By Basil Gala, Ph.D.
In Search of Meaning
So you want to be an angel, my friend. Angels are beings of the spirit and imagination, messengers from heaven, sent to bring us divine messages and guidance in time of crisis, catalysts for change. Seen only in dreams, angels are invisible, weightless, subtle, and impenetrable to all our scientific probes and to all our senses, except our sixth sense; but they can be mental and emotional entities also–like the myriad powerful ideas from calculus to cognitive therapy fertile human minds have devised, to be used as needed for our purpose.
Let us begin by assuming our purpose as angels is to see people lead better lives: lives free of addiction, such as alcoholism, overeating and obesity, kleptomania, drug addiction, smoking, filthiness and messiness, rudeness and aggressiveness, obsessive gambling, shopping and borrowing, hoarding, overworking, and numerous other sins of commission and omission. We want to bring the people we love from the edge of destruction and despair to lives full of health, vigor, joy, and usefulness. Normally, we cannot bring grown people to change their habits, but if we can help them change, how do we seek our purpose?
Certainly, we want to change people using no force, no punishment, no intimidation, no coercion, no pressure, no dominance, no cruelty, no violence, no chains, and no big stick. Such tools of persuading people may have worked in the dark ages; they are the tools of demons, not angels.
I am not saying such tools don’t work today. They work well for the Marines who build boys into men, also for such leaders as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. A dictator can mold public opinion, discipline dissidents, and shape lives into productive units for purposes of the State. People in prisons are rehabilitated, sometimes. Clinics strictly controlling addicts and their environment may change destructive ways permanently. Large corporations run training camps to reconstruct failing managers under threat of dismissal. Military academies and preparatory schools have been noted for their successes in molding young lives with harsh discipline, such as the fictional Welton School in “Dead Poets Society.” It has been said the British Empire of old was run by the graduates of Eton, and other such boarding schools. Religious cults, monasteries, communes, and salvation charities have taken derelicts and turned them into functioning human beings to promote a particular doctrine.
Such is not our purpose. Subtly, indirectly, invisibly, gently, passively without action, like angels we guide those we love for their own good. We do not want to intervene actively in lives unless it is absolutely necessary.
We don’t want to use any overt or strong action or words; not dictating, we allow people to act on their own initiative. Think of how God, that all-powerful idea, approaches us. Many people doubt God exists—so invisible and impervious to our sense and senses God is. Let us be as impassive as God then. To be otherwise would render those we love less free to create their own destiny.
Destinies are mangled by authors who teach how to win friends and influence people for personal gain; that is the easy way to power which we don’t want to follow in our mission. We seek no personal gain. We have come to own all we want and need for our own happiness and now desire to bring some of the fruits we gathered on our road to others.
Most people begin an angelic existence as parents, looking after the fruits of their loins. Parents do just fine usually, until their children are grown—then they often mess up (the parents, not the children). Now parents love their children as well as ever, but at this stage of life they wax critical about most of what their offspring do: they try to control the actions of their children as they did when their children were small. No wonder teenagers are often so rebellious. Criticism is out. Forget criticism for children or any person you want to influence for good. Criticize and you are only asking for resistance to anything you suggest.
Never criticize, scold, or reprimand workers also, those you supervise; workers are not your slaves, as children are not your property. Workers and children own themselves and deserve their share of dignity. Your spouse needs respect too, weaker than you though she or he may be. The constant bickering of some couples as they seek to change each other leads nowhere except to divorce or worse. Praise your spouse, or your house may fall on you and crush you; don’t complain and criticize. You chose to tie your life to this person freely, knowing the character residing therein; character alters very rarely after the age of five. Before you weld yourself with someone, expect someone will not get rid of the habits your dislike, but rather will grow them deeper, higher, and thornier, because that’s how it goes nearly always. If you can live with this prospect, go ahead, weld and satisfy your desire to wed.
The Hindu Upanishads say, “As your deepest desire is, so is your character; as your character is, so is your destiny.” Sometimes character will change for the better given a very intense and persistent desire for the needed change. But before we can use desire to motivate, our loved ones need to realize they have a serious problem damaging their lives. As it goes in many stories, the hero comes to realize he has been too proud, like Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice;” the heroine comes to realize, like Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind,” she has been foolishly in love with the wrong man and had spurned her true mate. Similarly, the prodigal son comes home to his father after losing all his patrimony, ending up living in a pig sty, where he becomes aware of the error of his ways.
The realization of a character fault by our loved one may come on its own one day, or more often after a serious crisis and shock to the system, such as a deadly illness or other great loss. Thus we come to the scene on a hospital bed when the wrongdoer awakens after a terrific accident, which leads to the confession of guilt. Alternately, the loved one looks over us as we lie dying and is led to the realization of sin.
If we want to spare our loved one and us such a dangerous crisis, how do we go about awaking the realization of error and change in habits? We may use any of several methods, none of them with a guarantee of success, known in cognitive psychology as intervention.
First in intervening, we may guide our loved one to confront a crisis, less dangerous than the one which will inevitably follow from bad behavior. Like a doctor inoculating a patient, we induce a challenging crisis for our person which must be met only by shaking off bad behavior. A change of place or country with a new environment may do the trick, such as it happened to Mr. Micawber, the perennial debtor waiting for something to turn up, in Charles Dickens’s “David Copperfield,” shipped from Debtors Prison in London to Australia; there he prospered.
Second, pick a person to confront the addict in a heart-to-heart talk to shock loose the needed realization of sin. This person must be someone whom the addict loves, respects, trusts, and admires most in the world, a close friend, family member, physician, minister, or other professional. Unless you are such a person, don’t attempt confrontation yourself. You are very likely to elicit an antagonistic response.
Third, in some successful situations, the family and close friends get together for the confrontation, as they did for Betty Ford, the American President’s wife, who drank to excess. They begin by expressing their love and affection for the errant member; then they confront the miscreant with the full import of the character flaw. Now the loved one must acknowledge guilt and seek help, else no further progress can be made; there will be no intense desire to change.
Normally people do not change, behaving as their genes and early environment dictate they should; you can get hoarse telling them what’s right to do without any result on their behavior. Nearly no one has a free will to do what reason dictates. But after our family confrontation with the wrongdoer, should we never criticize? What about the erring children, the students making mistakes in their assignments, and the employees causing damages to your operation with faulty decisions? Consider this first: Are you sure your ways are the right ways and theirs wrong?
We are sure the ways of our enemy are wrong. What do we do when we are attacked? We defend ourselves: that is the moral and legal rule. We need, however, to make sure we are in the right. Jesus said, “Love your enemy.” Such advice may be hard for us to follow. Remember, though, we are not talking about enemies here, but loved ones, who may cause damage to themselves or others. Therefore, if you clearly see serious damage coming, you will prevent it in every possible way; but don’t waste your time and energy pointing out faults.
Fault finding is a highly ineffective technique for influencing others. You think you are helping the object of your attentions, but the object thinks you are hateful and hates you back. Unless you enjoy being hated and being ineffectual, don’t speak to anyone about anyone’s defects, because almost certainly word will get back to the party you criticize. Speak only of a person’s good points which you can honestly discover; no person is devoid of all merit.
Look hard for something your student, child, friend, or employee is doing right and point to that. Thus you will reinforce good behavior; bad behavior, given no attention from you, will tend to extinction. Teach by example, engaging in the right behavior in similar circumstances without bragging or lording over the person you want to influence. Teach by going through the same right action over and over in different ways, making your action into a model easy to follow. Teach by feeling enthusiastic, moving vigorously in the proper course for success. Say very little, as words in such circumstances have few uses and tend to annoy. Influence by just existing in your special world of adjustment and contentment and let the spirit of your philosophy be absorbed by osmosis.
Influence people like a lighthouse in the stormy dark, quietly shining over the rocks. Be there to guide others, like Polaris in clear skies, distantly shedding your few precious beams to those lost on seas of old.
Those who are lost not seeing the light need help too. Prodded by thorny genes, impelled by early dark voices, they walk with nasty habits to self destruction. They are unable to change their ways except rarely in the white heat of deep desire for something better. After some years of burrowing, habits have the strength of iron. Only in the blast furnace of a powerful desire for a new life will old habits melt down and allow for a different form of movement.
We can blow on the tiniest spark of desire for a better life with praise, rewards, and encouragement until it blooms into a great flame for self renewal. If we have the means, we may offer prizes, such as the one for manned flight a century ago. A sweet smile of approval is often enough for small changes in the right direction.
It is enough for us to glow with love for the good life to spark the same love in others.
For the spark to ignite the engine of change for growth, we need to reach into the vast subconscious mind where the bulk of our memories and habits are ingrained. We reach the subconscious through meditation or hypnosis. When we meditate, we enter a state of consciousness known as a trance or deep relaxation without sleep; when we hypnotize others we put them in a trance. With hypnosis or meditation, a trance is a state of high awareness and alertness, not sleepiness.
In a trance, the channel of information between the conscious and subconscious mind is opened; it is normally blocked for the protection of the self. We may now influence the subconscious mind with our thoughts, accessing data and feelings deep in our mind ordinarily hidden from us. In a trance what we suggest is absorbed more readily and converted to fitting action.
The subconscious absorbs suggestions best when they are offered subliminally, without the conscious mind interfering with the transfer of information. In relaxation, when the mind is quiet, it does not get critical and screen the intrusion of something new. New ideas are uncomfortable to us; they disturb our habitual equilibrium and we resist accepting them. Persuade subliminally by relaxing and distracting with something innocuous and familiar while submitting your suggestions. Don’t feel you are doing something unacceptable.
Expert hypnotists will tell you, despite all the drama on stage, people voluntarily hypnotize themselves. We cannot hypnotize people, if they don’t want to cooperate. Some cooperate readily; others are more difficult. The charmer does not impose power; the power is granted by the subject who retains freedom of action. Therefore, if we wish to influence by hypnotizing, we first establish rapport with our subject. We earn the subject’s trust—trust, faith, attachment, as much as feasible. Begin by acquiring rapport before giving instructions.
Be specific in your instructions to the subconscious of the subject. For example, say “Eat more fruits and vegetables,” not, “Eat healthy foods.” Be specific and use repetition with some variations of your instruction to avoid boring. Say, “Tomorrow for breakfast eat a juicy orange.” “Upon rising tomorrow, munch on an apple instead of drinking coffee.” Continue such repetitions for at least twenty minutes after entering a trance focusing on a single training objective.
Focus is essential to effective meditation. Buddhists call it single mindedness. Your attention becomes like a laser light, burning deep where it touches. Don’t scatter your mental energies; concentrate your light on a single spot to get an effect.
Concentrate and intensify your feelings. You will not achieve change with a laid-back attitude. Stir up the deepest emotions that can strongly move the will.
The person you change in this way for a better life may be the one you love, or your own self.