Lesson 12: Acknowledging Our Strengths
Last week, we were introduced to the Wheel of Karma and began to notice how it operates in our lives. Our eyes are opening to ways we contribute to situations we encounter and the energy we attract into our lives through our thoughts and attitudes. We spent significant time investigating our self-defeating behaviors and our past and were challenged to share from these inventories with a trusted friend. If we have not done this yet, we commit to doing it soon. If we feel trepidation about this exercise, we can begin by sharing our concerns. We can also be encouraged by others’ positive experiences.
Though it may be daunting, such vulnerable sharing can be one of the most valuable learned behaviors of this Course. Allowing ourselves to feel deeply opens our souls to healing. Allowing ourselves to share feelings can open new doors of authenticity, freeing us from invisible chains of shame and fear. We might consider how all things touched by Light and nurtured with Love seem to naturally find their way toward growth. We can see this pattern in every green thing that grows. We can experience it every time we use our tools to touch home and find God within us.
Reflective self-inquiry is not something we will complete in a week. Rather, it represents a mental shift and lifetime practice. We are learning to focus on our own patterns and behaviors, becoming less distracted by other people’s actions. This inward focus helps us to observe life with compassionate curiosity. The space we create with curiosity can free us from impulsive reactions, feelings of shame, and our urges to blame or defend. Where we used to judge, we can seek to understand—ourselves first and then others. With a sense of compassionate care, we can find the capacity to accept and embrace our imperfect life as the teacher it is meant to be. We can come to trust that there is a perfect divine essence underneath all the unconscious coping. When we allow a Higher Power to heal what is hurting inside, we stop hurting ourselves and others. We find our natural alignment and flow into our best life.
This week, we open ourselves to more Light as we mindfully consider our character strengths. So, what are character strengths? Simply put, they are the gifts that come naturally to us. We might consider the idea that each of us has been divinely crafted with passions and abilities to suit our unique purpose and journey. If we have trouble identifying these, we might review our sometimes more readily-identified self-defeating behaviors: our strengths often appear opposite to our weaknesses.
For example, an impulsive and disorganized person may well discover that these seemingly negative traits also facilitate a positive willingness to take risks and a light-hearted, creative, and playful nature. Two sides of the same coin are also two ways to frame the same characteristic. In different situations, the same trait can serve us well or work to our detriment. We can view all our character traits similarly. Let’s mindfully consider each personal attribute in each given situation with open curiosity, rather than labeling them too quickly as strength or weakness. As we do, let’s trust in the abundance of a Higher Power’s wisdom in designing our unique personality and purpose, and consider: “How does the Light want to shine through me?”
Some of us may wear subconscious glasses that make it challenging to acknowledge our strengths. We may have deep neural pathways that keep us focused on our faults—through habitual self-criticism, comparison, or the relentless criticism of others. Perhaps we even feel it is prideful or wrong to see the good in ourselves. But we can remember that true humility is to know ourselves fully, and to know how fully we need God. Through practicing awareness and curiosity, we can overcome our conditioning to see ourselves more clearly, learn to trust that we do have something valuable to offer, and come to truly value our gifts. By living in self-awareness, accepting and understanding all parts of who we are, we become more useful to ourselves, to others, and to God.
At LBS, we believe that knowing our strengths is as essential as knowing our weaknesses. We operate from the idea that each of us was born to refract divine Light in a uniquely powerful way. Discovering our innate strength is a vital step towards achieving this purpose. Coming to see ourselves more honestly and objectively helps us take full ownership of our human experience. Indeed, it is another way we can surrender our whole selves to God: our past and present, our struggles and victories, our perceived strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s think about what it means to surrender our whole selves. We may have already experimented with surrendering our self-defeating behaviors. Let’s now expand this curiosity and ask what it would mean to fully surrender our character strengths? How might God make use of us if we could allow His Light to shine through us—unobstructed by egoic fears of inadequacy or offending others, by resistant attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors? Such a scenario may feel so foreign to us that we cannot even envision it. Yet, He can. And as we open ourselves to Him, seek Him, and trust Him, we can see that with Him, our future is limitless.
Mindfulness Practice: Accessing Grace
This week, our Mindfulness Practice is both an event and an ongoing practice that leads us over and over again back to our greatest strength. This week, we learn to access Grace. We can do this in a formal big-picture way, and also in a present-moment, mindful way in moments of difficulty. We do this through offering a prayer of total surrender, asking our Higher Power for Grace: to remove our weakness and grant us peace and strength.
One beloved example of such a prayer is found in the Alcoholics Anonymous 7th Step Prayer:
My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me the strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.
Whatever specific prayer we speak, let’s offer it openly and surrender any expectation for how it may be answered. Let’s bring a ready heart, one willing to let go of problematic behaviors, and also a mind that is open to His will—whatever that may look like. As we proceed, let’s not become discouraged if life meets our humble prayer with increased resistance rather than paving a smooth pathway for us. We usually find that God works by changing how we feel inside rather than changing what is happening outside. So let’s keep our focus inward and see outer resistance as our often-necessary teacher. Let’s allow it to point us back to self-reflection and to God, where we can explore what we still need to surrender in deeper and more profound ways.
This prayer of total surrender represents a concrete action with the power to change our lives. How so? Because it can represent our soul-level decision to let go of our incessant striving and give our lives completely to God. Such a decision can be made once and forever, or can happen in the small, mindful moments we turn to Him. Either way, we can expect a need for recommitment over and over again. Like everything we practice, surrender and Grace are things we return to, not arrive at. Through repeatedly coming back to center and surrender, we create a life infused with Divinity, where we can learn to rely on God in each moment.
This moment-by-moment appeal to Grace is what differentiates the LBS practice from so many self-improvement programs. Like other self-help programs, we teach mindfulness skills and apply principles of psychology that help us understand and empower our thinking patterns. Educational information is important and helpful. But we have found that no matter how well we cognitively understand our challenges, without God, we usually end up in the same place—stuck in one way or another. We have learned we must include a Higher Power to gain access to the Infinite.
In the very moment of distress, we can use mindfulness to access Grace. We Reach Up for rescue because our mindful presence informs us of our struggle. We can use our body, mind, and spirit to find and feel Him—to let go of constricting emotions, breathe into tight shoulders, and allow ourselves to relax into His care. The work we have done toward self-awareness helps us know the specific narratives and beliefs that need to be surrendered in that moment. We Reach for Him in the now, and He can offer us peace and freedom in the now—softening the pain, lifting the burden. This is Grace.
And sometimes, in His time and way, He lifts the burden and heals the wound forever. In a solitary moment, the core belief dissolves, our perceptions heal, and we become the recipient of a permanent shift in our psyche. We are reborn. Whether momentary or permanent, these miraculous moments of freedom are where our limited capacity is blown open. Through surrender, we can become One with the ability, creativity, and healing Power of the entire Universe. Even just for this moment, we are free from the limitations of our human condition by letting go and connecting to something Higher. These mindful, surrendered moments are where we experience Grace.
But before He can free us, we must choose to truly let go of self-defeating behaviors. Although His power is infinite, our access to it depends upon our willingness to surrender. Our agency is the pivotal point between freedom and bondage because He will never force us. And make no mistake, choosing to let go of behaviors that have seemingly protected us through life is no easy task. So to grow our willingness, let’s examine these behaviors more closely and open our eyes to the two sides of the coin, considering both the cost and benefit of each one with open curiosity.
As we engage with the program worksheets, let’s ask ourselves and God: What is the cost of this behavior? What is the benefit? Sometimes, the simple awareness of the price we are paying for the behavior unlocks our grip, and we naturally find the desire to let go. Likewise, when we can identify the perceived benefit we seek through each behavior, our conscious awareness can help us find healthier options to achieve this end. Throughout these worksheet exercises, let’s remember that our best coping strategy is God, and we can find Him anytime by touching home in the present moment.
As we nurture our willingness to surrender, it may also be helpful to mindfully consider setting new boundaries. Instead of boundaries around eating, exercising, meditating, or behaving perfectly, let’s consider boundaries that will help us find our center. They can be simple. For example, we can say: “When I feel myself returning to a self-defeating behavior, I will pause and reach out to someone from LBS.”
Other examples could include:
Removing calorie-tracking apps from our devices.
Filling the refrigerator with healthy food choices.
Distancing ourselves from toxic people.
Taking time for daily self-care.
Healthy boundaries can help us move our attention away from self-defeating behaviors and focus it towards God. Again, let’s remember: “Where Attention Goes, Energy Flows, the Flower Grows.” As we surrender and talk with our Higher Power, we can learn what new boundaries might help us move away from patterns of fear and move closer to the feeling and healing that we need. Because this is such a personal process, let’s be careful not to judge anyone else’s boundaries. Let’s remember that our problematic behaviors can be different from others. As we pay attention mindfully, we will know which behaviors are keeping us from the peace our soul longs for.
We may feel discomfort or uncertainty as we step away from well-worn patterns and willingly surrender our lives to God. Indeed, we don’t know what His way will look like. But the discomfort of not knowing can be a good thing—even a sign that we are finding our empty cup. In moments of distress, we can pause, let go of our knee-jerk reaction, and talk with God. We can ask Him, “How would You have me move through this?” When we ask Him to guide just our next right step, we begin to see that He really is with us, right here and now. Though we may prefer to see the larger picture, in our willing surrender, we can learn to let our next step be enough.
Step by step, moment by moment, let’s allow our growing mindfulness to create new space in our minds and hearts for Grace. When old narratives surface, let’s simply acknowledge them and allow them to float by like a cloud in the sky. We can even think or say, “Hello, old friend. Thank you for trying to protect me. Permission to float on by.” Let’s notice how this simple softening into the present moment grants us greater access to Grace.
In fact, this week, let’s pay close attention to all the ways that presence and Grace coexist together. We might notice how presence informs our awareness of the specific fears and anxieties we ask God to remove and helps us channel those feelings into new behaviors that bring us closer to Him. Presence can motivate us to turn to Him to heal our traumas and fears in the very moment we seem to be drowning in them. Presence can help us deeply feel the costs of our self-defeating behaviors, helping us find the natural desire to let go.
Let’s recognize the incredible power of our unrelenting access to both presence and Grace. When we feel urges to react or employ old behaviors, let’s instead use presence to Reach Up for our Higher Power. Let’s pause and Reach In, placing our hand on our heart, taking a deep conscious breath, and dropping into our bodies to find our center. And, let’s remember we can always Reach out to a community member, speaking our truth to calm and connect us.
Whichever strategies we try, let’s remember to invite God into them. Let’s believe that He has the power and desire to heal us, free us, and guide our next right step. In our willing surrender, we can learn what it means to truly rely on a Power greater than our own. We can come to understand Grace as a moment-by-moment rescue, an ongoing mindfulness practice that employs body, mind, and spirit—as simple as taking one conscious breath, opening a wounded heart, and looking up for a Power greater than our own.