"Yesterday was awful; today is terrible; and tomorrow will be even worse." That is the way my family looked at life when I was a boy. I suspect there may also have been a little of this attitude around when you were growing up. From generation to generation, we have all been steeped in the belief that the past predicts the future and that a mature person of good judgment carefully considers the lessons of the past when laying his plans. But A Course in Miracles points out that the past has only one lesson to teach us:
This Instant is the only time there is.
The belief that the past provides the true laws of life enters our minds in an even more subtle way than through our direct attempts to control what is to come. We constantly think about the future and expect it to be like the past. Our fantasies and idle thoughts attempt to project in the future what we remember having liked in the past and to see eliminated what was difficult and painful.
When we think in this way we are not looking ahead in a practical and reasonable manner, but we are merely making a mental state that is composed almost entirely of fear. We believe that the general turn of the events in our lives is not to be trusted, and so we view everyone and everything either as an enemy or at least as potentially dangerous. This attitude, in turn, makes us feel unworthy of love. It makes us feel guilty and helpless and ambiguous about everything. It results in our attempt to control reality, and so the only talents we develop are manipulative ones.
This, of course, is the very mistake I myself have made so often. I tried to present myself to the world in a way that was quite different from how I was feeling. Inside, I may have been scared about what was going to happen, but outside I wore the costume of a man who was in control and to be respected. As is true of anyone who wears a mask, I felt isolated and misunderstood.
When we do not feel loved or lovable, we usually make the mistake of trying to gain control over the external circumstances we believe are causing our unhappiness. Because this goal can only be fulfilled in the future, the present moment is devalued. Even a dismal future over which we have some control seems preferable to this moment. And happiness, which requires that our full attention be on the present, becomes fearful. If some degree of happiness should occur, anyone with this attitude would immediately become suspicious of it. Whenever we are afraid, we think we see value in keeping the present free of all love and enjoyment. Fear stimulates an unconscious desire to be unhappy in order that we may focus on, and control, the future.
With this attitude, I not only felt unloved but unworthy of love. I was unworthy because I felt guilty of some unnamed sin. And because of my fear that my sin would be punished, I believed I had to sacrifice love in order to ward off punishment. One does not need religious training to believe he or she has to suffer.
Most of us feel very alone in the particular way we make. mistakes. We think our guilt is private. I thought I owned the biggest stockpile of guilt in the world, and consequently, calamity seemed always to lurk just around the corner. Life was an outside force against which my own wits and energies were pitted. Living, in the true sense of the word--with zest, peace, joy, and harmony--seemed possible only for others. Wearing a mask myself, I believed what other people's masks communicated: They could be happy; I could not.
This general attitude resulted in existing but not living. More often than not, I confused happiness with pain, for I only felt alive when I was in the midst of a crisis. Therefore, I precipitated crisis after crisis. Since happiness itself seemed out of reach, this was the only way I knew to experience life. And as these adversities kept assaulting me, this approach seemed more and more a simple necessity. After all, I was merely a victim.
For much of my life, I believed that this outlook came to me naturally. Because of the genes I had received from my parents and the environment in which I grew up, I had become, through no choice of my own, fearful and guilt-ridden. It did not occur to me that the choice between love and fear was mine to make instant by instant. There are many people who came from surroundings much worse than mine who have chosen not to get stuck in their pasts. I chose to buy into my parents' philosophy and accept the limitations of my environment.
It is now clear to me that each one of us determines the beliefs by which we live. We think we must identify with our past, but this is not so. There is an alternative. The world is not held together by our worrying about it. We can lead a life that is free of fear. Just as I am, you are the determiner of everything that happens to you. This fact should not make us feel guilty; it should instead provide freedom to be at peace.
This was made evident to me during my third month of internship. As part of the Navy's V-12 unit, I was sent to Stanford University Medical School and was released from the Navy a year later to continue my medical education. In medical school, nearly a third of the class experiences symptoms of whatever disease is being studied. Some even come down with it. I was especially afraid of tuberculosis and was convinced I would eventually contract it and die. As it turned out, during my intern year, one of my assignments was to. the tuberculosis ward. I had a recurring fantasy that I would take one deep breath in the morning and not breathe for the rest of the day.
One night, I was called on ward emergency for a fifty-year-old alcoholic who had tuberculosis and cirrhosis of the liver. She was bleeding from her esophagus, had vomited blood, and was in shock. Her pulse was feeble and her blood pressure was not measurable. I siphoned the blood from her throat and gave her cardiac massage. That night something was wrong with the oxygen machine, so I had to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, to which she responded favorably.
When I returned to my quarters and looked at myself in the mirror, my green surgical gown was a bloody mess. Suddenly, it occurred to me that not once during that hectic hour had I been afraid. It was a powerful lesson to realize that when I focused only on helping, I had no fear. There were other times during my assignment to that ward, when I would evaluate what I was getting or not getting, that I was immobilized with fear. The lesson was clear. When a person is concerned only with giving, there is no anxiety. Later in life, I discovered that often there is also no pain or sense of limitation.
I had another important learning experience that same year, taught to me by an eight-year-old boy named Billy. We can't hide our emotions from children, no matter how hard we try. Thoughts that hurt us cannot be concealed, but they can be changed. Here are two quotes from A Course in Miracles that throw light on this lesson:
I have said that you cannot change your mind by changing your behavior, but I have also said, and many times, that you can change your mind.
Later, the Course adds:
When someone truly changes his mind, he has changed the most powerful device that was ever given him for change.
This is true whether we think it is our behavior or another's that is the problem. The mistake I made in the following incident involving Billy was to attempt to change him rather than concern myself with my own inner healing. When the mind accepts healing, that improved state will of itself extend to all the other minds with which it is joined.
Billy not only had cerebral palsy but also a behavior problem. As a psychotherapist, I had been seeing him and his parents, but things had gotten worse. One day his parents expressed their disappointment to me. I began to feel resentment toward Billy for making me look bad. Either resentment or pride results when our goal is to change someone.
That night I read an article by Milton Erickson, the father of modern hypnosis in the United States. It described using hypnosis with children. Apparently, all that was necessary was to relax the child, give a few suggestions, and -- presto! -- behavior would change. Part of me had doubts about the method, yet another part was desperate enough to try it.
The next time I saw Billy, I had him sit on the hospital gurney and gave him suggestions that his eyes were getting heavier and heavier, that his eyes were closing because they were so heavy, and that he was lying down on the gurney. Imagine my surprise when he did everything I suggested. He was cooperating perfectly, something he had never done before. But suddenly he sat up. His eyes were closed but he leaned over and put his nose, against mine and said in his thick-tongued, palsied speech, "Dr. Jampolsky, your eyes are getting heavier and heavier." Then he broke out laughing.
After I recovered from the shock, we had a good laugh together. Kids are great therapists because they have not had the kind of formal teaching that can sometimes interfere with our deep intuitive knowledge. They know what is going on in an adult's heart. Instinctively, they seem to recognize that there is nothing hidden or secret, and they usually see through any mask we wear.
An Attitude Can Heal
While completing my internship in Boston, I became fully aware of the influence that attitudes have on the body. This recognition was brought forcefully to mind by two patients under my care who had stomach cancer. Medical consultants from Boston, Harvard, and Tufts universities agreed that both men, about the same age, had similar degenerative conditions and that neither could be expected to live more than six months. One of the men died two weeks later. The other continued to live, was dismissed from the hospital, and was doing well at the time I completed my internship.
The first man appeared to have no reason to live. He believed that even if he recovered there would be no way to resolve his day-to-day problems. He seemed more afraid of living than of dying. Death may have been an escape for him. The man who did not die had a determination to live; in effect, he refused to become a statistic on an insurance probability curve. Somehow, some way, he was convinced he would get well and would be able to complete the plans for his life.
This incident made me realize the importance of the thoughts we think. The direction they take actually constitutes our will to live or die. It is important to understand, however, that whenever I speak of a change in thought, I am not calling you to battle. The means whereby we redirect the mind are identical to the nature of the new direction itself. Peacefully we return to peace. Gently we lean into gentleness.
If ever you find yourself unwilling to think the kind of thoughts that you believe this book calls for, please do not frighten yourself. It is a letting go of tension that is being recommended. If you will simply think what it pleases you to think, what rests and comforts you, you will be doing all I suggest. There is no rationale in trying to force a change in your state of mind. Simply take careful notice of what it is that makes you happy to think and what makes you unhappy, and your mind will make the necessary adjustments itself.
It is clear to most physicians that attitude can affect organic illness. They know that the will to live or die can change the course of an illness. They know this even though such an attitude cannot be put under a microscope, measured, weighed, or replicated. The truths of the mind defy the usual standards of science. The conditions and general atmosphere produced by our attitudes can be seen reflected not only in the extreme case of a life-threatening illness but in all aspects of our lives. This became clear to me after my first attempt to pass my boards in psychiatry and neurology.
Taking the boards requires two days of oral testing. Although I had studied hard, I made the mistake of deciding I would be the calmest, coolest person ever to take the exams. My central focus was on wearing this mask, and everyone, especially my professional associates, marveled at my composure. A month later, I learned I had failed. All my energy had gone into pretending to be in control, and this left little attention that could be directed to answering the questions properly. The following year, without this distracting pretense, I took the exams and passed.
Afterward I joined the staff as a Fellow at Langley Porter Institute in San Francisco. My work there involved seeing children who were schizophrenic. Most of these youngsters were unable to speak, and the work was difficult, but at least I did begin to sense one important fact: Words are irrelevant to what we teach and learn.
The experience of love and peace is the only thing of importance that is communicated. It is this attitude of the heart and not what is said between two people that does healing work in both directions. One party's accumulation of verbal knowledge is of little use to deep inner healing. It was not long after this that I began to observe something which indicated that, along with words, training and experience also are of questionable value.
It became apparent to me that some second-year medical students were often more proficient with their patients than were third-year residents. This assumption led me to a discussion with Ethel Vergin, who at that time was the administrative head of the outpatient department. She was a keen observer of the medical staff and had seen many medical students, residents, and consultants come and go during her more than fifteen years at the Institute. She confirmed my observation.
I began to wonder why this discrepancy existed. It occurred to me that attitudes might be the primary factor, so I began examining the personality and performance of each individual resident I worked with. My study confirmed that in the handling of difficult illnesses, third-year residents usually showed little or no superiority over those with less experience. For instance, third-year residents treating patients diagnosed as chronic schizophrenics learn from many consultants that treatment of this disease is tedious and frequently very slow. So, when these residents see a new patient with chronic schizophrenia, they have already incorporated the values and attitudes of the consultants into their own thinking. They begin the patient's treatment with the expectation that progress will be protracted and difficult. The patient in turn identifies with the resident's limited expectation, and this becomes the reality that both experience.
Second-year medical students, who have not been contaminated by the negative experiences of many medical consultants, are usually enthusiastic and optimistic about seeing their first psychiatric patients. The label given to the patient means little to them. They just know that one way or another they are going to help the patient and that progress will be made. The patient identifies with this positive expectation and often improves more rapidly than with a third-year resident.
In this situation, it is clearly one's attitude that is of paramount importance and not one's experience. In fact, experience in this example can even be viewed as a hindrance. This taught me never to decide in advance what is best for another person and not to consider any human being as simply a predetermined statistic.
Far more often than we realize, we see only the past in the people we encounter. But it is actually our past, rather than theirs, that we view as part of them. Consequently, we do not respond to them but only to our various preconceptions. The genuine desire to see others as they are this instant will go a long way toward purifying our attitudes. There would be very little to dislike in other people if we refused to bring to them all our own judgments and petty grievances. Our past experiences cannot tell us of present love. Remembering and seeing are not the same, and that is why memories are of little use to us in forming loving relationships.