November is traditionally the month for gratitude. I suppose that’s because of Thanksgiving and the fact that us people forget that we have All The Stuff to be grateful for year-round. All of my friends are on these gratitude campaigns on social media, which I love, and is a continuous reminder of how rich we are, every last one of us.
I’ve been working through some things this year. Some good things and hard things and fun things and difficult things. Big changes in my life and my perspective and my priorities have led to big waves of mental struggle. Fear and insecurity and worry - all the things that we like to call “anxiety” these days. I am a champ. It keeps me awake some nights, telling me stories about all the things that can and might go wrong, all the things that could happen to my kids or Him or me or my money… whispering lies all. night. long. You feel me?
“We Suffer more in imagination than in reality,” - Seneca
So I started this exercise a few months ago, one that I am good at sometimes, and that I forget to do or ignore completely when I get to a Particularly Dark Place, because even I, with all of my strength and splendor, find myself overwhelmed by fear from time to time. Before I talk about my survival trick, I have to talk about how Everyone agrees with me.
I tend to be all fatalistic about the influences on my life. For instance, I like to put my entire iTunes library on shuffle when I am driving and let The Universe, or Fate, or if you will, God, talk to me through the random selections of music that come on. If it happens to be Tenacious D, I feel like God and I probably have some stuff to work through. If it’s Christmas music, well, then it’s not my fault for breaking the After Thanksgiving Only Rule. The Lord has spoken.
I have the same approach to books. I currently have a stack of books next to my bed taller than two Dagnies that I need to read. I usually pick them by “feel” (which is also how I get dressed in the morning, much to the chagrin of my grown-up friends) and let the Guiding Hand of Providence open to me the world of understanding that the moment is asking for. Usually it’s The Frozen Chosin (talk about a lesson in gratitude!), or a similar military history book, but last night, it was Outwitting The Devil, which I bought quite serendipitously because it was super cheap after I bought a different Napoleon Hill book recommended to me by Someone I Like Very Much, and which I clearly needed, Think And Grow Rich.
“The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”
I don’t mean to prattle on here, but I have become firmly convinced that there are no coincidences. I’ve been studying stoicism lately, the philosophy that everything happens for a reason and every obstacle is an opportunity, which falls right in stride with the mindset that I have adopted over the years in order to survive and have tattooed in Latin on my back: Dei Plena Sunt Omnia (all things are full of God/ God is in everything).
The author of Outwitting the Devil, Napoleon Hill, is certainly a stoic. In the book, he interviews the Devil - like, literally, sits down with the Prince of Darkness and gets the down low on how he rolls. Here’s the thing. The universe will keep telling you(me) the same thing over and over again until we figure out how to listen, right? Whether it’s Marcus Aurelius, Napoleon Hill, A Very Dashing City Planner, a Navy Seal or the mouth of an Ass, the message will continue to be delivered until it’s received, because God Is In Everything, right?
Anyway, Hill, Marcus, CP and All of the Asses have been reminding me, in their own delicate words this year, that the enemy of stoicism (which is to say graceful acceptance of all circumstances of life) is fear. In his interview, Hill uncovers the greatest tool of the Devil’s trade: his ability to keep us from independent thought, confident movement and the installation of a paralytic lack of motivation through FEAR. And here’s the biggest deal of all: FEAR is the opposite of GRATITUDE. Because fear is the focus on everything that you might lose, instead of everything you HAVE - which, as it happens, is exactly everything you need to get you where you need to go.
I could go on for hours and days and pages with evidence to prove my point, refuting every argument which I, myself, have perfected. I can tell you how I am not good at certain things and should therefore be exempt from them, but I know that I have the tools within me to become good at them. I can tell you that I don’t have the financial means to get to the lofty goals I have in my imagination, but I know that I have the power within me Think and Grow Rich in order to reach those goals. In Hill’s interview, the Devil describes the biggest threat to him as the one who:
“Has a mind of his own and uses it for all purposes... never offers an alibi for his shortcomings”
Fear creates excuses. Excuses create failure. We find a false safety hiding behind the “reasons” we cannot do things. We also find stagnation and death. Gratitude creates ability. Ability creates innovation. Innovation creates success. The most beautiful part of all of this: each failure is another chance to learn and grow. So be grateful for the failures too. Lord knows I am.
“...the humility to admit and own mistakes and develop a plan to overcome them is essential to success.”
Anyway, that rabbit trail leads me back to the ritual I created months before I read Napoleon Hill or Jocko Willink, but one I came up with to overcome the fear that was robbing my sleep and holding me back.
One night, lying anxiously awake, “suffering more in imagination” like a pro, I felt desperate to overcome the “irrational fears” that were running through my mind. Another important piece of this mental puzzle is something that a realio, trulio psychologist said to me - “fears aren’t really irrational if they’re things that have actually happened to you.” So maybe the fears of abandonment, of financial ruin, of Being Old, Alone and Done For, weren’t 1000% irrational, but they were rendering me ineffective, which is almost worse.
Anyway, as my darkest fears spiraled into anger and resentment for circumstances in my life which felt out of my control, I reached out in my mind and started to list off the things I was grateful for. The things I COULD control, and the things I KNEW WERE REAL. The health of my family. The love of My One. The warm home, the food on my shelves. The gainful employment. The Endless Possibilities. In that dark night, I began sending texts of gratitude to the Ones That Mattered. I started with the one where the fear was focused. Fear of abandonment, rejection, betrayal - rational fears based in real life experience - but I sent Him a text - the one who has never perpetrated any of these transgressions, and I thanked him for being Different.
In that moment the cycle of fear was broken. The next night, I sent texts to my kids, each specific things, the first things that popped into my head when I imagined their beautiful faces as I lay in my sleeping bag in fire camp. Thankful for their brightness, for their humor, for their brilliance, for their perseverance… I made it a ritual for several nights, until I fell asleep peacefully thinking about how Very Rich I was. I still do this, when I remember to, and some nights, when it’s very late, I just whisper my thankfulness to the dark night and all of the fears shrink back. It really works.
There are side perks to this practice. That old adage of never letting the sun go down on your anger? I don’t often find myself going to bed angry, but whispering my gratitude to Him makes it impossible to dwell on any negativity between us. It kills the bad vibes right dead. Try it. It works. He whispers back to me and All Is Right in Our World. And my kids, after they accused me of being drunk in fire camp, or got over their paranoia that I was making some deathbed solvency, responded to my gratitude with gratitude of their own, or with a new level of faith in my love, even if I was miles and weeks away.
So take it from me, or Marcus Aurelius, or Jacko Willink or Napoleon Hill or Seneca or the City Planner. See your fear, rational or otherwise. Face it with gratefulness. Give your shortcomings no alibi. Use your own mind to make a plan. Be the change in your own life and the lives of others.