A Tiny Mad Idea
All shallow roots must be uprooted, because they are not deep enough to sustain you.
--A COURSE IN MIRACLES
For most my life I felt like a fraud. I worked super hard to be perceived as cool. I did everything I could to keep up, fit in, and be accepted. I dressed a certain way, studied specific subjects, tried different hobbies. In high school I wore Doc Martens, wrapped a flannel shirt around my waist, and tried to be cute by wearing my field hockey skirt to school on game day. I did whatever I could to fit in, but none of it worked. I never felt as though I was part of the group.
I now realize that behind all my striving was a search for meaning and purpose. I was searching for a sense of self-worth in relationships ranging from friends to family to romances. My outside persona was a loquacious, white, middle-class Jewish girl growing up in the 'burbs with her divorced hippie parents. But I had no clue who I was on the inside.
To make matters worse, I felt like my thoughts were totally different from those of the average adolescent. It seemed as though my contemporaries were content to focus on sports, the latest hit movie, and dating. My mind was obsessed with other things. I constantly wondered why I was this person in this body with this family at this time. I'd think, Is this it? We're born, we get an education, we make some money, we get hitched, we have some kids, and then we die? Is that all there is to life? I was an adolescent girl caught in an existential crisis. My inner turmoil had me questioning everything I was trained to believe in.
The world around me taught the thinking of inequality, separateness, and competition, and better-than and less-than. I was led to value money, a romantic partner, and success as driving factors for true happiness. The world taught me to believe in archetypes like mean girls, hot guys, rich dads, poor kids, cool crowds, and losers who sat alone at lunch. I was supposed to believe this world was real, but deep down I didn't fully buy it. In my mind a battle raged between what I was taught to believe and a deep-rooted intuition that there was something more. My inner voice was screaming, Wake up, girl, there's a better way!
Throughout my formative years I experienced fleeting encounters with what I was seeking: a peaceful world beyond what I was taught to see. This began at age sixteen. By that time my inner turmoil had gotten so bad that I was in a constant state of anxiety. I feared just about everything. I was scared of being alone, getting too fat, not being cool enough. Some days I didn't even have a reason--I was just scared. This anxiety made me feel like a freak. My brother and friends seemed to be totally chilled-out, whereas I was in a constant state of panic. My hippie mom chose to remedy this anxiety with what she knew best: meditation. I was desperate to ease my incessant thoughts and get out of the scary world I'd created inside my mind, so I took her up on her offer to learn meditation. Once I agreed to give it a shot, my mom lit some incense and sat my ass down on a meditation pillow. She taught me to sit cross-legged with my palms facing upward so that I could receive the so-called "energy" around me. This was far outside my comfort zone, but I was distressed and willing to try anything.
Early on in my mediation practice, I confirmed that my intuition was right. There was a better way. I found that whenever I'd sit long enough, my mind would soften and my anxiety would disappear. Then one afternoon I was led to know much more. In the middle of my meditation I felt a rush of peace come over me. My limbs began to tingle and I felt surrounded by a sense of love. I felt at home for the first time. This experience reassured me that my intuition was spot-on. There was more to happiness than shopping malls, TV, and being popular. There was a source of energy that was greater than me, which I could access if I sat long enough in meditation. Even though I was still totally confused about my existence, this gave me something to hold on to. It gave me hope that there was indeed a better way to perceive the world.
Unfortunately, I couldn't share this experience with my high school contemporaries. I couldn't very well show up at school and say, "Hey, guys, I meditated last night and my body was taken over by a loving energy. It was totally cool." There was no way in hell they'd believe me. As far as they were concerned, what you see is what you get. It seemed to me that they believed in a world of separateness, fear, competition, and prom. Had I shared my existential philosophies with my friends, I'd have been exiled. I was weird enough already.
So instead I chose fear. I turned my back on the feeling of love and serenity brewing inside me and took what I thought was the path of least resistance. I detoured into fear and forgot about my encounter with love. I made the decision to go along with the crowd and believe life was tough. As I got older and grew into this mindset, I focused on the form I'd projected onto my life. I saw myself as so-and-so's girlfriend, as a theater student, as a young entrepreneur, as a party girl mentioned in the gossip rags and someone worth Googling. I portrayed myself as better than others, but on the inside I felt less than everyone. From the outside it looked as though I had successfully created a "cool" existence for myself. But I couldn't ignore the voice in the back of my mind nagging me to remember that there was a better way.
However, I hid from that voice. I denied its truth. I chose to let fear take the wheel and navigate my life without a road map. This choice led me to some super scary dead ends, which included a slew of addictions--drug addiction being one of them--and unhealthy, drama-filled relationships. Luckily, I got lost enough times to surrender to that inner voice, listen, and pick up the map. That map was A Course in Miracles, and it became my guide back home.
Today I have the map in my back pocket and I'm psyched to share it with you. I know you must be longing for a guide. Maybe you're going through a breakup, coping with a job loss, or mourning a death. Maybe you're recovering from a form of addiction, you hate your body, or, like me, you're having some kind of existential crisis. Whatever it is I know it's not easy, and that in some way or another fear's running the show. Let's face it: you wound up in the self-help section of the bookstore, right? But that's cool. Your willingness to enhance your life is what guided you to me. Where you are is totally normal. This is where most of our minds end up sooner or later. That's because, early on in life, most of us separate from love and choose fear instead. We might have fleeting moments of inspiration and truth. We feel love through a song lyric or an image or after a warm embrace. We sense love, but we don't believe in it. We save our faith for fear. But ultimately, there is a quiet voice in each of us that longs for something better. That voice inside you is what led you to this book. Some way, somehow, your inner voice of love spoke louder than fear and said, Maybe there's a better way. And you listened.
Nice one! I'm proud of you. You did the best you could to get to this point. So let's get the ball rolling! I'm here to guide you to a whole new way to perceive the world. As I mentioned before, A Course in Miracles will be our map. Like most maps, the Course can be hard to understand at first glance. Therefore, it's crucial that you keep an open mind. I know this New Age stuff might be a little funky for you, but hang tight. All I ask is that you stay open to the suggestions. At times you may completely disagree with what I'm teaching. In fact, I'm sure you will. Most of what you'll learn in this book is the opposite of what you've been conditioned to believe. But that's cool. New ideas are what you need. Clearly your old ways haven't been working. I'm here to teach you that life doesn't have to be tough, that you don't need to feel alone, and that miracles are your birthright. So be willing to see things differently and you'll be led to all the happiness and serenity that you desire. I know this is a pretty ballsy statement, but I'll straight-up testify to it. As it says in the Course, "There is a way of living in the world that is not here, although it seems to be. You do not change appearance, though you smile more frequently. Your forehead is serene; your eyes are quiet." Sounds totally awesome, right? Well, it is.
In this chapter I'll start us off on our journey by introducing the key principles of the Course, which identify fear as an illusion and a shift in perception as a miracle. For the most part, I'll be sticking to the Course's language, but from time to time I'll Gabbify some stuff. I'll begin by reminding you of the state of mind we were born with, which I'll refer to as "love." Here, I'll take you back in time to the peace you once knew as an innocent child. Then I'll identify the key reasons you're no longer grooving in that way. I'll guide you to understand what the Course teaches is a major reason that we sink into unhappiness, which, simply put, is a separation from our inner state of joy. Then, I'll wrap up the chapter with an exercise designed to help you identify the negative thought patterns you've created in your mind. Taking inventory of those patterns is the first move toward shifting them. Our journey will begin with "love." What better way to start!
Born in Love
The love I'll speak of throughout the book is not to be confused with romantic love. The Course defines love as "the right-minded emotion of peace and joy." This kind of love is not something we offer to some people and deny others--this is one love that embodies everything and everyone. When we're in a state of love we see everyone as equal and we feel at ease all the time. This state is fearless and faithful.
Love is where we all begin. When we are born, all we know is love. Our ~ing is on! (If you haven't read my last book, Add More ~ing to Your Life, allow me to translate: ~ing is your inner guide, which is the voice of intuition, inspiration, and love. Throughout the book I'll refer to love, spirit, and ~ing interchangeably.) Our thoughts are aligned with love and our minds are peaceful. Our loving mind believes that all people are equal and that we are part of something larger than ourselves. We believe that we are supported and connected to everything everywhere. We believe that only love is real. We believe in miracles.
When I was first exposed to this lesson from the Course, it was hard for me to remember a time from my past when love fully ran the show. Even as a young child I felt anxious and skittish, and as if something were off-kilter. When I had that fleeting encounter with love during my early meditation days, I knew for sure that the presence of love was missing as a constant in my life. In that fleeting moment during my meditation, I felt it and it was real. Although I was unable to capture it and pin it down at the time, I was able to hang on to its memory for some sense of serenity.
A Tiny Mad Idea
So we are born into love, and then pretty soon thereafter fear is introduced. We begin to pick up the fear around us and are led to deny love. One tiny mad idea can hijack our loving mindset, and as the Course says, "we forgot to laugh." This tiny mad idea could have arrived as early as infancy. Maybe Mom was anxious or Dad yelled a lot. As innocent babies we pick up fear from the outside world. All it takes is one tiny mad idea to make us detour into fear. A thought like "I'm not smart enough," or "Daddy doesn't like me, because he left," or "I'm not pretty enough" can separate us from love. The moment we take this tiny mad idea seriously, we get caught in a nightmare and forget to wake up.
With one fearful thought we lose love and are thereby separated from our ~ing. This is what the Course calls "dissociation," which it basically defines as "a decision to forget." We chose to forget that we were equally as loveable and worthy as everyone and everything everywhere. Instead we chose to believe in fear and to perceive ourselves as separate in all ways. In some cases we believe we are better than others and special, whereas in other instances we believe we aren't good enough and are lesser-than. This thinking is destructive and unproductive: it leads us nowhere fast.
The tiny mad idea that totally seized my ~ing arrived when I was eight years old and landed a national TV commercial. This was monumental, not because I was proud of my acting or excited about being on TV, but because it was the first time I remember my father ever noticing me. It's not that my father was a mean man or a bad parent; it's just that I don't remember having much of a connection with him when I was young. Then, once I got a taste of what his attention felt like, it became like a drug that I couldn't get enough of. From that point forward, I was on the chase for more. I became a love junkie.
Though I didn't realize it, that experience began to reprogram my mind. It taught me that outward success equals "Daddy loves me," and that I wasn't good enough without his attention. So I continued to do whatever it took to be noticed. That was when I detoured into fear. This one tiny mad idea became my root issue, and a whacked-out emotional blueprint was set down to be built upon for the next twenty years of my life. I lost my faith in love and fell for the fear instead.
Excerpted from Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein, Author of Add More -ING to Your Life. Copyright © 2011 by Gabrielle Bernstein. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.