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Your Beliefs: Replace Your Wishbone with Backbone

Your Beliefs: Replace Your Wishbone with Backbone

by Dan Millman

Greetings and well wishes in the Autumn season!

As leaves turn colors and Winter whispers from just around the corner, my thoughts turn to the changeable emotional weather inside each of us. Emotions are, after all, the weather patterns of the body; feelings rise and fall like waves crashing upon the shore; emotions pass through us like a parade of visitors, like clouds carried on the wind. That’s why, when someone came up to me after a seminar and said, “I feel so inspired!” I could only respond, “Don’t worry, it will pass”

The fact is, I care about what you do, but not how you feel. Let me explain why:

We all have the power to influence our emotions, but not to control them: We can distract ourselves when we’re feeling worried or anxious; we can try to see a person or situation from a more compassionate or humorous perspective; we can sit or stand tall, relax our body, and breath slowly and deeply. In this way we may influence how our feelings. Such strategies may or may not work. That’s why it’s called influence and not control .

We can’t feel happy or sad or confident or jealous or loving or peaceful or forgiving or compassionate or grateful just by willing ourselves to do so. Can you will yourself to fall in love with someone you don’t like, or stop feeling angry or afraid or sad just by wanting to? (Or do feelings fade away and change over time of their own accord?)

These questions are quite important, it seems to me. Because emotions are central to our lives. Most of us who seek “spiritual growth” or “enlightenment” may in truth be seeking to feel good more of the time and to feel bad less of the time — a natural human yearning.

But it becomes clear to me that as much as we might wish to, we have no direct control over our emotional state. Nor do we need to. Our feelings don’t have to be “fixed” in order to live well; neither do our thoughts. I am no longer in conflict with my thoughts or feelings. That doesn’t mean I always like them (any more than I always like the weather.) But I co-exist with them just the same, while focusing on my behavior (and what needs to get done).

I’ve come to treat my feelings the way I treated my daughter when they were young children: I listen to them; I learn from them; I honor and value them. But I don’t let them take over and run the household.

The only thing I can directly control (by my will) is my action, my behavior–how we move our arms and legs and lips.

If I want to feel good (about myself), I’m more likely to do so if I behave with kindness. (I can’t feel grateful at will, but I can say “Thank you!” (That’s a behavior.)

So instead of waiting for the right set of feelings (motivation, confidence, etc) in order to act, I’ve replaced my wish-bone with back-bone. As peaceful warriors, we can live productive and satisfying lives by focusing less on how we feel and more on what we do . Acting kindly and constructively (whether or not we’re in the mood) may not sound so spiritual, but it requires a great deal of spirit — and such behavior will make a significant difference in our lives.

In my book Everyday Enlightenment I suggest the following: To take action and change your life, choose one of these methods:

(1) You can quiet your negative thoughts, create empowering beliefs, find your focus and affirm your power to free your emotions and visualize positive outcomes so that you can develop the confidence to generate the courage to find the determination to make the commitment to feel sufficiently motivated to do whatever it is you need to do (to get fit, take the next step, etc).

(2) Or you can just do it.

No matter what your “inner being,” you will build your life upon the foundation of what you do — moment to moment, day to day. That is why I care less about how you feel and more about what you do . I care about (and you are responsible for) only what you can control.

We may not feel loving or confident all the time, but we can behave with strength of character despite changeable emotional weather.

Let me acknowledge that our beliefs, thoughts, self-concept, self-worth, and emotional landscape certainly create tendencies to behave in certain ways. But aren’t we here on Earth learning to transcend our tendencies and behave according to our highest light? We will fall short and stumble many times — but over time, we will get better.

I am glad to share with you these perspectives with you. Even as moments of sorrow and joy, love and anger rise and fall inside us, like the changing season, the Way goes on and on . . .

Good journeys, Dan Millman

Please visit the my website. Reprinted with permission from The Peaceful Warrior Quarterly Newsletter by Dan Millman and link to:

© 2005 All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission

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