One of the many memorable scenes in “The Wizard of Oz” shows Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion finally standing before the Great and Powerful Oz. They have come to present him with the broom belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West after having conquered her with a bucket of water. Oz thunders at them mightily and tries to put them off, but as he blusters and blasts, Toto, Dorothy’s tiny dog, pulls back a curtain and reveals that the wizard is just an ordinary man pulling levers in a magic show.
There’s always a man behind the curtain
The same thing happens whenever we see through the illusion created moment to moment by our thinking. One minute we are gripped by the certainty that the feelings and perceptions before us are real, and in the next, we see that they are projections of our amazing power of thought. One morning last week I had a realization about a long-standing story I sometimes live about not being a good-enough sister or friend or neighbor. I noticed how I’ve resisted and resented and avoided that story, and how that sets up a tug-of-war inside of me, an internal argument about being kind. I took out my notebook and made a simple list of related stories that came to mind.
They need me.
I should do more.
I am not thoughtful.
I burned the list. It was funny. The paper in that particular notebook must have a special coating. It resisted burning. On top of that, it was a windy day. I used up half a book of matches failing to burn the list on our burn pile. Finally I got a ceramic bowl and found a place by the front door relatively sheltered from the wind. It still took at lot of matches, but that sucker is burned.
Back to the Wizard
In the movie, after the curtain is pulled back, the phony wizard is able to endow each of the characters with his or her wish. How does a phony wizard pull that off? He does it by revealing to each of them that they already had what they sought. The Scarecrow may have thought that brains lived in the diploma, which the Wizard granted him, but we know that his intelligence was there all along. The Tin Man’s heart was apparent throughout the movie, long before the Wizard gave him a heart-shaped clock. And the courage of the beloved Cowardly Lion shone through repeatedly as he shivered and shook, but stayed the course in spite of his fears. Clearly his courage was not the result of receiving a medal. And Dorothy? Dorothy wanted to go home. Home, a place that lived right there inside of her.
The magic worked by the Wizard is ours every minute of every day
You could say that the magic of the Wizard was to show each person that they themselves were the power behind the illusions they had been living, and that they had equal power to see through those illusions and come home to their wholeness and wellbeing. We have that same magic at our disposal. Whenever we see through our thoughts to the intelligence and wellbeing of which we are made, we come home. We encounter our intelligence, our compassion, and our courage.
What I noticed after burning those stories
After burning my stories about not being nice or compassionate or caring enough, I continued to reflect on those qualities. After all, I do want to be kind, compassionate, and caring. I noticed that thoughts about care and compassion can come from many sources. When it comes from an identity that is attached to being good enough, an identity that wants to be liked, or any other identity projected from a sense of insufficiency or incompleteness, thoughts about care and compassion are rooted in those things. But there are other times when those thoughts seem to stem from a different identity, one that is resourced in lovingkindness and that is not afraid or attached to outcomes.
Our hearts can always tell which identity is at work behind the curtain
Our personal thinking can get very confused about this, but our hearts can tell in an instant when we are operating from lovingkindness, which is another way of saying that we are connected with our true nature. It was good to see that what seemed to be the same drives or intentions can be generated from quite different sources. I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I have been trapped in my stories because I was afraid of losing something, like the will to be kind. How lovely to see the difference between the root of kindness, which can never be lost, and my stories about kindness, which can sometimes be quite distorted.
Burning didn’t dispel my stories
I burned my stories as a physical expression of an inner knowing: that the stories that I live are made of smoke and mirrors. It was satisfying to witness their return to smoke, but in no way necessary. The freedom we seek from our stories is ours as soon as we see that we are always the man behind the curtain. Have a wonderful, wonder-filled week, and please let me know what you’re discovering by sharing it in the comments.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I was a heavy smoker. Heavy as in two packs a day.
One day I decided to quit. It was the last day of a hunting trip in eastern Washington. (Yes, in that other galaxy in that other millennium I hunted ducks and other birds. We had two wonderful Labrador Retrievers, Tide and Yoyo, and I was a hella good shot.)
We hunted in the morning and early afternoon, then piled into the Chevy Suburban three decades before SUVs became the car we love to hate. As we drove over the mountains, I sucked on a bottle of scotch to steady my nicotine-deprived nerves. I was probably eating pretzels, too. I like pretzels on road trips even now, in this different galaxy, this new millennium, decades after leaving nicotine and scotch behind.
I was probably smoking pot, too. I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t have been.
But I digress.
Watch out for the dog!
As we pulled into the driveway after dark at the end of a long day, I said rather irritably to Miles (who in that alternate universe was not yet The Charming Prince), “Watch out for the dog!”
He said, “What dog?”
I said, “The big dog! Dammit. The dog right there in front of the car.”
I’ll never forget the look on his face, one part tired, two parts disgust, and seven parts WTF?
I looked again.
For a moment there was a dog, and at the same time there wasn’t a dog. I did and I did not see a dog until my perception settled down, and I decided that there was no dog.
I know. Confusing.
Reality is like that
The reality we perceive, whether the external reality of dogs and doormats or the internal reality of possibilities and preferences, is always in flux and always mediated by perception.
Granted, on that occasion my nervous system was particularly scrambled, but the variables governing reality are still operating, even when they are not so exaggerated.
Our vast capacity to perceive is organized by social and cultural norms, our beliefs and assumptions, life history, language, and our nervous systems, among other things.
Most of the time for most people these variables vary within fairly narrow parameters, with the result that we tend to experience what we call reality as fairly stable.
That saves a lot of time and trouble. We don’t have to figure out if the sound that awakens us in the morning is an alarm clock or a white rabbit.
And sometimes it helps to question reality
There are times when it behooves us to shake things up, especially when it comes to what we assume about ourselves and what is possible in life and business.
One morning in 1984 I awoke from an alcohol and cocaine haze to the brief vision of myself as a window, a window that was closing. I got out of bed, made a few phone calls, and through the kindness of both friends and strangers, found myself in rehab within 24 hours.
I promise you that the woman who had gone to bed a few hours before that vision did not have the resources (moral, financial, physical) to make that happen. In a very real sense (ha ha, no pun intended, but I hate to pass one up when it offers itself) reality shifted.
In one universe I was a hopeless alcoholic slut (sorry, there’s just no nice way to say it), and in the next I was a courageous soul embarking on the sacred project of creating a life.
You can explain it in various ways
There are many things you could point to by way of explaining that reality shift. One is grace, and I made a brief video about that. youtu.be/7lbCZs-9Mws
You could also point to choice, and the first and last videos in this month’s video round-up speak to that.
In this post I invite you to consider the facticity of reality’s plasticity.
It ain’t solid, folks
What you think is possible for you in this moment is a function of inputs and filters, not of a permanent and pervasive structure imposed on you from outside.
One more story.
Somewhere around 1999 I got the idea that it would be incredibly cool to take my niece, Amy, to Europe when she graduated from high school. She was 15 at the time.
I was still a relatively new coach, and I did not have the kind of money one would need for that kind of adventure. But that seemed to me to be a detail, and I had time to sort it out.
I started a savings account for the trip and added a hundred dollars here, fifty dollars there.
I went about my business, assuming that we were going to do this thing and looking for ways that it could be done.
And then the miracles happened
Along the way, some unexpected things happened. I received a totally unexpected legacy from a friend. I got my first $10,000 contract when a person in the first Authentic Promotion class asked if I would bring it to NASA. (Um, that would be a “Hell, yes!”
Needless to say, those things helped, and in 2003, Amy and I went on an amazing 29 day odyssey to Paris, Rome, Florence, London, New York City, and Washington, DC. (Sometimes I overdo things. Oh well.)
But even miracles have filters
Something to notice: all those lovely unexpected things that happened would NOT have helped if I had set up my reality filters a little differently.
For one thing, I have a whole heap of nieces and nephews. If I had set up my filters based on some notion of fairness, I doubt the trip would have gotten off the ground.
September, 11, 2001, shook up a lot of realities, and if Amy, I, or her parents had responded to that differently, we might never have followed through on such bold travel plans.
I’m not saying that fairness or caution are bad filters; I’m just pointing out that installing them would have made a difference in whether or not the miracles that happened made a difference.
Now, at last, this is about YOU
The purpose of all my storytelling today is to awaken your curiosity about the reality you’re living in.
I hope that it is one that amazes, delights, and nourishes you and the ones you love.
And if it is not, please know that there are other possibilities.
You have more choices than you may realize.
You have hidden allies.
You are every bit as miraculous as the fragment of a woman that I was on that lonely morning in 1984, and grace not only can happen, it WANTS to happen for you.
As I arrive at the finish line of this strange post, which has meandered like the race course in “Alice in Wonderland,” I feel quite wonderful.
In this moment my filters are set to miracle, and true to form, that is what I see and feel.
I don’t always experience life this way. I do not control my thoughts, and sometimes my thoughts are bleak, limited, and unpleasant to live with.
But they are only thoughts.
And I have come to see thought as the raw material of our magic making. Just because a thought appears doesn’t mean you have to use it to cook up your life.
When reality hits, it isn’t reality
While planning to take Amy to Europe, I often had the thought that it wasn’t fair to other nieces and nephews.
I could be writing the story of how going to Europe seemed like a great idea until the “reality” that it wouldn’t have been fair hit.
But that wouldn’t have been reality, would it?
Shortly after getting sober, I moved back in with Miles, who, over the next few years, morphed into the man I now call, without a shred of irony, The Charming Prince.
I was plagued with guilt until one day I saw that I could have guilt or a happy marriage, but not both.
I chose to give up guilt.
I could be telling the story of how how we tried to get back together after addiction destroyed our marriage, but the reality of my misdeeds got in the way.
But that wouldn’t have been reality either, would it?
You get to look and look again (and again)
Reality is a bit like a kaleidoscope.
You get to look, roll the barrel, and look again.
Have a wonderful, wonder-filled week, and please let me know what you’re discovering by sharing it in the comments.
A friend told a lovely story on Facebook recently about coming across a young Jedi knight. When, while walking her dog, she greeted him the five-year-old Jedi, he first collapsed into himself and mumbled that he wasn’t a real Jedi. When she and the dog circled back around, the same thing began to happen. She stopped, drew herself up, and, looking him directly in the eye, saying, “We mean you no harm, young Jedi. I ask permission for my dog and I to pass.” The boy’s jaw dropped. He snapped to attention, turned on his sword, and said in a voice filled with purpose, “Permission granted.”
Each of us generates a stream of identities ranging from Jedi warrior to perfectionist to mom to coach to hero to failure. Often we are unaware of how we suppress some of our most vibrant identities while giving air time (and thus life) to the stories that pull us down. It’s innocent, and, once we are on to it, unnecessary.
Here’s to giving life to your most life-giving version of yourself. May the Force be with you!
If not now, when? How shall we live wisely and well? Free Wholeness Hangout replay
This is the promised link to watch the Wholeness Hangout with Bill Cumming. Because of our conflicting schedules, this hangout was recorded. I promise I will have Bill back another time when you can join us live.
I love all my Wholeness Hangout guests, and I admit that of all of them Bill Cumming has been my favorite. Just being in this man’s field is transformative, provided you let his energy and love in. I hope you will give yourself that gift.
Our conversation about what it means to live wisely and well is a resounding wake up call to show up in and for your life.
And it is a wake up call with a twist.
The twist is this. Bill calls to YOU (the person reading these words) to know that you are loved, valued, and appreciated.
He is committed from the soles of his feet to the top of his head to:
Having a world that works for everyone.
Allowing all 7 billion of us to know that we are loved without condition.
Allowing all people to experience that there is always a choice.
Supporting individuals in knowing that their value and worth in the world is a given.
It’s his life’s work, and he speaks to it with great authority.
Click here to watch and/or to download the audio. You can also download Bill’s ebook, Self Care for the Soul.