(Liberation and Personal Empowerment)
Over decades, Samahria and I, like two wide-eyed adventurers, kept challenging ourselves and what we learned, ever changing, deconstructing, reconstructing and expanding our base of knowledge into an expansive process and diverse teaching modalities we call The Option Process® (taught at The Option Institute®). Gradually, and most significantly for us, we also innovated a landmark program called the Son-Rise Program to work with children with autism and other neurological and developmental challenges (taught at the Autism Treatment Center of America, a division of The Option Institute® … but more about that later.)
Bears & Samahria 1980
Unhappiness was finally taken out of the closet of mental health and put back into what the ancient Greeks called the arena of philosophy. Questions and dialogues were not indictments or judgments being made for diagnosis … they were merely catalysts to help clarify my beliefs and my thinking process. “Why am I unhappy?” and “What do I want for me?” became a profoundly moving perspective by which I could approach myself and precipitate new choices. I realized how I had used myself against myself because of what I had believed. What really dazzled me was my increasing awareness that I had learned to be unhappy.
The unhappiness mechanism had been internalized and operated with consistent regularity. Being uncomfortable was an unquestioned ingredient in my life as well as in the lives of all those around me. It was a way of dealing with myself and my environment.
I dreaded obesity and rejection in order to motivate myself to diet. I feared lung cancer so that I could stop smoking. I became anxious about unemployment as a way of pushing myself to be more conscientious and to work harder. I felt guilty to punish myself now in order to prevent myself from repeating a “bad” behavior in the future. I became melancholy when someone I loved was unhappy in order to show them I cared. I got angry at those in my employ to make them move faster.
When I surveyed the environment, I saw people punish in order to prevent, fear death in order to live, hate war in order to stay in touch with their desire for peace.
Signs of unhappiness were everywhere. I was taught that I “had to” be unhappy sometimes and that it was even “good” or productive to be unhappy. Our culture supported it. Unhappiness was the tattoo of a thinking, feeling man. It was the mark of sensitivity. It was also considered by many to be the only “reasonable” and “human” response to a difficult and problematic society. The expression “happy idiot” was not just a casual comment, but a suspicion that happiness and idiocy were synonymous. Like many before me, I adopted these beliefs and many others, never considering or testing their validity in my mind. I too became a living spokesman for unhappiness as I stumbled and dragged myself across the difficult landscape I believed life was supposed to be.
Unhappiness was used as a motivator to help me take care of myself and try to get more … all this so that eventually I would be happy or fulfilled. All these beliefs, taught to me so I might do the best for myself, had actually become a breeding ground for all sorts of fears, anxieties and discomforts.
Some of the key insights and principles (as well as the teaching tools) of The Option Process helped me understand the nature of the underlying beliefs, my beliefs, which triggered my behavior and feelings. I became more able to freely choose with awareness what’s best for me … to recreate myself as I wanted, to trade unhappiness for happiness. And in dissolving those consuming, troublesome and often painful beliefs (with their accompanying behavior and feelings) I grew happier, crystallized my energy and became more effective at getting what I wanted.
As I processed the data I was discovering about myself, I found I could retain or discard information and beliefs as I saw fit. Nothing was bad for me … the more I knew, the better equipped I was in actualizing my wants. Perceptions and actions had no inherent good or bad, just the designation I chose to give them. My responses always followed from those choices. In discarding and adopting new beliefs, the knowledge, responsibility and expertise of my life was being turned over to me, where I realized it always had been.
This was the way to happiness … The Option Process® gave me clarity and control that is always mine. Direct. Attainable. Undeniable. No secret codes to master or initiations to endure. No mystery understood by a select few. No question of my being sick, maladjusted or disturbed. No judgments about what I do or who I am. No good or bad, should or should not. Even when I was unhappy and fed myself enormous doses of grief, I did so as a way of taking care of myself.
Others who would label or condemn us do so for themselves; their assessments having nothing to do with who we are. Sickness, stupidity and inferiority are their judgments, having only as much power as we give them. Fight the devil and we make him stronger. Ignore him and he is likely to disappear. In changing my focus and allowing myself to be, I keenly experienced my own freedom.
Me investigating me became a joyful pursuit into myself. Like being my own Socrates, I uncovered my own beliefs and understood the whys of what I felt and did. In this adventure, there was no teacher, guru or knowing therapist with the right answer about me. I was the mover, the explorer and the discoverer. And the more I came to know, the more clearly I chose from happiness … instead of first becoming unhappy in order to move.
I was amazed to see how often I used unhappiness as a condition I promised myself if I did not get what I wanted or expected. If my lover did not care for me, I’d be miserable. If I didn’t get the job, I’d be angry at the interviewer and myself. If I didn’t get passing grades on an examination, I’d be resentful. Expecting and not getting … all just another way to motivate myself. It was believing that wanting was not enough. If my happiness did not depend on it, I might not really work for it.
This was the dynamic of turning wanting into needing. When I want something, I focus on trying to get it. There is no fear of future unhappiness if I don’t. In wanting, my happiness is not contingent on getting.
But in needing, I give my wanting extra importance by making my happiness dependent on getting. If I don’t get what I say I need (love, money, security), I say I will be unhappy. It’s my self-fulfilling prophecy. I used to believe the worry and threats made me more diligent in pursuing my goals; but, in fact, it was often a painful and self-defeating distraction.
On some occasions, my needing actually led to extinguishing what I wanted. In fearing I would not get, I sometimes chose not to go after my goals to avoid the unhappiness. Why do that? There were many reasons, but the most prominent was the belief that if I tried and then did not get, I’d even be more unhappy than if I simply did not try at all. At least I might be able to console myself with “well, since I didn’t try, I didn’t lose anything … and if I really tried, I could have gotten it anyway.” The pressure of needing created a short circuit and the result was immobility.
By contrast, when I began to consider what I wanted as “wants” and not “needs,” then I moved toward goals without having my life or happiness dependent on them. I also did not have to live with the anxiety of worrying about missing my mark or “failing.”
Unhappiness in my pre-Option Process days was also a gauge to measure the intensity of my desires and loving. The more miserable I became when I did not get what I wanted or when I lost something I loved, the more I believed I cared. If I was not unhappy about the threat or loss of something, maybe I did not want it enough. Even more plaguing was the belief that if I allowed myself to be happy under all circumstances, I might, thereafter, not want anything or care about anyone. If I was perfectly satisfied with present conditions, I might not move toward altering them or take advantage of new possibilities. I also remember believing it would be callous and inhuman if I were not unhappy in certain situations.
The insidious fear that happiness and inertia might be synonymous was quickly dispelled. The more comfortable I became with myself, the easier it was to want more and dare to pursue more. In so many instances, my happiness was no longer at stake. Whether I secured what I wanted or not, I could still be comfortable.
Using the principles and the tools of The Option Process®, I had decided to change while the world around me seemed to remain the same. Yet, after a period of time, as I began to change, the environment around me also began to change.
In exploring the texture of my personal life, and in trying to neutralize the difficulties, I came to realize that going to work and earning a living was not a “must” or a “should,” as I had always been taught, but an activity, in fact, that I really wanted to do. Yet, all this time I had acted as if I was being forced. I began to look beneath the unhappiness and understood that in believing work was a “should”, I had never allowed myself either the comfort or the freedom to enjoy it. I touched on all my beliefs about stress being a necessary ingredient for success. In this considered evolution, I found myself discarding many self-defeating beliefs about needing things and about making myself unhappy if I didn’t get them.
The umbilical cord was finally being severed. The old beliefs were being left behind as I redefined the cornerstones of my activities and involvements. Together, Samahria and I rejected much of the old unhappiness as we persistently explored our discomforts and our beliefs. Making new choices changed the very texture of our existence as we redesigned our lives and began teaching and counseling others.
The attitude, the methods, the dialogue techniques, the philosophy, evolved into a global concept of living. Our friends whom we exposed to The Option Process® had found new meaning and direction in their lives, accompanied by a deep and abiding sense of peace. Private and group experiences were supplemented by working with and supervising other students, who evolved from their shells of discomfort and confusion to find a new freedom and clarity. Whether it began with a single conversation or involvement in a series of dialogues, when those who participated wanted, they underwent startling and beautiful transformations. In some instances, hate melted into love, sickness evolved into health, aggression turned into acceptance, turmoil gave way to an almost mystical tranquility.
We were alive and planting more seeds.
Samahria and I no longer exchanged comments like “If you loved me, you would do this or that.” Each of us was happier with ourselves and with each other despite the reality that our first years of marriage had been difficult and stormy. We took our relationship and stripped away all the elaborate expectations and conditions, thereby eradicating many of the disappointments and conflicts. In accepting each other, we were more loving. And this flowed over to our children. Being more sensitized to the beliefs parents teach their children each and every day, we became increasingly more tolerant and respectful of the wants and individuality of the little people who shared our lives.
Nevertheless, if we ourselves and those we love still become unhappy and make choices away from each other, we do not view it as “bad” or unacceptable. For us, each unhappy moment is but another opportunity to discard a self-defeating belief as we walk the path toward becoming happier.
These attitudes became the springboard from which we later approached a situation with one of our children that others had labeled as “hopeless” and a “disastrous tragedy.” It was during this very special confrontation with the “impossible” that we fully realized what a beautiful and effective gift of living we had acquired. The story of our son is just one living example, among many, of the power, effectiveness and endless possibilities of The Option Process®.
One brisk January 17, at 6:14 in the evening, Samahria and I joined together in patterns of breathing and loving to help facilitate the arrival of our third child. The method and the rhythms of natural childbirth filled the room with dazzling energy. A healthy, beautiful and blissful little boy peeked out into the universe and drew his first breath. We named him Raun.