Cubic Centimeter of Chance
What would you do if you got a call tonight from a person you know and trust completely, inviting you to sit on the Board of Trustees of a Foundation with a hundred million dollars devoted to preventing child abuse. The invitation includes a handsome annual stipend to compensate you for your time, energy and support of the Foundation. In addition, you are told that you will have absolute discretion over how the $100,000,000 is to be used. No one will tell what you what to do with the money or how to use it, just as long as you use it to prevent child abuse. Would you accept the invitation to meet with the other Trustees first thing in the morning to begin the project? The only condition attached to this invitation is that you must not be late for the meeting. If you are late, the doors will be locked and you will not be permitted to participate.
Picture yourself getting ready for this first, most important meeting. How early would you get up? How would you dress? What measures would you take to make certain that nothing could happen which would prevent you from grasping this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? You leave early, just to make certain that traffic will not make you late. But along the way, without warning, you have a flat tire. After pulling off to the side of the highway, you discover that the spare tire is flat. Now you have a problem. If you take time to fix the flat tire, it is likely that you will be late. If you change the tire, your hands and clothing will certainly get dirty. Do you have other options? What will you decide to do?
In a word, if you understand the importance of this assignment, you will do whatever it takes to make it to that meeting on time, no matter what. You will stand in the middle of the road and stop traffic in order to get a ride to the meeting, if necessary. Nothing would stand in your way. Absolutely nothing. You would be willing to take any risk, swim any river, climb any mountain, take any kind of risk, expose yourself to almost any conceivable kind of danger, in order to get to the meeting on time.
Taking the journey to healing woundedness and self-actualization is what your meeting is all about. It is the only journey you will ever take that holds the promise of really changing how your life turns out. How much time, energy, risk and attention are you willing to commit to making this happen, for yourself and those you love? Can you think of anything more important? What will you allow to stop you from making this happen? Will you allow the silly, mundane, meaningless madness of everyday living stop you from focusing on this most important of all journeys? If you are ready to accept the invitation to stop the continual, relentless abuse of your own inner child, now is the time to begin.
Perhaps more important is the fact that most of us have become passive observers of our own lives rather than active drivers of destiny. Carlos Castaneda and others refer to this in terms of stalking fate like a warrior.
There is something you ought to be aware of by now, don Juan said. I call it the cubic centimeter of chance….Chance, good luck, personal power, or whatever you may call it, is a peculiar state of affairs. It is like a very small stick that comes out in front of us and invites us to pluck it. Usually we are too busy, or to preoccupied, or just too stupid and lazy to realize that that is our cubic centimeter of luck. A warrior, on the other hand, is always alert and tight and has the spring, the gumption necessary to grab it. ”
Carlos Castenada/Journey to Ixtlan
In the modern era, this is true for almost all of us, in almost all aspects of our lives. When it comes to being authentic, transparent and vulnerable about who we really are, few of us ever achieve sufficient control over our own personal power to fully actualize ourselves. Until we can heal our own woundedness, we simply dont have enough power to get there. Thats why we have to do the internal work first.
Asking @ 100%
What works best for you right now is all that matters. You will discover, if you havent already, that taking control of this aspect of personal healing has nothing to do with the doing of things in any particular way. Discovering what you want your space to look and be like; taking control of the process and making it become what you want, without hesitation, without excuses, without justification to anyone or yourself, without fear of any kind, at 100%, is the only thing that is important. From time to time, as the days go by and your personal power increases, you will discover that what may have worked for you yesterday simply doesnt work for you anymore. This will surprise, please or annoy you, but it will also signal that your awareness is expanding.
More importantly, you will discover that asking for what you want at 100%, with no holding back, no stories or excuses, no whining or bullying to get what you want, is the key to controlling your power. Asking at 100% is something people in our culture simply do not know how to do, so this is a very important and powerful life skill. When you have hit the mark by asking fully, without reservation, after making certain that what you are asking for is really what you want after all, you will make a huge, life-altering discovery about what it feels like to be satisfied, whether you actually get what you asked for or not. As the process unfolds, from time to time we will revisit this subject just to make certain you are learning how to stay in touch with the magic of this essential insight. If you want to know what it feels like to ask for what you want at 100%, you have to be willing to take a leap of faith. Creating a place of safety for yourself is an easy, safe place to start. The bottom line is this: learning how it FEELS to ask for what you want at 100% is essential if the healing process is going to work for you.
Here is how this process works and why it is so important to get it right as quickly as possible. There is a part of us who knows what we really need, all the time. Over time, after the primary personal myth has been created, we learn that asking for what we really want can create all sorts of unexpected consequences, most of which can be decidedly unpleasant. More importantly, we begin to question not only whether we dare to ask for what we want, but even begin to convince ourselves that we do not deserve to have what we want or need. We quickly subscribe to our own personal myth, the one that says we are not worthy, not loveable, not entitled and not sufficient in any degree, by any measure. This notion is wrapped up in the specious notion that even if we wanted to, what is wrong with us cannot be fixed. We believe, deep down in the core of our Being, that we are irredeemable.
So, instead of asking directly for what we want, with complete clarity and total focus, we instead adopt one of a number of optional strategies for getting what we want. We beg, plead, coax, cajole, whine, cry, yell, scream and throw temper tantrums. If we dont get what we want, we steal it, enroll others to take the risk of getting it for us, or in one of a thousand different variations on a theme, do everything but ask for it. All the energy-sucking strategies we devise to fill up our emptiness are expressions of exactly the same control drama.
As if this were not enough to deal with, Miguel Ruiz helps us understand another element of this dilemma. When we are engaged with others in any kind of relationship, we make up things about what that relationship will do for us. We enter into our conversations, contacts and relationships with others with entire libraries of expectations already in place. The people we relate with have no idea what these expectations are instead, they are listening so intently to their own internal expectations that it is a wonder we even communicate with each other at all. Personal expectations are energy-sucking tendencies that remain unrealized until we find a way to express them. Sometimes our expectations are rewarded and sometimes they are not, but in almost every event, except when the payoff is absolutely what we thought we wanted, we find ourselves sadly disappointed in one way or another. Even when we get exactly what we have asked for, we are most often still not satisfied.
When others fail to accommodate our expectations, even when we have not expressed them, we then engage in another sort of self-sabotaging behavior. We interpret the failure to meet our expectations as a validation of the personal myth that (1) we feel the way we do because of the way others treat us, (2) we are victims of inconsiderate stupidity, cruelty or selfishness, and (3) we are entitled to retaliate against those we believe have injured or offended us. We all do it. We all do it all the time. Instead of focusing on what is happening inside us and learning how to fend off impending woundedness by recognizing the warning signals, we vent our rage, frustration and disappointment on each other.
We continually misinterpret what happens in our relationships with others because we set ourselves up for disappointment. We fail to ask for what we want, fail to fulfill our own expectations, and then engage in retaliation [this is the same as holding a grudge, refusing to talk to them again, gossiping about them, etc.] of some kind to get even for offenses real or imagined. We expend enormous portions of our daily allotment of life force and personal power jousting with these windmills. And at the end of the day, when we are exhausted, disappointed, dissatisfied, unfulfilled and thoroughly disgusted with life and each other, what have we accomplished that was really worth doing? And who created this madness, anyway?
When you have drawn up the plan for your space, it is time to give it physical shape and form. This, too, can be a difficult and challenging proposition. For reasons no one has yet satisfactorily explained, each of us is born with a built-in self-destruct or sabotage instinct. It is perverse. We all do it and we all have to learn how to deal with it. No one is immune or exempt from this aspect of mortal experience. You can see your sabotage mechanism at work in real time if, as you read these words, you find the voice inside your head flashing all kinds of reasons on the screen inside your control room, telling you why your place of safety cannot be created. Check it out.
While considering the proposition, look inside and see what little, seemingly meaningless thing you are unwilling to do before you can move ahead with this undertaking. Having trouble making decisions? About where to do the work. About the colors, textures, size, shape, or stuff that should go into your space? Unable to bring yourself to actually go to the store and buy a suitable journal? Unwilling to take the time to draw up a plan? Constantly distracted by other, louder, more demanding little brush fires all around you?
Extraordinary, isnt it? If all we want to do is find a place of safety for ourselves, why in the world would a part of us deliberately sabotage our opportunity to create it? This is one of the reasons why healing woundedness is so tough. Despite how painful and damaging our own brand of woundedness may be, there are all kinds of reasons why we find ourselves unwilling or unable to do something about it. Well talk more about this as we go along, but for now it is enough to realize that even if we cant turn off the movie inside our heads, we always have the option to get up and walk out of the theater. How this works will become more and more apparent as we go along.
Losing Our Identity
Consider how we live. As employees we are compelled to forego our own identities by adopting the façade of identity imposed on us by our employment. We are taught that in order to be successful, we must learn to fabricate an increasingly sophisticated set of masks so we can appear to be as others wish us to appear. We are expected, required, PAID to adopt this way of being, regardless of who we are.
One of the most interesting workshop processes is the one where participants are asked to describe the times in their lives when they were able to be completely authentic about who they are. This is so unusual in our culture that we talk about it in terms of peak experiences. When invited to re-enact how they felt at the time, some incredible breakthrough moments occur. In our culture, the list of times when we are permitted to be genuinely authentic is unfortunately very short. We dont know what it feels like because were not permitted to go there very often. Instead, college kids engage in binge drinking so they can let their hair down and get wild and crazy. We all engage in some variation of this behavior from time to time. Why we do it is something we will discover together.
Consider how we behave in different settings. We are not the same people when we attend church as we are when we are engaged in a highly competitive sporting event. We do not wear the same personae when we are addressing our managers or subordinates at work as we do when we are on a family outing. We do not behave in the same way with those who are indigent, handicapped or foreigners who dont speak our language as we do when we meet friends on the street. In short, over time, we become increasingly adept at fabricating, fine-tuning and changing the masks we wear during every day of our lives. We are not our authentic selves except in the rarest of times, and then only for the briefest of moments.
I can think of only a few times in my life when I have felt safe enough or been permitted to be totally authentic. Funerals sometimes provide an opportunity for us to express genuine grief and make a lot of noise, but more often than not, even in those extreme circumstances, we hesitate to give expression to our most authentic urges. There are certain rules of comportment that are arbitrarily imposed on how we are allowed to behave. We pretend to know what those rules are and we conform to them because we are unwilling to take the risk of attracting the attention and perhaps disapproval of others. In short, no matter how strongly we feel about something, in our culture we most often stuff our feelings under a rock somewhere on our island rather than allow others to see how we really feel. Perhaps this personal example will illustrate how this works and how powerfully it shapes our lives.
The Magic Bike
When I was five, all the kids I had been hanging out with started school. They were a year older than I was, so when it was time for them to be assimilated into the system I found myself spending my days alone. During those days, when everyone else was gone to a mysterious place called “school,” I found myself at loose ends. I distinctly remember how lonely and empty the days were until I discovered a nearby pond filled with fish. I can’t remember exactly where it was, but I do remember being utterly fascinated by the things I could see swimming around down in the murky depths of those dark green waters. I recall that when I tried to get my dad to explain what it was all about, he simply shrugged me off. I remember being deeply troubled by the realization that my dad simply couldn’t be bothered to explain something so wonderful and mysterious to me. I remember how confusing this notion was I just couldnt make sense of it.
The other kids in the neighborhood had bikes. Not the kind of bikes kids have today, mind you, but simple direct-drive bikes with solid rubber tires, chains and training wheels. As my birthday came closer and closer, I began to wish beyond hoping that somehow my dad would find a way to get one for me. When the day came, I was so excited and filled with anticipation that I could scarcely contain myself.
Around lunch time, the house began to fill up with people. All sorts of people I had never seen before. Cars pulled up to the curb and the people who got out carried charcoal-fired barbeques, tubs filled with ice and beer, folding tables and all sorts of things into the back yard. The kitchen was so filled with women and other kids, none of whom were the slightest bit familiar to me, that I eventually gave up trying to figure out what was going on and retreated to the silence and privacy of the fish pond.
Some time later I heard my mom calling out my name, so I went back to the house. When I got there, I discovered that the back yard had been transformed into a festival site, complete with balloons and brightly painted signs and lots of people. I knew something important was going on but had no idea what it could be. No one bothered to tell me that it was a party my mom had organized to celebrate my birthday. The signs were festive but meant nothing to me because I had no idea what they said. My dad was a military man I learned years later that all the people who had mysteriously appeared in the back yard were members of his officer candidate class in Panama City, Florida.
When I walked through the house and out into the back yard, everyone stopped, turned towards me and started singing “Happy Birthday.” I was so stunned I simply went blank. Nothing worked in my head I was completely taken by surprise. I remember the sensation of panic so vividly now my mind simply refused to process this new event. I was stupid again, not knowing what was going on and not able to figure it out. When the singing stopped, mom brought out a big cake with five candles blazing on top of it. We did the required wish making I recognized this part, at least – and candle blowing and then it happened dad came out of the garage with a bike. It was dark green, had fenders front and rear, training wheels and a terrific little bulb horn on the handle bars. I remember my face getting hot and flushed and the tears beginning to come to my eyes. It was more than I had dared to hoped for.
We trooped out to the front yard where the sidewalk bordered the street. Dad helped me get into the saddle, stabilized me for a couple of yards and then shoved me off on my own. I was peddling slowly, apprehensively, trying to get a feel for the balance point, wondering how I could be so lucky. It was a wonderful moment I will never forget.
After awhile the novelty of a five year old riding a bike for the first time wore off and the party flowed back to the back yard, where the beer was beginning to flow and the smoke from the barbeque grills was filling the air with wonderful smells. I wasn’t hungry at all. I was so excited about the bike that I simply walked out to the front of the house, got on the bike and began peddling for all I was worth, towards the corner and around it, bound for new territory and feeling as if I was beginning the most wonderful journey of my life.
I rode down the block, saw new houses and new people I had never seen before, saw dogs and cats and other kids, crossed the street to the next block and the next and the next, until I was in a world that was completely isolated and so far away from where I had been that I was all alone on this grand adventure. After awhile, an elderly couple sitting on the porch saw me, waved, invited me to have a cookie and some root beer, and we talked about the new bike. They seemed almost as excited about it as I was.
When they asked me where I lived, I simply pointed back over my shoulder and said, “Back over there.” That’s where it was for me back over there. Somewhere.
I was never lost on that journey. Somehow I knew precisely where I was all the time relative to my starting point. I never felt alone, never felt panic, never considered that I might not be able to find my way back. All I knew for certain was that I was free. The world was waiting for me to discover it.
After riding around for what seemed like hours, I decided I was tired, so I turned around and started cruising the other direction, back towards my house. It took awhile to cover the distance I suppose I must have traveled a dozen blocks or more and when I turned the corner of the block on which my house was situated, I noticed something that simply did not make sense.
In front of the house were all kinds of cars, some of them with flashing red lights on top. There were people on the front lawn, looking anxiously around, talking to each other, obviously engaged in something important. Then, someone saw me. I heard someone cry out, “There he is!” and suddenly, a flood of people began to run towards me all at once. In the lead of the pack was my dad. I remember seeing this, witnessing it, with a calm, curious detachment.
The minute I saw him I knew he was unhappy. It did not occur to me that I had done anything wrong, and I didn’t see anything that gave me any clues about what was going on around me, either. Suddenly, my dad was on me. He grabbed me by the arm so hard that I thought it was going to break. He was a big, strong, solidly built man with massive shoulders, arms and hands. He picked up my bike in the other hand and began trudging towards the house. I was totally baffled about what this was all about but I knew that whatever was going on, it was not good. It was the first time in my life I had experienced this sensation but certainly not to be the last.
As we passed the galvanized garbage can which sat outside the garage, he unceremoniously dumped the bike into it without breaking stride. I can still hear the awful sound it made as it slammed into the bottom of the can. Final. Terminal. Game Over.
My mom was at the door when we got to the house. She was crying and several other women were there with her, patting her on the shoulders and hovering around her. When she saw me she burst into massive sobs and tried to take me from my dad. He simply turned from her, hoisted me higher into the air to avoid having her get her hands on me, and waltzed me unceremoniously into his bedroom.
He threw me on the bed with one hand and in one swift motion, lifted the lid of the large green footlocker which sat on the floor at the foot of the bed. He took out the shelf which sat at the top of the box, threw it on the floor, grabbed me by the leg and slammed me into the bottom of the footlocker. As he was closing the lid, he glared at me and snarled, “Don’t you ever do that again!”
When he closed the lid, I heard him turn the buckle which secured it. I was trapped, in the dark, alone, frightened and totally confused. I realized I had done something extremely bad, something so horrible, so incomprehensibly wrong that I was now literally being put in a box. That was how my day ended closed in a box, wondering what I had done to deserve this kind of treatment, knowing that after all the wonder and magic had passed, all that was left was terror and pain.
I have never forgotten that event. It has colored my life experience in ways that are so dramatic that it took me nearly 50 years to figure out how to unwind this syndrome. What it proved to me was that being free carries with it a terrible price. Since then, whenever I have found a moment of magic and liberation, I have always paid dearly for it. I have come to believe that this event created the template for that component of my life’s experience because it has followed me ever since.
I did not realize until Gordon had died how powerfully this message has played out in my life. At that age I was unable to engage in the kind of abstract thinking that is required for behavioral analysis. I didn’t understand what I had done to occasion the punishment he imposed on me. I did not understand how to ask him if the meaning I had attributed to it was correct or not. It is simply not possible for a five year old to ask, “When you treat me this way, does it mean you don’t love me any more?” And even if we could ask the question, we don’t. We don’t ask the question even when we can because we really don’t want to hear the answer. What we fear most is that the answer we have already made up about it may really true.
This belief quickly becomes the basis of a personal legend. Later in my life, I discovered that I have lived most of my life believing that what I had made up about this event was true, that whenever I experience freedom and unimaginable joy, I will inevitably be punished. And, as luck would have it, this deeply embedded belief has almost always been true.
Cubic Centimeter of Chance