Choose bad and still get good
Each week here on the blog, we’ve been building on the previous conversation, pushing a little further into what it means to live your best, most loving, most meaningful life. Previously, we’ve discussed the devolution of memory, which is causing our fight-or-flight instinct to run away with our subconscious mind. We’ve talked about how a commitment to living in love in the present moment can completely alter our lives for the better and cause even our mistakes to turn out for the better in the long run. But what about when we fail to live up to our commitments? It’s one thing to try our best and make an honest mistake—but what about when we do something that we already believe is wrong?
Ultimately, our beliefs determine pretty much everything about our day-to-day experience. But most of the time, our beliefs are determined subconsciously. According to Dr. Daniel Aman, every time we think about something, our subconscious activates every single one of our memories related to that event—many times including inherited genetic memories that we can’t even recall consciously! This also means that our perceptions of that memory at the time it was recorded continue to have an impact on us, even if we’ve since learned better. I had one client, for example, whose life had been largely shaped by a childhood memory in which her mother refused to give her a popsicle. It didn’t matter that she had a good reason for it, because that memory was still filtered through the understanding of a child, and even as an adult it was projecting a belief that she had not been loved.
The beliefs created by these memories are an overwhelming force. But sometimes, they don’t agree with each other. In fact, it’s very common for a person to have one belief which says a certain course of action is unhealthy and a bad idea, and another one that says it’s the best thing for them. Think, for example, of a man trying to lose weight and cut back on sweets. They might have a belief that they shouldn’t eat ice cream, because at this point in their lives they’re trying to eat healthy, and they might have excellent reasons for doing so. But then along comes another belief saying that they’ve had a hard day, maybe they’re in a bit of pain, and what they really need is just to feel good for a little while.
Let’s say that our hypothetical man gives in to the second belief and eats the ice cream. Generally speaking, it won’t be as enjoyable as it normally would be. Why? Because now they’re feeling guilty for going against what they really believe is best. In my practice I call this “conscious conflict,” though in religious circles you might also call it “sin.” Obviously, our example is very mild, but the same basic process applies to moral conflicts of any scale. For a number of years during my twenties I felt this way nearly all the time, and during that period I looked ten years older than I really was. At one point, I saw a list of cancer symptoms and realized I had every single one of them, though thankfully I was never diagnosed, and since turning my life around I’ve been very healthy overall.
What eventually saved my life was a passage from ancient manuscripts, specifically the book of Romans. There’s a passage where the Apostle Paul says (and I’m paraphrasing), “What I do is not what I want to do. Instead, I do the things I don’t want to do, and I don’t do what I do want to do. And I do this over and over again.” I could relate to that.
That’s conscious conflict he’s talking about, but what’s really amazing is what comes next. “When this happens, it is not me doing it, but sin living in me.” Again, don’t get hung up on the terminology. You could just as easily replace the word “sin” with “conscious conflict” or “wrongdoing.” The point is that if these manuscripts are to be believed, you can intentionally choose the wrong path and never have that wrongdoing held against you in a spiritual sense. That doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences in this world, but it means you don’t have to feel guilty or ashamed for your lapses because they’ve literally been taken from you, and it means the even those lapses will work together for your ultimate good. In other words, choose to live this way and you get good even when you choose bad—no matter what!
Now, if you know anything about these manuscripts, you’ll know that they’re speaking of those devoted to God. So doesn’t that mean that if you don’t believe in God (or at least, this god), then none of this can work for you? Well, I should point out that I’m not a biblical scholar, but I do have a thought about that as well.
These same ancient manuscripts assert that “God is love.” I’ve talked to a number of people who are biblical scholars, and the consensus I’ve seen is that this statement is quite literal. So my question is this: if God is love, and you make a sincere, all-in commitment to living in love, aren’t you in some sense living in a relationship with God? I would say yes. I’m not claiming to have any idea how exactly it would compare to someone who worships God by name, but I do believe that this is why anyone can experience some measure of this same profound peace, regardless of their own circumstances and failings.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
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