Saturday, February 26, 2011

We Are Half Awake

I'm back! It's been "one of those weeks" during which I was up, I was down, I was overwhelmed and overworked and couldn't think of much beyond getting through the work day (and I do mean work!), getting home and going to bed.

But in the meantime I've had some bloggable inspirations which I intended to begin putting into writing today, when I received the following from a friend. You may have received it too. It's from and so well worth reading that I decided not simply to link to the article, which you can do here, but to post it here, along with the appropriate attribution. I hope you find some nugget here that gives you an "aha!" moment. I did.

by Alexander Green
Although the economy is on the mend and the stock market has taken a big

bounce off the bottom, tough times remain for many Americans.

Unemployment is high. Bankruptcies and foreclosures are near record
levels. Repo lots are overflowing. Worry and stress are on the rise in many

Some of these folks might want to visit psychologist William James, even
though he's been dead for a hundred years.

James (1842-1910) was an author, philosopher, scientist, Harvard professor and giant in American intellectual history.

He trained as a medical doctor but never practiced medicine. He broke new ground as a physiologist and psychologist. He studied religion and psychic phenomena and wrote three classic books, including The Varieties of Religious Experience, the acknowledged inspiration for the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the world's most effective treatment programs.

Although his name is not widely recognized outside academia today, James
made major contributions to psychology, philosophy, literature, teaching
and religious studies. He coined numerous words and phrases including
pluralism, time-line, stream of consciousness, live option and moral
equivalent of war. Historian Jacques Barzun writes that James' book
Principles of Psychology is "an American masterpiece which, quite like
Moby Dick, ought to be read from beginning to end at least once by every
person professing to be educated. It a masterpiece in the classic and total

What do so many find inspiring about James? In part, it was his life itself,
his legendary zest for living. James loved to travel, hike and mountain-
climb. He served as a naturalist and accompanied Louis Agassiz on his
expedition to explore the upper reaches of the Amazon. He churned out
articles, books and hundreds of public lectures while carrying a full teaching
load at Harvard. When he died from heart failure in his late 60s, his
contemporaries said he had literally worn himself out.

Despite James's many accomplishments, his life was not without its
setbacks. He suffered from ailments of the eyes, skin, stomach and back. He
was diagnosed with neurasthenia and depression. He contracted smallpox in
Brazil. Three siblings, including novelist Henry James and diarist Alice
James, were afflicted with invalidism. His beloved sister Alice died of breast
cancer at 44.

However, James believed that we are meant to spend our lives being
curious, active, and fully engaged.

He was also one of the first to try to reconcile science and religion. In
particular, he was interested in human spiritual experience, a realm that is
difficult to capture by logic or observation, and nearly impossible to nail down

Yet he found a way. James is the father of the distinctly American
philosophy known as Pragmatism, the doctrine that truth reveals itself in
practice, regardless of its origins. Something is true if it doesn't contradict
known facts and it works.

James thought a belief should be judged by its results. He was more
interested in the fruits of an idea than its roots and advised people to look for
a truth's "cash value," arguing that a belief is true if it allows you to live a
fuller, richer life.

He was particularly interested in showing men and women how to convert
misery and unhappiness into growth. As you can see from some of his
remarks, the approach is nothing if not pragmatic:

- Lives based on having are less free than lives based either on doing or being.

- Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the
consequences of any misfortune.

- If you believe that feeling bad or worrying long enough will change a past
or future event, then you are residing on another planet with a different
reality system.

- Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources
are than we had supposed.

- Compared with what we ought to be, we are half awake.

- Action may not bring happiness but there is no happiness without action.

- Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.

- Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

- Begin to be now what you will be hereafter.

James taught that we can change our lives by altering our attitudes of mind.
He called pessimism "a disease" and said it could be cured by substitution.
You can change, for example, "I have to exercise today" to "I get to exercise
today." "I get to visit my grandmother" can be substituted for "I have to visit
my grandmother." The shift is a subtle one, but powerful.

The essence of a belief is the establishment of a habit, a willingness to act.
That begins with a change of mind. The best motivation is always an
inspiriting attitude.

As a pioneering psychologist, James's primary interest was how the mind
can bring about life-changing effects. Yes, we can always grouse about
circumstances. But it is not what fate does to us that matters. What matters
is what we do with what fate hands us.

"All that the human heart wants," declared James, "is its chance."

Carpe Diem,


Copyright © 2011 by The Oxford Club, L.L.C

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