Echoing Plato and Socrates before him, Oscar Wilde wrote “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” (The Decay of Lying – 1889). Besides having just equipped you with at least one answer the next time you’re on Jeopardy, such a provocative statement presents us with two choices:
A) We can play Chutes and Ladders (rated for kids Age 3 and up);
B) We could skip the Ambien and join James Lipton (Inside the Actors Studio) and his exegesis of Wilde’s reliance on decadence as the basis of his direct and oppositional response to the prevailing Aristotelian concept of mimesis and the subsequent influences on Broadway and the American movie industry.
Good choice and I agree. Let’s play.
For those of you living under a rock, the rules are simple. When it’s your turn, you spin the spinner and move your game piece by the number you’ve spun. The goal is to get to 100 but player beware. There are pitfalls along the way. You might land at the base of a ladder and get to ascend to dizzying heights on the strength of having spun a “4”. But sadly, you might also be headed to the bottom of the board if you catch one of the slides. Do that and you have to start your climb all over again.
- Everyone is on the board till they die;
- Everyone gets a spin and
- Sooner or later, everyone is going to land on a Ladder or a Chute.
Ladders are easy. Everyone likes them. You climb and you arrive at a new and dizzying height of something. It could be a promotion at work; your 4.0 GPA or a chocolate and sour cream mousse cake. Yes, some wear winning better than others but we can all pretty much agree, we like being on top and in-charge of all that we survey.
Chutes on the other hand, are a little more problematic. Who wants to lose where they were on the game board? I can still hear the howls of laughter as my neighborhood friends counted me out to the chute space faster than I could. What’s with that? If you’re struggling to kick a habit or a behavior that’s outlived its usefulness, you know what I mean. It’s no fun when Life decides you’re going to take a slide ride as if to remind you of being ‘less than‘.
What I hadn’t counted on was there being a prize inside. The surprising gift in being ‘chuted‘ was learning more about myself, my ego and my excuses than I ever did climbing a ladder. Not surprisingly, 8 out of 10 screen writers agree.
Oscar Wilde never thought about movies, but I think they can be really helpful in showing us lives we haven’t lived – and yet recognize in our own. One of my favorites is Ruthless People with Bette Midler and her low-life husband played by Danny DeVito.
Life had been kind to Barbara Stone (Midler) until she was kidnapped by a hapless duo of amateur crooks played by Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater. In that memorable scene in the Kessler’s basement, Mrs. Stone learns that not only has her scummy husband refused to pay the ransom, but her hapless captors, in an attempt to get paid, have begun discounting the price of her freedom (thus far to no avail).
Barbara: “Do I understand this correctly? I’m being marked down?” [Starts crying] Barbara: “I’ve been kidnapped by K-Mart!”
I don’t know about you, but were times this week when I felt the same way. No matter how well I thought I was doing – out-of-the-blue – I got ‘chuted’. Start all over. Have you ever had everything you thought you were aiming for go ‘poof’. Gone. Me too. Nothing special about me. For all I know, you fell off your diet. You bought beer or you didn’t do your sit-ups. And on and on it goes. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in my ‘excuse’ moments, I’m really not doing anything more than throwing a pity party for myself. OK, so fine. We all got chuted. My challenge for myself boils down to ‘what do I do now?”.
For me, those first few moments (or days) off the slide are always the roughest and conversely, the most important. While intellectually I knew I had let myself down by giving in to an old habit; it was important to do something ‘after the fact’. In the past, a personal favorite was to go all passive-aggressive and refuse to spin my next turn. I have first-hand experience that confirms me sitting motionless at the bottom of my chute is dangerous. And I’m sorry to be the one to have to break it to you, but no one is going to nominate you for an Oscar for your portrayal of a whiny martyr.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the temptation to wallow. What came to me today was I had let my excuses trick me into not asking the right questions. Maybe it isn’t about the doing. Many times, the first chuting casualty is my spirit being tempted to surrender to the feeling there’s nothing I can do. “I’m limited”. It’s no coincidence that it’s right after I’ve been chuted when it’s hardest for me to be able to laugh at myself or find anything even remotely beautiful in the situation. As Obi-Wan Kenobi might say, “So serious you are”
Yes, keeping yourself together is serious. The energy you have to spend to just ‘get by’ can be overwhelming. And for so many, the economy doesn’t help any…month after month of just getting by…
So how do you keep your Spirit…how do you bounce back? How do you deal with such body blows?
Maybe it’s about the being and then, letting the doing flow out of that.
With the help of those around me at one time or another, I have learned (and continue to practice) flipping my brain on its head. This sounds so deceptively simple but hear me out. What if once, just once, we could learn to look at our perceived ‘chuting’ as if it were like getting cuts in line at lunch – on pizza day!…a fast-track opportunity to go to training camp?
In our movie selection, Barbara (Midler) started exercising like a woman possessed. She couldn’t change her captive status, but she could channel her rage into working out. And inside herself, her situation began to change. And as her inside situation changed, her outside situation began to shift as well. In fact, by the time she and her captors joined forces to go after Sam, she had become one hot mamma on the outside; confident and focused on the inside.
You see, there’s a lot to be said for how much we can impact our brain chemistry with our internal sound-track. I think back to times when I’ve spent way more time feeding myself excuses (over and over), instead of doing something as simple as walking up and down my street for 10 or 15 minutes. Walking clears my mind. It makes an actual difference in how I handle myself. No doubt about it, our brains are remarkable mechanisms. Our feelings of worthlessness are just feelings. They can come and go like clouds. So why not change the chemistry in ways that don’t involve booze or vicodin and change the feeling on your terms. Like the Chinese say: “Change the Cave, You Change the Bear”.
Harvard University psychologist Ellen Langer and her student Alia Crum conducted an unusual experiment to find out to what degree our bodies follow what our brains tell us. It’s not easy being stuck behind a desk or a counter for 8-hours, but not all jobs are created equal. Do you think it’s a picnic to be a hotel housekeeper? Think about it. If you spent 20 or 30 minutes cleaning each room and you had 15 or 20 rooms to cover each day, you’d be talking to Dr. Scholls too.
“Researchers studied 84 female housekeepers from seven hotels. Women in 4 hotels were told that their regular work was enough exercise to meet the requirements for a healthy, active lifestyle. The women in the other three hotels were told nothing.
Four weeks later, the researchers returned to assess any changes in the health of the women.
They found that the women in the informed group had lost an average of 2 pounds, lowered their blood pressure by almost 10 percent, and were significantly healthier as measured by body-fat percentage, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio. These changes were significantly higher than those reported in the control group and were especially remarkable given the time period of only four weeks…
Langer writes, “Whether the change in physiological health was brought about directly or indirectly, it is clear that health is significantly affected by mind-set.” This research shows the moderating role of mind-set and its ability to enhance health…The placebo effect is not deception, fluke, experimenter bias, or statistical anomaly. It is, instead, a product of expectation. The human brain anticipates outcomes, and anticipation produces those outcomes. The placebo effect is self-fulfilling prophecy, and it follows the patterns you’d predict if the brain were, indeed, producing its own desired outcomes.”
Ding. Ding. Ding. Light bulb moment! When I was getting chuted, it wasn’t happening to reinforce my old crap and keep me doomed to repeat it like a guy on a hamster wheel. Being ‘chuted’ was Life giving me another chance to practice on getting clear about what I was telling my brain.
“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.”
- Marianne Williamson
What I’m continuously realizing is that all I have is “Now”. This one moment. And then, another one. And now a third – all of them were ‘now’ when they were in front of me, but now? They’re gone. They populate my past nowhere but in the space I give them in my mind.
My challenge (right now) is to think about myself differently and keep that thought ever-present. Anytime any one of us is working through their own version of withdrawal (mentally and physiologically), we see how their old habit(s) are right in front of them – all the time. We know who the enemy is. Talk about courage! And if we do fall off or slip? Our spirits have a fire to them that defies my explanation. I see my Heroes. I see them shake it off as if to say, “Yeah, OK so I slipped but this habit (or behavior) does not own me anymore…it’s on it’s way out and I’m going to go the distance to make sure”. Going the distance. Wow! And to a recovering anyone, taking one minute at a time takes on a whole new significance. I am there.
“When our minds move in harmony with love – through forgiveness or prayer or the simplest tender thought – then mountains move and the universe shifts”
- Marianne Williamson
Where does all this leave me?
In me declaring to you, I’m already doing a better job of not letting my Past occupy the one moment I have been given to spend on the Present. I’m betting on something I’ve seen in people who I admire; namely that the Future will take care of itself due in large part, to the attention we paid to the one moment of “Now” we had just then. And now, there’s another moment to care for and oops, there’s the next one that needs to be equally well spent. I’m not standing on a train platform watching each box car of Life fly by me…I am the train and I am the one walking from car to car.
“I’ve come to trust not that events will always unfold exactly as I want, but that I will be fine either way. The challenges we face in life are always lessons that serve our soul’s growth.”
- Marianne Williamson
I have no clanging cymbals or blaring trumpets to announce my success at de-energizing the old behaviors that once served me well…that kept me alive. I now understand that the problem isn’t sliding down the same old chutes every blessed time as much as it is not learning anything at the bottom. Getting chuting practice is a good thing. Being chuted isn’t unfair as much as it’s a chance to exercise our Spirit…to make it stronger. So the next time you screw up or let yourself down, remember each of us has been given a blessed moment in which to be different; to do better; to love more deeply.
I plan on scaring some old habits and behaviors this week. Why not make it a point to do some chuting practice of your own. It might just be what helps you catch #28 and ride the long ladder up from the bottom on your next spin.
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“We can’t control the unexpected events that inevitably come our way, but we can control our response when the unexpected slaps us in the face.
The people that succeed are those who can adjust in the midst of the unexpected. They’re the ones that dust themselves off and start looking for another path. They’re the ones that don’t linger on the what if’s and the if only’s.”
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PHOTO CREDITS and SOURCE ATTRIBUTIONS: Watch Washer and Housekeeping by Vincent Bousserez from his Plastic Life Collection: http://walyou.com/mini-figurine-art-imitating-life-like-moments/, Ruthless People (1986), directed by Jim Abraham, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, screenplay by Dale Launer. Read more about it at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruthless_People, SOURCE: Harvard Study on Placebo Effect/Exercise – Public release date: 6-Feb-2007. Psychological Science, published by the Association for Psychological Science, is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information. http://www.psychologytoday.com/collections/201201/the-placebo-effect/the-placebo-effect-how-it-works, Marianne Williamson, bestselling author of The Age of Miracles and A Return to Love, reveals the best way to find inner peace Read more: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Quotes-to-Bring-You-Harmony-Marianne-Williamson-Quotes
Chutes And Ladders Closeup: http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1024039/jewish/Adult-Lessons-from-a-Childs-Game.htm, ChutesLadders_shad: http://www.rodgerroundy.com/shads2_html/ChutesLadders.html, chutesladders Milton Bradley –>Hasbro: http://www.hasbro.com/shop/details.cfm?R=92864B94-6D40-1014-8BF0-9EFBF894F9D4:en_US, chutesandladders-585×390: http://theboomerangkid.com/life-game-of-chutes-ladders/, chutes_n_ladders550 (Comic Book Illustration): Chip Buchanan – http://www.whambamcomics.com/?page_id=2, Snakes&Ladders-Nationalseriesgames: The Snakes and Ladders board is from England by National Series games, and was originally appropriated from an indian game that was very similar. The version we’re most familiar with was brought to the United States by Milton Bradley and sanitized into ‘Chutes and Ladders’. SOURCE: http://clawingcanvas.blogspot.com/2010/11/vintage-ephemera-from-antique-shop-in.html, Sally Ride: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/07/24/12933519-why-sally-ride-waited-until-her-death-to-tell-the-world-she-was-gay?lite, Sherman Hemsley 00: http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTAUFW1Xlua3MU0tSV4ET-Rgaa04EfJBWNxathuQ_nHhlm0QiPO
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