BY HARV BISHOP
My wife and I are walking into the life of our dreams and yet we have done no formal New Thought affirmative prayer practices for almost two years.
We leave for New York and then Europe next month, both long-held bucket list items. Yet this isn’t a one-off, “cross the trip off our bucket list” adventure. We have more freedom of choice and creative opportunities than at any point in our lives. The freedom to travel, learn and explore is now an ongoing part of our lives.
This journey started two years ago, at one of the darkest times in our life together. It began when my wife had life-threatening complications following major surgery. Another emergency major surgery was required, which saved her life but left her with a life-changing side effect that would completely change how she could live her life. All that was known was that more major surgery was required and that it may or may not be able to restore her body and her life. The medical challenges were followed by my wife’s heartbreaking job layoff two weeks after the final surgery. To Diane it was more than a paycheck. She approached her job with love as a form of ministry. In addition to the heartbreak, this cut our income by 50 percent while significant medical bills were bearing down like a train in a dark tunnel. The results were unsustainable debt and more stress than I had ever experienced. We were able to right our course, but bankruptcy was a real threat for a time.
How did we get from then to now in a short 24 months without a New Thought affirmative prayer practice? It’s not clear to me as a 40-year New Thought adherent. I’m writing this to reverse engineer our process to begin to get some understanding. Before her layoff, my wife worked for an international New Thought organization. The layoff seemed both cruel and morally reprehensible to us and we both became alienated from organized New Thought. Any practice overtly associated with New Thought brought up painful emotions. To be in a place where we were facing some of the most significant challenges of our lives and to be cut off from the spiritual support system we had loved was not a good place to be. We questioned our faith and even God’s existence.
We’ve lived the last two years much like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indie crosses the canyon and the steps only appear after he has launched into the apparent abyss.
The Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote: “… Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”
Where did we walk on our uncertain journey from heartbreak to the life of our dreams?
Unusual, for us, forms of prayer. In the midst of Diane’s surgeries, inspired by the spiritual writer Gary Jansen, I turned to the rosary of my Catholic youth, which brought much comfort. I learned Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Sudarshan Kriya meditation to help manage the at times unbearable stress. Facing death collapses a person’s energy and focus so we are forever grateful for the many people who prayed for us and held the vision when we could not. Miracles came.
The doctor who performed the emergency surgery said he could not correct the results and suggested another surgeon. This surgeon had his doubts as well. He said Diane was looking at a five-hour minimum surgery and he would decide what to do “on the go.” The options he offered were scary and could have resulted in some disability. Then Diane’s naturopathic physician, Dr. Debra Rouse, found a nationally known surgeon for us to get a second opinion. He was so much more optimistic than the first surgeon that we went into shock and had to think about for three days. We consulted with two more doctors who said go with the surgeon who is confident. There was also the synchronicity of seeing the nationally known surgeon on the cover of a magazine in one of those doctor’s waiting rooms. The surgeries weren’t easy but he brought her through. She healed well ahead of schedule, thanks to her home care nurse Angel, a godsend whose level headedness and training got us through the hard times and emergency room visits between surgeries. Diane is now 100 percent healthy with no disability.
Following the layoff, we experimented with Hindu chants to Ganesh (symbolized as an elephant, the remover of obstacles) and read Yogananda’s The Law of Success together. Yogananda stressed the importance of effort and perseverance in addition to meditation and, in those hard days, it took effort to keep going in a positive direction. Then seemingly “out of the blue” we got a call from one of my heroes — life coach and positive visionary, Dr. James Rouse and his wife Dr. Debra Rouse, to assist with a book project.
Exercise and diet: Working on the Rouse book project metaphorically got us up off the floor of dark emotions. Exercise and dietary changes created a cascade of beneficial neurochemicals to assist positive thinking. We began combining remembering our life purpose with exercise, meditation and healthy food in a morning hour of power, which set us up neurochemically for a winning day. We began to vision our future, no small miracle given what we were feeling. The Rouse’s live positive, healthy lives as serial entrepreneurs so perhaps we could too.
The Rouses’ approach is also compassionate. Dr. James’s teaching is about resilience and positivity. We’re all human. We have up days and down days, peaks and plateaus. Some days we laugh, some we cry. By embracing our self-care and our plateaus with discipline, we experience an upward arc in our lives so we are better able to serve ourselves, our loved ones and our world. We have found this a better approach than trying to stay positive at all times. Some days we can still be depressed. Some days we can’t wrap our heads around the beauty of our new life.
We actually did what the books we read recommended: Our friend, the writer and speaker Mitch Horowitz, is a huge advocate for basing one’s spirituality on experimentation and personal experience. I’ve always been a theory guy. I fall in love with ideas. Given everything going on, I eagerly embraced Mitch’s nine-month challenge published as “An Experiment in Greatness” on this blog in January 2017. Mitch wrote, “I challenge you: Select one sacred or ethical book. Live by its principles for nine months. Dedicate yourself to its ideal with total commitment and unreserved abandon. See what happens.” What happened was we were out of debt and reveling in the beauty of Victoria BC nine months later.
While continuing with Dr. Rouse’s Life Mastery practices, our go to book for Mitch’s nine-month challenge was James Altucher’s self-published phenomenon Choose Yourself. Altucher has scaled the heights of tech, finance, and investment and come crashing down like Icarus multiple times. He has experienced those days (many, many days) where he didn’t want to get out of bed and bounced back. His recommended spiritual practice resonates deeply with Dr. James’s. A morning routine of exercise, gratitude, and meditation.
The distinction for us in this book is his life strategy. In short, constantly generate ideas, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, move forward on multiple tracks and see what plans catch the prevailing winds. This was a big change for us. Throughout our lives we would pin our hopes on one big dream, put all our energy into it, and end up laying on the floor when it didn’t work out. At some point we would recover enough to try again and start pursuing that next big dream. We wanted certainty before we would move. Man, did we want detailed plans to avoid missteps.
This year by necessity we left analysis paralysis behind. I resolved to get my first book, the anthology Can New Thought Be Saved?, out without knowing exactly how to accomplish it step by step. Would we rent or sell our Denver-area home? How could we create multiple income streams? What would our employment picture look like? How could we travel and earn income?
We are constantly experimenting, acting and adapting. Dr. James writes that our lives are a living laboratory. Life isn’t about perfection, but instead constant refinement. Many suggest that synchronicity — Jung’s term for acausal, meaningful (sometimes miraculous) coincidences — increases in times of transition. Life has been one long transition this last two years and miracles large and small have come our way. We’ve also had roadblocks and challenges that have modified our vision, but at each juncture we were able to make our vision bigger, not smaller. We discovered we don’t need two incomes to travel and that we can travel for longer periods while doing work from our laptops as digital nomads. The coming years are still a work in progress and we are at peace with that.
We’ve also caught some unearned breaks. Our thoughts did not create the major Denver-area hail storm that totaled both our cars. That seemed like bad news until we used the insurance money to buy a van which has enabled affordable domestic travel. Traveling in a van has been a dream of mine since my adolescent years watching the hippies take to the road with flower-stickered VW vans. Our thoughts also did not create the economic boom from legalized pot that helped make Denver-area real estate white hot. My thoughts did not create computers or the rising demand for online teaching which enables me to travel and teach my courses at University of Colorado Denver. But our new open-minded mindsets enabled us to recognize and seize on these unexpected opportunities.
Forgiveness: This process was long and arduous, but we persevered and it helped free up our energy and focus for the new. My three-part series on this blog about our forgiveness journey can be accessed here, here, and here.
God Cards: One my most popular blog posts of the last year was the remarkable story of Mitch’s mother-in-law Terri Orr who wrote positive sayings and affirmations on the back of simple business cards and used these to reclaim her life as a divorced single mother who eventually became a dean of admissions at Harvard Medical School. As I’ve said, our sense of betrayal meant overt metaphysical practices triggered too many painful emotions for us, but God cards seemed doable. Our version was on giant Post-It® notes that we reviewed several times a day. There is no affirmative prayer practice or trance and incantations involved. One uses the cards to be inspired and to be reminded of essential truths. The cards don’t say I will own a kick-ass car, but state enduring spiritual principles or affirm positive character traits. “I love my Louis Haye “I Can Do It’ page-a-day calendar,” Terri says unapologetically. “People can make fun of a calendar as a source of spirituality, but it works for me.”
It worked for us too. And science suggests some reasons this can be so effective even minus the New Thought or magical ritual trappings. First, psychological research shows that directed attention through word choices leads to persuasion of ourselves and others. It focuses us on a specific part of reality, writes Robert Cialdini in his book Pre-Suasion. He gives the following examples: a health care organization banned violent words inconsistent with their mission of health: information points rather than bullet points, approaching rather than attacking problems, goals rather than targets, outdistancing rather than beating the competition. Achievement-related words, like outdistance, elevate performance. Another study showed that exposure to violent words increased aggression. On the positive side, workers at a call center given a picture of a runner winning a race raised 60 percent more money for a charity than those who weren’t exposed to the picture. Psychiatrist Bernard Beitman’s book Connecting with Coincidence discussed M. K. Landon’s study comparing different approaches to manifesting unexpected money. Subjects who put a symbol associated with money in a prominent place and were asked to pay attention and stay receptive received more money than those who visualized prosperity, prayed or burned candles with an invocation. Those who were curious and open but unattached to outcome also received more money than those who engaged in spiritual practices to manifest money.
These study results, and the experience of our last two years, are counterintuitive and raise many questions I don’t have the answers for, but we’ll keep asking and living the questions. And enjoying relaxing afternoons in sidewalk cafes in Barcelona and Rome.