In the HBO series Enlightened Laura Dern plays Amy Jellicoe, a 40s something executive who has a nervous breakdown fueled by substance abuse, a failed extramarital affair, and thoughts of revenge. She goes off for substance abuse treatment; when she returns, her state of mind has considerably changed.
She believes “she can be free of her sad stories.” She believes her stories “can float away like memories of a dream the night before.”
There is only one problem—she still has to face the same messy life that everyone else does. Her employer has not held her former job for her; indeed they are eager to get rid of her. Only the threat of a lawsuit gains back for her a demeaning job in a department reserved for misfits.
Amy now has to live with her mother, who is skeptical that Amy has changed at all and not at all supportive of the more positive way that Amy wants to see the world. Amy still has tender feelings towards her ex-husband, but he is content to still drown his misery with substance abuse.
I’ve only watched the first season, but Enlightened is really the universal tale of every person who has ever embarked on a spiritual journey. We think that this time we really understand things; we think we will never fall into negative thinking or destructive behavior again. And then boom, it is not long before life gets in the way.
In Enlightened, Amy returns from her substance abuse retreat with false beliefs. She believes that her new understanding will translate into things going well for her in her external life. She believes that there should be no messy situations or people to encounter. She believes she should be able to raise others up by her own positive her state of mind.
None of these false beliefs work out for her, but that is really the good news. She begins to realize that she doesn’t have to wait for the world to “right” in order to feel good. She may not be able to change her reality, but she can change her experience of reality.
For Amy, like for most of us, this will not be any easy lesson to learn. Events occur; and naturally, personal thinking occurs: “How can I make this better?” “Why are they behaving this way?” “Why is this happening to me again?”
As long as Amy is focused on the interaction, no peace is possible. On the level of interaction, she is focusing on fixing herself and others. She wants a better outcome, but a better outcome may not be possible. Yet, from a deeper place inside, inspired ideas will arise when we get out of the way.
The messy situations are there precisely to help us find the place inside that cannot be touched by the external. How secure is our peace of mind if we only have it when things go our way?
A Course in Miracles encourages us to allow gratitude to replace thoughts of “anger, malice and revenge.” A Course in Miracles goes on to say:
We have been given everything. If we refuse to recognize it, we are not entitled therefore to our bitterness, and to a self-perception which regards us in a place of merciless pursuit, where we are badgered ceaselessly, and pushed about without a thought or care for us or for our future. Gratitude becomes the single thought we substitute for these insane perceptions.
Strong words, indeed—“we are not entitled … to our bitterness.” But what is the “everything” that we have been given? Everything is our connection to Wholeness or God [or, please use the word that you are most comfortable with] that can never be broken. That connection provides Love, Peace, and Wisdom as soon we get our thoughts of interaction out of the way.
Many years ago I received a call from a physician I did not know who asked if I would talk with her about natural foods. Like many physicians, she had not learned the principles of healthy eating in medical school. We talked over the phone, and the physician asked if she could pay a visit. Little did I know that the visit was to provide an indelible memory.
The physician arrived at my home with her young daughter. While we were talking, her daughter got into mischief. I don’t recall what kind of mischief, but the physician got very angry (most would think inappropriately angry) at her daughter. Now comes the indelible memory. Within seconds after getting angry, the physician dropped her feelings of upset.
No, I don’t mean she dropped her feelings of upset because she was in a social situation that required her to put on appearances. No, I mean, she really dropped it completely. I deeply felt that in her world there was complete forgiveness both for her daughter’s behavior and her own; not one spot of judgment was left. She was not processing her daughter’s behavior with thoughts of what does this mean about her daughter? What does this mean about me? She was able to completely return to the business at hand, which was talking about natural foods.
Angry thoughts had arisen and, indeed, were disruptive. But there was no identification with those thoughts. They were free to come and go. There was nothing to hold on to.
This is about as close to “enlightenment” as most of us are likely to come. The default setting in human beings is mental well-being—we have only to get out of our own way.
In the last episode of the first season of Enlightened, Amy muses: “Everything can be transformed. Every single thing. Goodness exists. It’s all around. It’s just sleeping. It can be awakened.” A Course in Miracles puts it this way:
Deep within you is everything that is perfect, ready to radiate through you and out into the world. It will cure all sorrow and pain and fear and loss because it will heal the mind that thought these things were real, and suffered out of its allegiance to them.
There is a fundamental and paradoxical law of change that Amy and all of us must learn: change is very difficult until we accept ourselves as we are now. Why is this so? The part of us that leads change is the part of us that never judges. Thus, condemning ourselves for our failures prevents change by barring the door to the real source of change.