the “learning” had transitioned to “testing,” and I was passing with flying colors.).

If the negativity still continues, despite ambivalence on your part, there may be yet another issue occurring: it is time to move on. People and situations come into our lives to provide opportunities to grow and learn; once we have done that, these people and situations may depart on their own, or we may choose to leave them. If neither occurs, sometimes something odd happens: I describe it as the Universe giving us a “shove.” This is exactly what happened in my healthcare executive position. I had grown my client’s budget 1000%, had grown membership 900% and meeting attendance 600% (all with the help of a great team). Although the client loved me and my team, they hated my immediate supervisor, and the company we all worked for, so they decided to move to greener pastures. This eventually resulted in my being laid off (while my supervisor was promoted). At one point in my life, I would have devastated, as I had never been laid off. At that point, though, I recognized that the probability of these occurrences was too low to be random, and I needed a new perspective. Although I had been working on and building GOD-DESS for the previous decade, I had not taken the “chance” of launching it into a fulltime company, nor had I completed all of the research I needed to make it truly scientific and evidence-based. So, my being laid-off generated a new mantra for me: I had been “freed, not fired.” I had a great financial cushion, I had access to all of the research resources I needed, and now I had the time to complete the creation of the company now known as GOD-DESS.

Another issue to consider when something negative happens, especially something to which that you don’t react (except perhaps with confusion), is “Is this about me, or about him/her/them?” I wrote above about people entering your life for you to learn. The reverse is true as well: you have entered the lives of others for them to learn. It’s a great cosmic dance, a pas a deux, a magnificently choreographed exercise of give and take. Sometimes we get caught up in the fallout from others’ lessons. Occasionally, I have to interview for potential clients. One organization told me I was “too confident.” I would have worried that I had been projecting the wrong emotions, were it not for the fact that the organization repeatedly emphasized what a complete gentleman I consistently was, and how the entire concept of GOD-DESS was so cool, and they wished that ‘they’ were doing something like that. Aha! A clue! They also went on to make the statement that they thought a woman would prefer the conditions they offered (I won’t go into the illegalities of that statement). Yes, that was about them, not me! As long as you realize this is a possibility, you’re in great shape (but don’t be too eager to attribute something negative to someone else’s lesson; you may be missing an opportunity to learn, yourself!). This situation also gave me another “Aha” moment when I realized what a great anecdote this could be (I address that idea at the end).

Now, I want to move into an discussion that not only avoids a “negative” response to un-pleasantries (like victim mentality), but moves beyond the “neutral” or “slightly positive” reaction of learning a lesson or testing the success of that lesson. Take the unpleasant, and actually turn it into something positive and productive!

I thought I was so clever when I thought of using all of both pleasant and unpleasant aspects of my past (and others’ pasts) as anecdotes to illustrate the different types of consultation, writing and lecturing that I do. And it was, because not only had these situations helped me, but now I was also able to use them to help others, and it felt exciting and fantastic, and I’ll provide examples below. Here, I want to humble myself by sharing a quote from the great 19th century theater professional, Konstantin Stanislavsky, who said, “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.”

What does that mean? Let’s remember that Stanislavsky was Russian (from Moscow), so his phraseology might be a bit esoteric. Let’s remember that he served as both actor and director with the Moscow Arts Theater. Let’s remember that he is best known for developing the "Method Approach" to training actors, used even today (we’ve all heard of “Method actors”). Stanislavsky described his Method as follows: "An actor on the stage need only sense the smallest modicum of organic physical truth in his action or general state and instantly his emotions will respond to his action or general state and instantly his emotions will respond to his inner faith in the genuineness of what his body is doing. In our case it is incomparably easier to call forth real truth and faith in it in the region of our physical than of our spiritual nature."

Stanislavsky has been paraphrased in various ways, and the paraphrase that brought his words to me came from a reading of Rebecca Wells’ Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (1996. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.: New York, 358 pp). When something bad happened to the central character, an actress, her companion said, “Use it,” and she remembered her version of Stanislavsky’s quote, “Use everything in your life to create your art” (p.182). I read that, and thought, “That’s what I do!”

I started doing this several years ago, when I suddenly realized that some of the nasty or unpleasant or less-than-positive things people had done were not only funny to me now, but could be used to illustrate and illuminate and elucidate various points in my work. The irony is that many of the people were scientists (who are some of the most emotionally-scarred people you’ll ever meet, on average, with the possible exception of street people). I had turned them, and their tales, into anecdotes! In science, the worst thing that someone can say about your research (except that it is falsified) is that it is anecdotal. That essentially means that your sample size is so small that your argument is weak, based on anecdotes rather than statistically significant data. So, I now take these anecdotes about scientists (and executives, and CEOs and doctors, and dentists, and LOTS of others), and use them as EXAMPLES rather than as a scientific argument. I could never be unscientific (“Discovering Earth’s SCIENCE & Spirit” is the DESS in GOD-DESS), but I can offer you some really fun examples to help illustrate my points. I have essentially made lemonade out all of those lemons, and in doing so, am helping others! THAT is why bad things happen to good people. THAT is why everything happens for a reason. To help yourself and others!

If you adopt this approach, I can assure you that life is going to be MUCH easier. You will feel daily joy. It doesn’t get much better than feeling daily joy! Contact me at 773.508.9208 or email me if you need some help finding that joy!