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Is That It?

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IS THAT IT?

TAKING STOCK OF YOUR LIFE

 

 

 

 

 

JOHN PRENTICE

 

 

 

 

BRIGSLEY WESTWOOD PUBLISHING

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright John Prentice 2016

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form

by photocopying or by any electronic or mechanical means,

including information storage or retrieval systems,

without permission in writing from both the copyright

owner and the publisher of this book

First published 2016

 

 

Chapters

- Introduction

1 – In the Beginning

2 – Man’s Way or God’s Way

3 – Who Am I?

4 – Society

5 – What’s the Purpose of it All?

6 – So What Can I Do?

7 – Good and Evil

8 – The Ten Most Frequently Asked Questions about God

9 – Conclusions

 

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Dedication

 

 

To Mark, who I never found the courage to show this book to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

This book is dedicated to the silent majority. Those people who, at some time in their lives, have asked questions such as: who am I? Why am I here? And what’s the purpose of it all?

These are the ordinary men and women on the street, the vast majority of people who simply get on with their lives doing the best they can and trying desperately to make sense of a society that appears to have gone awry. But they have no voice in society, no say and no power.

They are a kind and loving people: down to earth, totally honest and willing to help anyone out wherever they can. They just get on with their lives, trusting and hoping in the goodness of others. But they rarely stop to think about their own lives and this book is designed to address that situation.

It’s part of our nature to want to know why we exist or to understand where we belong in the greater scheme of life. Unfortunately, however, there’s no consensus or agreement about the answer to such questions.

This book has been written to help people to take stock of their lives and to find inner strength by removing self-doubt and increasing self-confidence.

Such a book is necessary because, as we shall see, few people ever really question the purpose of their lives; instead, they simply drift through it, following a path destined by childhood conditioning and society’s proclaimed standards.

When my granddaughter was just four years old, she lived in a big city that I was not very familiar with.

One day, I took her to find an Early Learning Centre shop to buy some crayons.

She was adamant that she knew where the shop was, so we marched off in this direction, then that direction, turning left and then right. All the time she kept saying, “Come on, Grandpa, it’s just down here.”

As you’ve already guessed, we eventually came to a dead end.

“I know,” she said. “Let’s go back and ask Grandma. She’ll know where it is.”

You could give her any subject on earth to talk about and she’d rattle on for minutes authentically discussing it – or at least it appeared that way.

We chuckled at this naivety, at her innocence, because of course she hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. She was only four years old, for goodness’ sake.

But here’s the moral of the story: in terms of understanding the true mystery of life, I’m probably only about four years old myself. At least that’s how much knowledge I’ve realistically gained.

So although in this book it might sound as though I know what I’m talking about, in reality there will be a thousand and one things that I haven’t factored in, and you would do well to remember this.

Another event that happened in my earlier life was that I had to attend an Open University summer school as part of a degree course. The university sent me a poem a few weeks beforehand that I was asked to study in order to unscramble its meaning.

The poem, which was about miners, was so vague that it was almost impossible to interpret. I presume this was the reason it was chosen in the first place. During our attendance that week, the lecturer proceeded to decipher the poem and outline its meaning.

Everyone was hugely relieved; at long last, they knew the poem’s meaning. They had been struggling for so long with the vagueness of it and it had been driving them all mad.

I disagreed. I explained that although we had now been given an interpretation of the poem, the poem was so bewildering that there was absolutely no guarantee that this was the right or only explanation.

I argued that previously we knew that we didn’t have the answer; now we only thought we had it. In many ways, we were actually worse off than before, because now we were possibly deluding ourselves by claiming knowledge that we didn’t in fact possess.

However, the others were all very happy. They had their answer and they weren’t really bothered if it was the right one or not. In their eyes they didn’t have to struggle with uncertainty anymore. This was brilliant for them because they had found the problem to be extremely uncomfortable.

And that’s a bit like this book.

At first glance, the book may seem to present factual answers to our search, but this is not its intention. Instead, it tries to take a hugely complex subject and to present a series of thought-provoking discussion topics that allow the reader to question their own preconceived ideas.

Each of the topics covered is open to interpretation, and this is exactly the point. The book takes an extreme position in order to allow the reader to better understand their own point of view and to adapt and modify that view where necessary.

The book gently guides you through a series of searching questions and tries to make sense of this crazy world, where there seem to be no answers to any penetrating questions. This is all the book tries to do, to open up a debate.

In reading the book you will, hopefully, come to your own conclusions, and in doing so you will challenge everything I have written. But you will at least have considered each subject in detail, and you should be better prepared to understand why you hold the views that you do.

The book illustrates my own passage in life, but this is not necessarily the same as yours. You cannot lead your life simply by following my suggestions. You need to work out your own path, your own beliefs and your own values.

It should also be noted that certain conclusions in the book are not meant to be definitive. They are merely one of any number of arguments that could have been chosen, but this method was selected because it does offer differing opinions and encourages discussion. The book then talks about generalities, not the specifics of your own life.

Similarly, the book is not for purists, because some statements may not necessarily be 100% factually accurate. The book is designed only to illustrate the essence of a subject, its intrinsic nature, not its precise or historical accuracy. Not everyone will like or agree with this stance.

The book is for those people with an open mind who want to take stock of their lives. People who want to assess if their lives are going in the right direction or who feel that they would like to understand more about themselves.

And for those who are stuck in a rut, it contains numerous suggestions to help you move forward.

The book can best be described as a road map. It contains a variety of journeys, maps and directions. What it does not do is plan or suggest any specific route.

It’s for you to decide which direction you want your life to take, which route you want it to go in and what specific pitfalls you wish to avoid along the way.

Good luck!

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Chapter 1 – In the Beginning

Virtually every human being will, at some time in their life, have asked the question, “How did the world begin?” It’s not surprising that we want to know the answer, because without it, we can’t understand why we are here or what the future holds.

How did we get here?

Currently there are two different theories of how the universe began. In simple terms, one argues that two planets collided and that a large chunk of one of these fell away and formed the earth. The subsequent fallout of atoms, molecules and planetary debris from this collision created basic organisms from which all future life forms grew. The other theory is that an all-powerful being called God created the whole of the earth and everything on it.

Both of these theories seem so far-fetched that at face value it’s difficult to believe either of them. But as we saw earlier, human beings need answers and so the two theories above have flourished. This is because they appear to make sense of the unknown.

Scientific theory tries to explain things by looking for patterns which can be measured, analysed or systematically repeated under scientific conditions, and to date it has suggested that all living things developed from molecules that could replicate or copy themselves by adapting and changing over time. This is known as the theory of evolution.

Whilst this might explain the structure of our bodies, in my opinion human beings have more to do with emotional factors. Things such as love, tenderness, affection and being at one with each other. These are values that are totally alien in regard to inert substances such as atoms, molecules and rocks, so, if the scientific theory is correct, I would want to know – where did these human values come from?

When I look at the beauty of the world, I can only think in terms of a God who understood such attributes: the beauty of flowers, the colours, the varieties, all growing from the tiniest of seeds to create such glorious living things.

Look also at the sky and the snow, the rain clouds, the sun, the different colours and hues drifting and swirling with majesty, and the love that automatically wells up in us at the sight of children. The rivers and seas and the stars at night – are we really to believe that these were all created by mere accident?

Search your soul and look at the tenderness inside, the beauty and the love that you are capable of. Do you really believe that this came about by pure accident or that it was just as a result of planets exploding and molecules combining?

Go to a school and watch the children playing – see their laughter, their hope and joy, and their trust in the goodness of life. Look at their innocence and beauty. Who created all of this? Who placed this innocence in our minds and this trust in our hearts?

The recipe of life

Take the following ingredients,

It’s easy you see,

Some atoms and molecules

Available free.

By mixing and juggling,

The things you can make

Are wood, air or water,

The real thing – not fake.

A human, an animal,

A plant, or a tree,

All can be made from this one recipe.

From the richest to poorest,

The fattest to thin,

They’re all from this mixture

Created by Him.

It’s easy to realise

Both water and wood

Have just two ingredients

To make them this good.

One solid, one liquid,

You’ve got it – you see,

Both the same ingredients,

Just different quantity.

You can make colour and texture,

Lightness and dark,

Sun, snow and dewdrops,

Forest, glade or park.

And these same two ingredients

Were used to make me,

By some heavenly creator

Who we cannot see.

But of course, I have no proof that GOd exists. I can’t make you believe in Him any more than you believe in fairies at the bottom of your garden, but what I hope I might do is to make you think and to consider the possibility.

The case for God is difficult to make because it requires you to live by hope rather than by proof, and, as we saw earlier, human beings reject such a concept. We will go to any lengths to substitute uncertainty with answers, and that’s why the scientific theory is so powerful – it appears to give a solid explanation.

Sitting in this room, I know I am surrounded by hundreds of invisible communication signals. There are probably dozens of radio channels, a hundred television channels, mobile phone conversations, emails and internet communications. Although I cannot see or hear them, I know for certain they exist. If I had the right receiver in the room, then I could see or hear every one of these communications with which I am constantly surrounded.

The same can perhaps be said of God. You are surrounded by his presence all of the time, but because you cannot see or hear him directly and because you do not have the right receiver, it is difficult to accept this reality.

Many of us do have moments when we are more prepared to believe in the existence of God. These are usually peaceful, tranquil times, such as on holiday or lying on a beach in the sun. Unfortunately such times are rare, and the news of yet another tragedy in the world easily banishes all thoughts of God to the dustbin.

The problem is that God doesn’t feel real to us – deep down, we don’t really believe that he exists. We might hope that he does. We might go to church, we might pray when someone is ill, and yet we don’t really believe that our prayers will be answered. If I pray tonight for Aunt Mary to be made better from some disabling illness, I know that it is most unlikely that I will wake up tomorrow to find her skipping down the drive, so I conclude that as God has not answered my prayers, he doesn’t exist – he’s not real. But does any of this mean that there isn’t a God?

Coincidences

Some years ago my wife had a dream. In it she saw a series of photographs linked together in a negative. In the first photo she saw Jesus carrying his cross, and the photos continued frame by frame until he was finally put to death. We discussed the dream, but I put it out of my mind and thought very little of it, and my wife never mentioned it again.

Some years later, we went to Bruges in Belgium. As thousands of other sightseers have done, we visited a small church off the main town square. My wife was dumbfounded that there, on the wall, was an exact replica of her dream, frame by frame, scene by scene. She was stunned.

As the years went by and the coincidence was recounted to friends and relatives, the meaning of it diminished, and it became one of those peculiar things that happen in life.

And that’s the problem! When these odd things occur (and they happen to most people at some time in their lives), we tell everyone about them – and then we forget them. We dismiss them because they are so ridiculous and out of step with our daily lives that they cannot really be believed.

This is the problem with God. Many people do experience ‘snapshots’ of God (or inner peace or tranquillity), but they cannot sustain this image and therefore dismiss it from their lives.

Who is God?

On this earth we tend to portray God with human attributes, but I very much doubt that is the case, even though many will argue that we are born in his image. I doubt if any of us can even begin to describe God, let alone the presence of God. Possibly I’m wrong, but if we start to think of him more in terms of an entity, a presence around us, then perhaps we could take a step closer to him.

I’ve heard many people, including vicars, say that they are angry with God and that when they meet him he is going to have to answer a lot of questions. It’s as though they think of him as someone who is human. When they meet him, they believe they can have a face-to-face argument where they ask him questions such as, “Why did you allow this tragedy to happen?” or “Why did you take that little child’s life away at such an early age?”

If it were possible, would you walk directly up to the sun with all its power and ask it to turn its heat down a little? Of course not – you know immediately that you would burn to death before you even got close to it. But where God is concerned, we seem to deny his even greater power.

The trouble of course is that we don’t actually believe in God. We don’t believe that he really created the sun and the moon; the seas, rivers and lakes; the mountain ranges and the vast deserts; the animals and flowers of every hue; and of course us, his children.

If just for one second we did believe that he had done this – if he had such tremendous power to create storms and tempests – then which of us would be brave enough to say, “Bring him here now and I will question him.”

But that is exactly what most of us do, almost on a daily basis!

One of the biggest obstacles to believing in God is the way in which he is portrayed. We are told that to be close to him we must be virtual saints, and as we know that we could never achieve this, what’s the point in even trying?

God should be enjoyed, someone to walk by your side and to turn to in good times or bad, a real presence who can be your constant companion and someone who loves and cares for you. Unfortunately this is not how most of us have been taught to think of him.

Mister God

I bought a book a while back from a charity shop. Although it’s fictional, it talks of God as I do – as a person, or a being, who is real!

The book Mister God, This is Anna is about Anna, a six-year-old girl, and is narrated by her friend Fynn. Anna is one of that rare breed: someone who truly believes in God as a real being, as a person she can speak directly to every second of the day. What’s more, she can’t understand why other people, especially grown-ups, can’t see this too.

I am grateful to the publishers Harper Collins who have given me their kind permission to quote extracts from the book here:

Why was it that grown-ups insisted on talking about where heaven was? The whole question of where heaven was, was neither here nor there, it was immaterial, it was nonsense. And why, oh why, were angels and cherubs and things like that, and goodness me, even Mister God himself, represented as human people? Oh no, the question of where heaven was, was one of those non-questions, it had nowhere to land, and therefore was no question fit to be asked.

The strange insistence of Sunday-school teacher Miss Haynes and the Rev. Castle on using the words ‘seeing’ and ‘knowing’ in such a clumsy way was a very sore point with Anna. The Rev. Castle talked about ‘seeing’ Mr. God, about meeting him ‘face to face’, in a sermon one Sunday morning. He never knew how close he was to disaster. Anna grasped my hand tightly, shook her head violently and turned to face me. All her efforts were directed to damping down her inner fires, which would have consumed the Rev. Castle had they been let loose.

When it comes to fires, Old Nick had nothing on Anna. She could make the fires of hell look like glowing embers.

In a whisper that echoed around the church, Anna said, “Wot the ell he gonna do if Mister God ain’t got no face? Wot’ll he do if he ain’t got no eyes, wot then Fynn, eh?”

The Rev. Castle faltered for a second and pressed on, dragging with him the heads and eyes of the congregation.

Anna mouthed the words, “Wot then?”

Search me,” I whispered back.

She pulled at my arm and signalled me to come closer. Her lips plugged into my ear. “Mister God ain’t got no face,” she hissed.

I turned to face her, and my raised eyebrows asked the question, “How come?”

Plugging in again she said, “Cos he don’t have to turn round to see everybody, that’s why.” She settled back in her pew, nodding her head at her own certainty, and folded her arms with a full stop.

On our way home from church I asked her what she had meant by – ‘he don’t have to turn round’.

Well,” she said, “I’ve got an ‘infront’ and I’ve got a ‘behind’ so I have to turn round to see what’s behind me. Mister God don’t.”

What’s he do then?” I asked.

Mister God’s only got an ‘infront’, he ain’t got no behind.”

Oh,” I nodded, “I see.”

The idea of Mister God having no ‘behind’ struck me as deliciously funny and I tried to suppress the giggles. I didn’t manage it, I exploded.

……………. “Mister God ain’t got no bum”, sang Anna to the tune of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.

The frowns turned to scandalised looks of horror. “Disgusting!’ said the Sunday suit, “little savage’ squeaked the Sunday boots, ‘A lamb of Satan’ said the Albert Watch dangling from the waist coat, but Anna went on, laughing with Mister God.

(Mister God, This is Anna by Anna Fynn, published by Harper Collins)

Anna and I would have made great friends, because we both laugh with Mister God, and, more importantly, he laughs with us too.

Believe it or not, not many people do, because they’ve made him someone he isn’t and they’ve shut him away in some big box in a faraway foreign land where nobody can find him.

Anna instinctively knew this, and she also knew that God can’t be encapsulated in words alone and that it is we who try to humanise him and to ensnare him with human traits.

Fortunately for me, Anna enters this book where she belongs, right here in this very opening chapter. Although I cannot persuade you about God, perhaps Anna, with her childlike innocence, can:

You could, if you wished, deny that Mister God existed, but then any denials didn’t alter the fact that Mister God was. No, Mister God was, he was the kingpin, the centre, the very heart of things, and this is where it got funny. You see, we had to recognise that he was all these things and that he meant that we were at our own centre, not God. God is our centre and yet it is we who acknowledge that he is the centre. That makes us somehow internal to Mister God. This is the curious nature of Mister God, even that while he is at the centre of all things he waits outside us and knocks to come in. It is we who open the door. Mister God doesn’t break it down and come in, no, he knocks and waits.

Now it takes a real super kind of God to work that one out, but that’s just what he’s done. As Anna said, “That’s very funny, that is. It makes me very important isn’t it? Fancy Mister God taking second place!”

Unfortunately for me I’ve got to let Anna go. As much as I might like to, I cannot rely on the profundity of her words to do my work for the rest of this book, but, not surprisingly, I do urge you to buy her story and read it for yourself.

Religion and God

I want to make a distinction between my understanding of God and religion. I accept that most religions try to teach about God, but I find it difficult to accept that God is only to be found in a church or indeed that this is the only or most appropriate place to worship him.

I accept that everyone takes a very different path to finding God, and I have no wish to place him in yet another box, as so many others do. I accept that you can look for God in many different ways.

If music lifts your spirit, then use it to sing to God. If you love nature, then examine the intricate structures of flowers and ask God why he made them that way. If you enjoy walking, then look to the skies and the clouds and ask God why they are formed as they are.

Is there a purpose to God?

Some would argue that the purpose of God is to show us the difference between right and wrong, to help us strive for better ideals and to serve as a moral code for society to live by.

This argument states that however pleased we are with ourselves, or whatever action we think we can get away with, there is a higher being who will eventually judge us. Someone other than ourselves knows our every action, our every thought and even things that are hidden and not seen by others. It is he who will ultimately be the judge of those actions.

God in this sense is a safeguard for mankind, ensuring that most of us abide by the rules merely because we believe that there will be some form of censure or retribution if we don’t.

For me it’s more personal. When I look at the inhumanity in the world and the hate, bitterness and cruelty that man bestows on man, often because of greed, I simply despair, because there’s absolutely nothing that I can do about it.

Having God as my companion means that I can at least have hope that there is a purpose to it all and it gives me something to hold onto in an otherwise immoral world.

How do you maintain a faith in God?

God cannot be seen, he doesn’t speak or communicate and we have absolutely no way of knowing if he exists or not. In essence then we would be mad to believe in him.

But we can ‘hope’ that he exists, because without that hope, we destroy the one guiding light that signifies goodness on earth.

Most of us are told that we must have faith to find God, but we don’t know how to achieve this. We are increasingly taught not to trust people we don’t know, and, by definition, we cannot know or have faith in them unless we have actually seen them first. In other words, we cannot believe in God because we can’t actually see him.

But we can have hope that God exists, because hope is simply making a statement that you would like him to exist and that you agree that this would be of benefit to the world.

This gives you a basis to start thinking about him and to start talking to him. Hope leads to faith, so it’s not necessary to jump straight into the deep end trying to achieve faith – start by hoping that God exists and by learning to discuss this hope with him directly.

Conclusions

Let’s return to our original proposition that there are only two theories about the beginning of the earth: the evolutionary theory or the concept of God. One is a scientific theory and the other a religious one.

The scientific one tells me how the human race evolved, but for me it lacks the answers as to why I am still individually different to everybody else – why I have an ‘inner me’ that is unique from the millions of other human beings who inhabit the earth.

If it’s true that along with everyone else I was created in exactly the same way as they were, then I shouldn’t have this unique soul.

There is no other ‘me’ in the whole world, even though hundreds of other people may have thousands of similarities to me. I just know intuitively that I have a ‘me’, an inner being which is capable of somehow distancing itself from my body and disassociating itself from my brain.

I don’t know how I know this, I don’t know where this feeling lives, but I do know that I have it.

It’s a feeling that’s separate from the thousands of thoughts that come from my brain – separate from the vast encyclopaedia of knowledge that is stored up there and separate from my emotions or physical feelings. It’s just something that I instinctively know – that I am alive and I am ‘me’!

The fact that I have this spiritual awareness separates me from anything scientists can recreate. Nothing created by scientists will ever be able to claim that reality of existence, be able to look at itself as a separate entity or to say, “Look – this is me.” I don’t believe that a fusion of atoms and molecules caused by the collision of two planets could possibly account for this.

There is one other feeling or instinct that occasionally takes us by surprise at a time when we are least expecting it. It lasts for only a split second, but it seems that the whole universe opens up before us and we feel inner peace and harmony, a perfect order or love that could only be associated with some higher being. It’s different from the feeling above that we know that we are unique. It’s as if we also know that there is something else – some greater purpose to it all.

It’s like a sudden inner explosion of knowledge that our lives have a higher meaning or that there’s a greater purpose to life than our daily grind. I think it is a spiritual awareness that can only come directly from God, but you must make your own conclusions!

Step one[lm3]

If you hope that God exists, then you are the only person who knows best how you should go about acting on this. Just because you have been told that you need to attend church, give to the poor or learn specific prayers by rote, ignore all that and find your own way.

If music enhances your spirit, then sing to God. If you love nature, then sit in your garden and ask him why he chose to make plants this way. It doesn’t matter how you do it; there’s no right and there’s no wrong way. It’s simply a private conversation between you and God to tell him that you really do hope that he exists.

That really is it – you’ve begun.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2 – Man’s way or God’s way?

Society’s way or God’s way?

I am a reasonably honest person who has always tried to do what is right. I care for others, give to some charities and overall am considered quite a nice person. So why, according to the Bible, am I classed as a sinner?

It took me many years to answer this question and to understand the concept that no matter how good you are, how much of your time you give to God or even how much wealth you donate to charity, you’ll still be a sinner till the day you die.

The truth is that in God’s eyes we are all sinners, every single one of us, and there is absolutely nothing that we can do to escape this fact – we are simply born into sin.

Let me try, if I can, to explain.

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Born into sin

It is important to understand the difference between what society sees as sin and what God understands by it. For example, like me, you may well uphold all of society’s values, in that you pay your taxes, don’t steal or cheat and are not a murderer. But you will still be a sinner in God’s eyes.

Why? Because we have no control over our inner thoughts and emotions – and it’s here that we are incapable of not sinning. Can you honestly say that you have never had a bad thought, disliked someone or become impatient or angry?

You wouldn’t be human if you hadn’t. We are born with these nasty feelings and we have little control over them. We didn’t choose to have bad thoughts; we were simply born with them.

I say born with them (born into sin) because every single human being has these negative thoughts and it’s virtually impossible for us to overcome them. Fortunately, however, society is only interested in our actions, not our thoughts.

Society cannot censure your inner thoughts or emotions because in general it has no way of knowing what these are at any moment in time. Therefore, society can only control that aspect of people which it can both see and measure: their actions.

God on the other hand is more interested in your inner self or spirit. He wants to see you develop in areas such as love, kindness, and generosity and warmth towards others. He also wants to see your deeds mirror such values. But first and foremost it is your heart and soul that he cares about.

So whilst society measures sin in terms of physical actions – theft, drug dealing, antisocial behaviour and the like – God measures it in terms of intolerance or lack of thought for your fellow man, your indifference to someone else’s plight or simply by your hurtful words or deeds.

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Let me give you an example

Imagine that you are standing in your local shop waiting to buy the morning newspaper. Fortunately, the only person in the queue in front of you is a little white-haired old lady with a loaf of bread in her hand. The assistant tells her the price of the loaf and the lady, with trembling hands, proceeds to look through her handbag for her purse. You can see the look of panic on her face, as the purse is nowhere to be found, and after a few minutes the assistant comes from behind the counter to help in the search.

As they empty the contents of the bag onto the counter and sift through everything, you begin to worry, because your bus is due in just five minutes. They cannot find the purse. They proceed to put everything back into the bag whilst the assistant soothingly reassures the old lady that it must be somewhere else. You on the other hand check your watch – just four minutes now before your bus comes.

After a few more moments, the old lady starts checking the pockets of her tweed coat and there, much to her relief, is the purse in her inside pocket. In what seems to take an age and with fumbling hands, she counts out the coins and pays the assistant for the loaf.

With frustration building up inside you and your blood pressure rising at the lack of urgency by the shop assistant, you eventually pay for your newspaper, only to see through the shop window that your bus has just left.

What you didn’t know is that the little old lady’s husband died just seven days ago and she has cried herself to sleep every night since. She can’t focus her mind, keeps losing things and her hands won’t stop shaking. The loaf of bread she just bought is to make sandwiches for the few friends she’s invited over after her husband’s funeral, which is taking place in just two hours’ time.

If you had known this, would you have felt compassion rather than frustration, sympathy rather than anger?

You could also have changed your own behaviour in this example by joining in the search for the purse and reassuring the old lady that all would be well. In doing so you might equally have reduced your own anger and frustration, because you would have been involved in events rather than just an impatient observer of the situation.

The answer to controlling your emotions then might be to learn to modify your own behaviour.

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Two very different ways

In society’s eyes, you did everything right in the scenario above. You simply stood there and said nothing. You didn’t react or get angry; you just waited your turn in the queue. In society’s eyes, you were exemplary.

But in God’s eyes the fact that you felt anger and frustration means that you failed. God’s way is about understanding and compassion, and you showed none of this.

You may not agree that the traits of anger and frustration outlined above constitute sins. You may regard them as being the normal characteristics of any human being and believe that you are no different than everyone else around you.

But we are talking here about what God wanted for us, his hopes and aspirations for our future. He wanted us to love one another, to show care and compassion, not just to those people whom we know, but to everyone that we come into contact with, and he wanted us to try and foster a more tolerant and considerate nature.

For the moment, let’s just agree that there are two very different ways: one is society’s way, and the other is God’s way.

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Learn to be gentle with yourself

None of us have been taught that human beings are basically incapable of mirroring God’s ways, because we are programmed from birth with emotions such as greed and hate, arrogance and cynicism. Try as we might, we will never entirely rid ourselves of all of these emotions, and therefore we should learn to be gentle with ourselves when we get things wrong.

This is a vitally important lesson, because many people go through their whole life suffering from low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness. They suffer such emotions mainly because of their inner negative thoughts and feelings and a belief that they are insignificant, a failure and of no use to society.

Nobody has taught them that we are all the same. We are all born with these negative thoughts; we are all born into sin. And although some people may portray a superior air as they go about their business, in the eyes of God every single one of us is a sinner.

Indeed, in God’s eyes, an individual who has been cast out by society could well be the person who has earned the right to sit at his right hand.

It’s a shame that this subject is not taught at school so that each individual can see that they are not a bad person, they are not worthless or a failure; they were simply born with negative thoughts, just like everyone else. Understanding this one small point could transform many people’s lives.

Whilst it would make the world a much better place if we did all train ourselves to be kinder, to say encouraging words and to be considerate and helpful to others, we should also be realistic in understanding that human beings are basically incapable of sustaining such actions because we are programmed from birth to think and feel nasty thoughts.

But whenever we fail, we should celebrate and refuse to feel guilty. The mere fact that we have tried to improve ourselves means that we have started a journey with God and are one step closer to him.

Being gentle with yourself means that although you accept that you will constantly fail, you will still try to aspire to greater heights. In doing so and until you achieve your goal, you should forgive yourself every time you fail and be proud that you are at least trying.

Let’s move to a different story Paul was invited to his best friend’s house to watch England play Argentina in the World Cup. His friend was a confirmed bachelor, and the two of them had been through thick and thin together. No sooner had Paul arrived than his friend said that he was popping out for half an hour to stock up on some cans for the afternoon.

When he’d gone, Paul noticed a pornographic magazine on the coffee table. Much as he wanted to resist, out of curiosity he reached out and started to read it.

Human nature being what it is, most men in this situation would do exactly the same, and, in all honesty, they would probably enjoy the next half hour.

Society would see nothing wrong with what Paul did, and it even encourages such activities through the sale of these magazines in local newsagents. Society views this as an innocent pastime which causes no one any harm and believes a person is entitled to view magazines like this in the privacy of their own home.

This is not what God intended for us.

Suppose I told you that when Paul picked the magazine up and started to read it, on page six he was accosted with the sight of his own 19-year-old daughter and was both disgusted and ashamed at what he saw.

God’s view is that if it was your son or daughter posing in the magazine, would you still agree that this was an innocent pastime?

Society’s way or God’s way

We have to accept that there are two ways of living our lives: one is society’s way or man’s way, where, in the above scenario, we see no harm whatsoever in people being allowed to read a pornographic magazine – indeed, we might all give a nudge and a wink to confirm our understanding and approval; the other is God’s way, and the sort of behaviour where young women are exploited does not accord with his teachings.

It’s very difficult to grasp this difference, because we are taught both at school and by our parents that we must adhere to the rules and regulations laid down by society; and we are told that if we do, we will be considered a valued member of society and a model citizen.

It is an important distinction, because in general we tend to measure our own moral standards against those set by society. If you are meeting those values, then it is assumed that you are a good person. It is fair to add that society would also then class you as a God-fearing man, honest, trustworthy and reliable.

But I’m saying that just because society approves of what you do, that does not mean that you are following in God’s path. I’m also saying that sometimes, as our next illustration shows, society will actually stop you from doing what God considers to be right.

When society gets in the way

Many years ago I was driving down the street when a little girl fell off her bicycle just in front of me on the pavement, clutched her knee and started to cry.

I immediately stopped and was just about to get out of my car when I realised that in today’s society, even approaching this little girl in her hour of need would not be a good idea.

Not sure what to do, I wound the car window down and shouted to the girl to see if she was OK. She immediately stopped crying and said that she was.

I drove off feeling that I had let this little girl down and was ashamed of myself for basically ignoring her plight. If this had been my daughter, I would have hoped that someone would have offered her more comfort and reassurance than I had.

Society, on the other hand, would applaud what I did and state that I had done exactly the right thing. I should certainly not have approached her or touched her leg, and, if I had, I could easily have found myself in real trouble, or even under arrest.

So where’s the problem here? Forget the words ‘sin’ or ‘God’: you instinctively know that society is wrong and that in an open space with other cars passing by, it really can’t be wrong to go to a child’s assistance, to rub her knee better, dry her tears and see her safely on her way. We instinctively know that this is goodness as opposed to the badness that society has imposed on us by telling us not to get involved.

I hope you can begin to see that God wanted things to be different and that it is us, not him, who have chosen a different path. God wanted us to love one another, to show care and compassion to everyone.

So why do society’s values differ from God’s?

God’s values are to do with each of us as an individual and our ability and willingness to offer compassion and thoughtfulness to other people. It’s a personal relationship with God that applies to each and every one of us separately.

Society’s values on the other hand try to protect an entire group of people, but it is mechanistic and clumsy, focusing on the many at the expense of the few. In our example above, for instance, society tries to ensure that children are not molested or in danger, but in doing so, it isolates and frightens them by stopping strangers from being able to approach them even when they are offering help.

It is an important distinction to understand, because, as we have already said, most of us have been taught that if we go through life doing exactly what society tells us is right, then that will automatically make us a good person and one who will be pleasing in the eyes of God. Unfortunately this is not always the case.

Can we change?

When I first found God, I found myself – even though I tried very hard not to – beginning to feel as though I was better than the people around me. I was smug that I had found something that they had not. It’s ironic, then, that as I got closer to God, I actually became more sinful in his eyes.

It doesn’t matter how much you progress, how much you try, how good you become; you will always be a sinner in God’s eyes because of your inner thoughts – in my case, arrogance. We are incapable of rising above this because our minds are programmed to sin, and as we cannot control our innermost thoughts, we cannot stop ourselves from sinning.

We may be able to control our actions or words so that we do not sin by society’s standards – that is, we do not steal, commit murder, have an adulterous relationship, etc. But in our thoughts we will always harbour hate, feel self-important or look down on others. We just cannot help it –it’s part of our psyche!

And it’s this lack of awareness of our sin that makes it difficult for us to change. Because society implies that if we follow its values, that automatically makes us upstanding and righteous citizens, and so we see no reason to question ourselves any further.

God’s ways can often be different to those of society, and society sometimes therefore misleads us into believing that we are on the right path.

We generally accept that if society says that we are God -fearing, who are we to question it?

The churchgoer

Every week Sally attends church, and she always leaves feeling spiritually uplifted and closer to God. Like many churchgoers, she fervently believes that she obeys God’s commands and that she has no need to change anything about herself. She is a conscientious person who abides by the Ten Commandments and fully expects God to welcome her with open arms at the end of her life.

She knows many of the congregation and within reason always sits in the same section of the church, as it gives her a very good view of both the vicar and the choir.

One morning Sally had no sooner taken her seat when what can only be described as a dirty, old and bedraggled tramp came and sat next to her. Without drawing attention to herself, she tried to shuffle further along the bench and surreptitiously viewed him out of the corner of her eye.

He had a long grey beard, smelt of booze and wore filthy clothes. Even though the church had about five men present, she still felt ill at ease, especially when he started muttering to himself, which he continued to do throughout the service.

She was visibly relieved when the service ended, and she said a little prayer, asking that he wouldn’t turn up again next week – or that if he did, he would sit elsewhere.

Sally might justify her actions by arguing that her motives were Christian. She didn’t want to ban him from the church; she only wanted to make sure that he didn’t come near her or brush against her with his filthy clothes.

If she had taken the trouble to talk to him, she would have discovered that he’d had a dream the previous night about his daughter, whom he’d abandoned ten years ago and hadn’t seen since. The reason he was muttering in church was because he was asking God, for the first time in his life, to forgive him.

In society’s eyes Sally did nothing wrong by ignoring him, because it would be quite normal for a well-to-do person like her not to want anything to do with him. In fact, the local council had only recently been trying to clear the streets of such homeless people and had advised local residents not to give them money or food, as this only encouraged them.

But in God’s eyes, the tramp probably had more right than anyone else to be in the church that day. To God he was a ‘lost sheep’ who had found his way home. It was an occasion to celebrate, not one to castigate.

Unfortunately, Sally had, without realising it, chosen man’s way and not God’s way. She had been led by society to believe that just by attending church each week and paying her respects to God, she was classed as a moral and righteous individual of good character and principles. She would be horrified to realise that this wasn’t enough for God. He wanted her to try even harder and learn to open her heart to everyone she came into contact with.

The fact that Sally shunned the tramp and didn’t want him near her was a very natural human instinct, but I hope you can now see that there are two very different ways to approach this subject and that Sally was not as compassionate as she thought.

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Your motives are what count

It is the inner thoughts of a man that will justify him before God, not his claims to be righteous or the number of times he attends church. It is what his intentions are that count.

In this respect, even someone who claims to be non-religious but who sincerely helps others with acts of kindness will have these things credited to him before God.

How much more will the man who does believe in God have his good deeds credited to him than the man who doesn’t believe?

If you are still with me in this chapter, then you have my heartfelt congratulations, because it took me many years to truly understand what I’ve just condensed into a few pages, and I know it’s a very difficult concept to follow.

It is not easy to accept that you are sinful even though by society’s standards you are considered the most upright citizen in the world, and it’s not easy to overcome a preconditioned belief that society must always be right.

Nor can considerable numbers of us see that most of us prefer to spend our time gossiping about others, belittling them and calling them names. It’s the reason why television programmes such as Jeremy Kyle, where contestants berate each other for being cheats, frauds and liars, are so popular.

But that’s my whole point: although you might agree that you do delight in discussing another person’s shortcomings, or that you do have bad thoughts and sometimes feel angry, you most likely shrug this off as constituting no more than normal human behaviour, because if it was otherwise, society would have told you so.

I’m saying that this is not the case and that not only can you change, but you have an obligation to God to do so.

Next time you feel bad-tempered, are disparaging towards someone or find yourself calling a person fat, stupid or some similar name, just remember that although you are programmed to do this, you can change the way you react. Try to see the situation through God’s eyes and to see the other person in a more humane light. Imagine looking inside their soul and comprehending the problems they are facing or the hurt they are feeling. Perhaps then you will be able to change your opinion of them and to feel more sympathy or understanding for their plight. This is what God is asking of you.

Conclusions

Unless you realise that you cannot stop yourself from being sinful and you understand that you were born into sin, you cannot begin to forgive yourself when you feel that you have done wrong, and some people might feel worthless and a failure.

We are sinful by nature, and we fail to live by God’s values because our basic instincts do not revolve around love or compassion, but rely on the more base instincts of self-esteem, self-importance and self-gratification.

Only when you learn to forgive yourself will you also be able to forgive others, and then – and only then – can you begin the journey to finding the meaning of true love. No one whips your back harder than you do, so learn to be gentle and forgiving with yourself. By understanding that you were actually born into sin, you can begin to see why sometimes you think and act as you do and to realise that no matter how much you try, how good you become, you will always be a sinner in God’s eyes, because he wanted you to love everyone equally. We were born too self-centred to fully achieve such an all-encompassing emotion.

We may be able to control our actions or words so that we do not sin by society’s standards, but in our thoughts we will always harbour dislike and be judgemental of others. We cannot help it – we are born that way!

Hopefully you will also begin to make the same allowances for other people. Next time you feel annoyed, frustrated or intolerant, stop and try to see the situation through the other person’s eyes. Try to see some good in them and to change your opinion so that you learn to feel compassion, sympathy and understanding instead.

It will take practice, patience, willingness and understanding on your part, and, what’s worse, no one except God will give you any credit for it or even know that you are doing it. But you will.

Good luck!

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STEP TWO

Society’s values do not always coincide with God’s values, and man’s way is not the same as God’s way. As human beings we are programmed from birth to be self-centred, with emotions such as greed, hate and arrogance. Try as we might, it is virtually impossible for us to outgrow this phenomenon. God wanted us to aspire to love our fellow man and to foster emotions such as compassion and kindness, but although we can never totally master those values, by learning to control our emotions we can at least take a step in the right direction.

We need to learn to judge ourselves less and to be gentler with ourselves when we fail to live up to these high standards. Whilst we may not attain these ultimate heights, we should at least be proud when we have started on the journey. Then, when we are asked whether we have chosen society’s way or God’s way, we will at least be able to smile and answer that we’re on the right path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3 – Who am I?

In the world of Formula One motor racing, life is fast and furious. The cars hurtle round at hundreds of miles an hour, with pit stops carried out with millisecond precision. During the actual race, there is no time for contemplation and no room for error; risk and confrontation are at the very forefront of the action; and speed and courage form the order of the day.

Contrast this with sailing a narrowboat down the tranquil waters of a canal far from the madding crowd. There is no haste. Life is slow and peaceful. The birds are singing, and cattle and sheep drink quietly at the water’s edge.

If it were possible for Formula One cars and narrowboats to share the same track, there would be chaos, because the two are at such opposite ends of the scale that it’s hard to see how either could adapt.

In reality, this is exactly how humans do lead most of their lives: sharing them with others who have such diverse opinions and such different motivations that it’s not surprising that we often misjudge others, misunderstand their intentions or are hurt by their actions, because we are basically on different tracks in life and functioning at different speeds with different aims. We tend to judge everyone by our own standards, when in reality this is like the narrowboat owner telling the Formula One driver to slow down.

To make matters worse, as individuals our thoughts and feelings, over which we have little control, are constantly changing from hour to hour and situation to situation. We do not just portray one mood but convey a myriad of different feelings and emotions.

Changing personalities

Imagine you are standing in front of five full-length mirrors, each showing a different image of you.

In mirror one you are laughing and nearly crying with happiness. Your whole body is shaking with joy and your face is full of bliss. It might have been your wedding day, or the day your child was born; maybe you have just been given a puppy; or perhaps you are watching your child take its first steps, or you’ve just won the lottery.

By contrast, in mirror two you are angry. You are shouting at someone and wagging your finger at them. You are so angry at what they have just done and you cannot believe that anyone could be this stupid. Perhaps they have nearly killed you in their car. Or it could simply be your own child who is being exceptionally naughty, or your partner who is bearing the brunt of your anger.

In mirror three you are obviously in love to the degree that you appear to be floating above the clouds. Whether you are meeting your soulmate for the first time or are on your honeymoon, you are obviously overcome with love.

In mirror four you are distraught. The sadness you feel is so overwhelming that you don’t know how you are ever going to get through it. There might have been a death of someone close, or perhaps your partner has just told you that they no longer love you. Whatever has happened, tears are rolling down your face and your body has crumpled.

Finally, in mirror five you are frightened. Your body is rigid, your face is frozen, you can hardly speak and it’s difficult to draw breath. It could be that you’ve just been diagnosed with a serious illness or have learnt that you are going to be made redundant.

We could of course go on adding more and more mirrors, because you have many more emotions than just the five outlined above, and it’s important to realise what an effect these differing emotions have on your daily life.

So now we have five mirrors, each showing you in a different way. The question is: which of these is the real you?

The answer of course is that they all are. We change constantly from one emotion to the next, depending on circumstances, and this can happen many times each day. One moment we’re happy, the next sad, then perplexed, frustrated, angry and distraught. It’s part of human nature to experience these constantly changing feelings and emotions, but this makes life very difficult for those around us, because they have no way of knowing how we are feeling at any given moment in time.

For example, if I’d just had some terrible news and needed someone to confide in, but I came to you when you’re stressed and busy, then I’m unlikely to get much time or sympathy from you. You’re most likely to reply: “I’ve got too much to do – I haven’t got time to talk to you at the moment – go away.”

As a consequence, I would probably decide that you don’t care as much about me as I thought you did. These thoughts may last in my mind for years and years to come. In reality, I just caught you at a very bad time.

Different perceptions

Let’s look at another example that illustrates how one person’s hopes and aspirations can cause another confusion and despair. Imagine two young lovers who have been going out with each other for three years. The girl realises that she is pregnant. But when she tells her boyfriend, he admits that he would prefer her to have an abortion.

Let’s analyse this scenario. The boy had been very happy with their relationship and, unbeknown to his girlfriend, had been thinking about asking her to marry him. The problem was that they had no money and nowhere to live other than with either set of parents. This prospect terrified him. She didn’t particularly get on with his parents, and he hated her father with a vengeance.

He had been mulling this over and over in his mind and had come to the conclusion that, until they had saved more money, this was not an opportune time to get married or to have children. Then she told him she was pregnant.

She had been thrilled at the prospect of the two of them sharing a new home with the beautiful baby that she had always craved, but she had given no thought to the reality of their situation. She had simply expected him to be equally thrilled, to share her excitement and to be supportive. She was therefore stunned and devastated by his reaction.

Because of his response, she doesn’t believe that he ever loved her at all and feels that he has used her. She is confused as to how she could have misjudged him so badly and is bewildered by his reaction. At the end of the day, she feels that her life has collapsed. She is having a baby, has lost trust in the only person she ever loved and is in total despair.

This whole situation has come about not just because of a misunderstanding between them, but because he was not able to understand the emotions she was experiencing at that moment in time. However unrealistic, she had experienced a vision of domestic bliss and is now accusing him of destroying that dream. He on the other hand had simply wanted to ensure that they had a good start to their marriage before having children.

His was a practical approach; hers was an emotional one. But now both of them blame the other for being unreasonable, and are refusing to talk to each other.

That’s the difficulty with emotions. These ever-changing faces that we portray to other people do have consequences and can lead to confusion and despair. She was happy, excited and fulfilled, whilst he was scared, analytical and practical. Their emotional responses were polar opposites and there was no way that they could ever have met in the middle.

This is exactly how most of us lead our lives, and because we can never be certain how someone else is feeling, we often get things wrong. This makes it easy to upset someone or to appear to have misunderstood them.

So when you ask, “Who am I?”, the truthful answer is that sometimes you’re lonely, sometimes you’re sad, sometimes you’re happy and sometimes you’re angry, and yet we still expect everyone around us to understand how we are feeling at any moment in time, even though we can change from being ecstatically happy one minute to a totally different person a few seconds later.

Whilst you can’t change your emotions or those of others, you can start to take account of them. For instance, you can tell people in advance when you’re upset or stressed, and apologise in advance if you are being distant with them.

You can also make allowances for others and refuse to take things personally when they act out of character, and you can explain to other people why someone might be acting as they are.

By being constantly aware of them, you can begin to control and conquer your emotions and even begin to use them to your own advantage.

The vast majority of people would probably agree that the emotion they like to feel best and the one that gives them the most pleasure is happiness, and that if they could, they would choose to feel happy all the time.

Given that, if we let them, emotions would rule our lives by dictating how various events and circumstances make us feel, we should try to master our emotions so that it is our minds, and not situations around us, which control them.

Escape from yourself and be free

Be not afraid of the shadows,

That darken the path that you tread.

The fears and the doubts that beset you,

When wondering what lies ahead.

Remember they’re nothing but shadows,

And shadows are cast by the light.

So cling to the hope that is in you,

Then all will be well and come right.

Walk straight through the cobwebs of worry,

Just brush them aside and you’ll see,

The things that you feared were but phantoms,

Escape from yourself and be free.

When you feel in yourself inner peace,

And despair is a thing of the past.

When problems no longer seem problems,

And the guilt that you felt is a laugh.

Then the shadows that seemed to be darkness,

And despair that you felt will be gone

And life will be full of enchantment

And the real you will shine like the sun.

When thoughts of despair and self-pity,

Like shadowy ghosts haunt the mind,

You live in perpetual twilight,

No glimmer of hope will you find.

Walk straight through the cobwebs of worry,

Just brush them aside and you’ll see,

That the things that you feared were but phantoms,

Escape from yourself and be free.

(Author unknown)

Mastering our emotions

For many people, the time when they are happiest is when they achieve something, particularly when that involves giving pleasure to or helping others. It’s as though it’s a basic human instinct to want to assist others, to show and feel love, to give pleasure and to make those around us happy. In doing so, this also seems to bring contentment to the giver.

Compare this with how we actually live. We live in a society that is increasingly intolerant and aggressive, where news on television and in the newspapers seems to be increasingly depressing, and where our opinions are neither sought nor acted on. Crime is increasing, local social gatherings are decreasing and, in general, we are becoming more insular.

Additionally, human nature is such that we love to gossip, complain, moan and denigrate others. These are destructive tendencies that add little to beneficial living.

Is it surprising, therefore, that we no longer feel happy, are more confused and don’t know what our purpose is in life or what we are supposed to aspire to or achieve?

Some people would argue that happiness can be found in other ways: money, fame, holidays, luxury and constant entertainment. While I might agree that they can help or bring transient pleasure, they will not, by themselves, give you long-lasting inner happiness.

So we have a dichotomy. We may agree that we are happiest when we are helping others, giving pleasure or being kind; but, on the other hand, we are surrounded by negative pressures from the society around us. This could go some way to explaining why people become depressed, why they feel life is so empty and unfair, and why they wonder about the purpose of it all.

It also helps to explain why our emotions are in constant turmoil, because we have so little time to carry out those activities that give us most enjoyment.

Change

We can’t change society. We can’t change the attitude of those around us. But we can change ourselves, and the one aspect that we know is beneficial for us is to seek things such as joy, cheerfulness, gaiety, pleasure, merriment, light-heartedness and contentment. In other words, we should seek happiness!

That’s a goal which you can easily set for yourself and a goal that you will actually want to achieve. It’s also a goal that is realistic and one that you can measure to see if you’re succeeding.

It may sound overly simplistic, but I don’t think that sufficient people have stood back, analysed their lives to any great degree, considered what is stopping them being happy and worked out what they can do about it. One thing’s for certain: you won’t find happiness by modelling yourself on the way that the vast majority of people lead their lives.

We know that bringing happiness to others, bringing virtue to the world, trying to do good and trying to help others actually makes us as individuals feel better, but few of us consciously practise this. If you really took stock of your own life, could you really say that this is what you try to achieve on a daily basis?

Isn’t it truer that you love to gossip about others; call people fat, ugly or lazy; argue with your wife or husband over trivialities; and get annoyed when things don’t go your way? Of course you do – it’s basic human nature.

Let me give you an example of why this is so destructive. I used to own a residential home for the elderly. It was a very intense job, with everyone from the staff to the residents and their relatives expecting the highest of standards and rightly looking to me to uphold these.

Staff complained about their wages and the shift rotas and felt they were worked too hard, whilst residents complained if the tea was cold, if someone was sitting in their favourite chair or if the television was too loud. Relatives joined in, saying that their mother’s hearing aid wasn’t tuned in properly, she didn’t like the person she was sitting next to, or it was too hot in the room.

But everyone missed the point that although I was indeed the person to take serious complaints to, these constant niggles and gripes wore me down and sapped my energy. Had they only realised it, they should have tried to energise and invigorate me, because when I felt bright and stimulated, I could give more to both staff and residents. I had more time to sit and talk, to devise more interesting activities, and to feel confident in stepping that bit further to give the staff something extra.

Need to feel valued

Many people are forced to spend their whole life feeling dejected because nobody appears to value them, they have ideas but nobody wants to listen, and they are stressed because more and more work is piled on them with no thanks, no reward and no appreciation.

Work should be no different from the rest of your life. People need to feel valued, appreciated and wanted. They need to have a happy and friendly working environment, a place where they can share with others, where everyone appreciates each other and where, although tasks and deadlines have to be met, the work seems rewarding.

We should be encouraged to feel worthy, happy with our work, and happy with the environment and people around us. If not, then we wither inside and our enthusiasm and creativity similarly shrivel up.

We can only find happiness by being prepared to love and to give to other people. We cannot find it by cheating and lying, by stealing, or by gossiping and arguing.

But few people seem to realise that when everyone asks too much of you, they drag you down and make you feel sad and lonely, with nothing more to give, no enthusiasm and no confidence, so that you simply retreat into a corner.

The reality is that the more you boost someone’s confidence, the better you make them feel, and then the more they are able to give you back in return, which is exactly what I’m suggesting.

Learn to seek happiness by making those around you feel better about themselves.

It’s not that difficult to spread happiness. You can start by saying something nice to another person. It could be the shop assistant who serves you, and it might be as simple as you saying, “Your hair looks very good in that style,” or, “What a lovely smile you have.” Although I cannot guarantee it, hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised with the result. If you are, practise doing it more!

Alternatively, surprise your wife or husband by taking a proper look at them and then complimenting them on something. Again, it may be, “Your hair looks good like that,” or, “That was a beautiful meal.” Or you could buy a small bunch of flowers just to let them know how much you appreciate them.

If you have children, then give them a big special cuddle, tell them how beautiful they are, how special, how loved and how lucky you are. Again, if it’s successful, practise doing it more regularly until it becomes routine. You’ll be amazed at the results.

The single parent living in squalor on a crime-infested housing estate may find it more difficult to practise the lessons I have outlined, but it can be done. The influence of outside society may be greater in their case, but constantly looking for good, constantly focusing on even the smallest thing to brighten another person’s day, trying even in the tiniest way to help others or make them feel better about themselves will, I promise, eventually start to change your feelings about your own worth. This in turn will eventually lead to more inner harmony and happiness.

Everyone therefore does have a choice: to continue as they are, aimlessly wandering through life, or to embark on a new challenge and to try and create an environment around them which offers even a small glimmer of light and hope. The choice is yours!

Conclusion

We began this chapter by asking, “Who am I?”

I have, I hope, shown you that you are many things and that you present different and confusing images to other people – as indeed they do to you.

Because of this, many people misunderstand each other, and, in the long term, this leads to people becoming entrenched in their own position, which then leads to feelings of hate and despair. As a result, we become unhappy, and that unhappiness leads us to say and do things that hurt the other person.

If we could see, feel and experience life as someone else does, the world might seem a very different place to us.

For example, I’m an optimist who always sees the good in life and who always looks forward even to the most mundane things that life has to offer. I’m never bored and usually quite happy, but I know that others are the exact opposite. They see the world as being cheerless, with nothing to look forward to, and where I see light and shade in life, they see darkness and gloom.

But we forget this and assume that everyone else sees the world just as we do, so that when we say something to another person, we expect that they will understand the message in the same way that we meant it.

This is simply not the case. Firstly, it depends on the person’s own experiences and the lens through which they view life, and secondly it depends on which emotion they are feeling at that time.

It’s a minefield!

Suppose you woke up this morning feeling sad. It’s exactly three years to the day that your baby was stillborn, and although it doesn’t affect your daily life, the anniversary is particularly upsetting.

On top of that, you are a person who is very serious about life, and people are always saying that you should lighten up. Today, you know that’s impossible.

You go to work and the first person who meets you says with a huge grin,

“Guess what: I won £10 on the lottery last night, so today’s going to be a great day.”

Inside you can only think: Here’s a person who’s so shallow that a small win on the lottery makes their day. She should try having my life and feel how I do today.

So you reply, “Well, if that’s all it takes to make you happy, then I’m very glad for you.”

The other woman looks at your face and can see immediately that you are being sarcastic. She then spends the rest of the day telling everyone else in the office what a mean, miserable person you are, and by the end of the day you’re feeling so depressed and lonely that you just want to run away and hide.

This goes to show that not only do we have to try and understand for ourselves how and why we, as individuals, have emotions which change for no reason from second to second; we also have to try and guess how our actions are affecting others. To make matters worse, we also have to interpret how others are feeling at that exact same moment and to ensure that we are meeting their needs as well as our own.

Add to this our own thoughts about why and for what purpose we are here, and you have a situation which is so totally confusing that it’s not surprising that none of us know who we really are.

But there are ways to improve this situation. For example, boosting the confidence of those around you and making them feel better will also increase your own happiness and lead to a much more peaceful and tranquil life. Such actions will also enhance your own feelings of self-worth and pride.

So although we are very complex beings, we can, with a little patience and skill, learn to improve matters simply by being honest, staying calm and refusing to react to negative emotions, but also by trying to find the good in everyone and going the extra mile to help others.

This takes time, commitment and practice, but if you succeed and are genuine, other people will flock to you, because you will then come across as being kind and understanding.

STEP THREE

Learn to master your emotions so that everyday circumstances do not cause you stress or anxiety.

To avoid misunderstandings, tell people how you are feeling.

Seek happiness by making those around you feel better about themselves and boosting their confidence.

Do things that enhance your own feelings of worth and pride, but ignore gossip and negative situations.

 

Chapter 4 – Society

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Society is defined as a large group of people who live together in an ordered community. To understand the concept of a society, we must firstly understand the behaviour of the people who make up that community.

Just as there are two main theories relating to how the earth was formed, there are two different theories as to how human behaviour is acquired. This is known as the nature–nurture debate.

One theory states that all human behaviour is inherited through an individual’s DNA, which has been passed down through their ancestors over thousands of years, whilst the other argues that human behaviour is shaped and influenced through learned characteristics based on an individual’s life experiences and the environmental factors that surround them.

In other words, you either are born with a given set of characteristics (nature) or acquire them based on the environment in which you are brought up (nurture).

This can best be illustrated by taking the example of identical twins who are separated at birth. The nature debate argues that regardless of this separation, they will exhibit similar behavioural characteristics because they have inherited the same genes, whilst the nurture debate states that the behaviour of each will have been more influenced by their individual experiences and the surroundings in which they have been brought up. There will therefore be differences between the twins.

This is one of the oldest debates in history, but it leads to another theory which also shapes our lives, and this is called conditioning.

This concept is very important in our understanding of how people’s values are formed, because, to a large degree, conditioning means that we aren’t taking charge of our own destiny but are allowing it to be shaped by others.

If a child accidentally struck a match, for example, his parents would very soon teach him that this was dangerous and that he shouldn’t do it again. This form of control is a ‘learned action’ by which children gradually negotiate their way safely through life.

However, such control can also take more psychological and furtive forms, where the same child will quickly learn that unless he wants to be singled out, picked on or bullied, he must merge into the crowd.

Fitting in with the crowd simply means learning the ‘norms’ of what those around you expect. As long as you observe those norms, you are likely to be accepted.

In simple terms, conditioning means that, over time, new beliefs which you initially observed only because of the influence of others become an integral part of your own belief system.[lm9]

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The crowd

A crowd, a crowd,

a throng, a crowd,

the noise, hustle

and song

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Their voices raised

above the peace,

the sound echoes

along.

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Their bodies merge,

their forms unite,

the crowd is made

one heaving sight

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and as they push

their way along,

no room for me,

alone as one.

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Within this mass

no longer me,

I’m just the crowd,

as all can see.

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This poem tries to illustrate the way in which society shapes the individual. As part of society (the crowd), we have no real control over our actions. We are carried along by the momentum, and, not wishing to be picked out or seen as different from everyone else, we prefer to abide by the will of the majority.

Although we are obviously capable of independent thoughts and deeds, conditioning places very subtle forces and influences on us to accept society’s values and beliefs. Without us even knowing it, these forces form the basis of many of our thoughts, beliefs and opinions.

We are heavily influenced by our desire to conform to the society in which we live and to be accepted by those around us, but whilst we are willing to accept the restrictions imposed by such control, we somehow distance ourselves from the consequences of our collective actions.

For example, whilst most people believe that society is currently suffering from an increase in violence and a lowering of moral values, we refuse as individuals to blame ourselves or to take any responsibility for the situation.

We seem incapable of accepting that society is made up of each one of us collectively and that, as such, we do have an individual responsibility for society’s actions.

Therefore, we need to be aware that conditioning can dull our senses and cause us to accept situations that we would otherwise refuse to tolerate. We need to fight against our inner complacency and to constantly question and test our individual beliefs and values.

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Current society

How can we accept the fact that although we allow our children to view material of this kind in magazines or on television programmes, few of us would see this as acceptable if we, as parents, said or did exactly the same things in our own homes?Yet society appears content with this situation. As long as young girls want to buy magazines like this and shopkeepers are happy to sell them, society deems that these headlines are fully acceptable. The government is not introducing legislation or addressing these issues in any way; parents don’t see what they can do about it; editors are chasing money in the form of increased circulation; and the church appears to turn a blind eye.

Suppose that you had a child whom you were constantly telling was a failure: that they were fat, ugly and inferior to everyone around them. In many ways, this is exactly what is happening in modern society. Children cannot live up to the daily images of glamour and celebrity status which they see all around them, and as these images become increasingly unreal and fantasised, children’s self-esteem slips lower and lower. The sad thing is that this is exactly the society we have created for ourselves, and nobody seems to see this as a problem.

We need to remember the concept of conditioning, however, because the more our children are exposed to such content, the more they learn to accept it. Children are taught that society sets the moral values by which they should live, and the availability of this material thus teaches them Does the society in which you live today make you happy? Does it nourish your soul and make you feel as though you want to be more involved in making the world a better place? Do you feel safe and secure? Do people listen to your opinions? Is your loyalty rewarded, and are you surrounded by love, compassion and honesty?

If you answered these questions with a resounding no, then society should be worried.

A look at today’s society through the eyes of the media reveals a rise in global terrorism, political corruption, internet paedophilia and religious bigotry. We hear of no-go areas in many major cities, vandalism, racial tension and hatred, rising divorce rates, drug problems, and despair. In short, we are looking at a society which is deteriorating, where respect for others is vanishing and where the only real goals for people are to acquire material goods and pursue fame and fortune.

Celebrity status has become an icon in itself. But it is fickle; it requires that you maintain your good looks and appearance. Female celebrities have to maintain an invented image, with gleaming white teeth, the best designer clothes, great make-up, fabulous hair, magnificent breasts and a slim and attractive figure. In short, they have to look perfect. Newspapers and magazines even airbrush photos to make these ‘perfect people’ look even more perfect!

When we see these ‘beautiful people’ in the media, with their pouting lips and toned and curvy bodies, wearing skimpy clothes and striking suggestive poses, who exactly are they?The answer, of course, is that they are just like you and me. They have their own inadequacies and fears. Imagine when the person in one of these photographs sees the finished product, after it has been retouched and airbrushed and all the skin blemishes have been removed. I imagine that even they must look at this ‘perfect’ picture of themselves and feel that, in reality, in the flesh, they don’t measure up to it. The picture is a dream. No real person can live up to the perfect image which such pictures portray. This means that as a society, we are trying to emulate a fantasy.

Is this fair, and can the millions of ordinary people who follow these idols and dream of achieving such an image for themselves really achieve it?

More and more ordinary people are turning to plastic surgery. For most of them, it’s simply going to be a breast implant or a tummy tuck – they can’t afford the hundreds of thousands of pounds that the rich and famous pay to reach their desired goal. This leaves those who can’t afford it feeling ugly, isolated and lacking in self-esteem.

Yet we follow the rich and famous because advertisers indoctrinate us to believe that this could be us, if we take part in the dream. We copy our idols, try to emulate their dress code and style, and buy the brands that they advertise.

Men must have the car that’s advertised on television – the one that comes with the drink holder and the central locking. It has to feature automatic windows, radial tyres, a six-speaker stereo system and a ‘sports mode’ button as well. Women should go on the latest diet, spray on expensive designer perfume and hunt out the most fashionable wardrobe. Children need the latest mobile phone with the new digital-imaging facility, the computer with the high-tech capability, the designer trainers that cost the earth and the ghetto blaster with added ‘whoomph’.

In addition to the pressure to acquire branded and designer goods, children are exposed to questionable material on the internet, on television and in magazines.

To demonstrate what I mean, I’ve purchased two of the weekly magazines bought by young people, particularly females. One is aimed at teenagers and the other at 20- to 30-year-olds.

Here are a few of the headlines from these magazines:

I slept with my brother!

I’ve stopped hating my baby at last!

Celeb’s body battles!

My girl farts just like me!

X hopes losing three stone will stop her hubby straying!

It was mother against daughter!

Kids you’re rubbish!

My wife loves kinky role play!

These headlines have been written by people who themselves probably have young children, but it’s unlikely that they would go home to their own family and say to their children, “Your father and I had kinky sex,” or “You’ll never guess what – I slept with Uncle Peter last night.”

that such activities are both normal and acceptable.

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The consequences

At face value we live in a society where the strong and the powerful prevail and where the poor and the weak – those unable to cope through age or infirmity, the pensioners, the war veterans and the poverty stricken – are placed at the very bottom of the pile.

Society has chosen to ignore these people because they do not have a voice which is strong enough to be heard. Society has become too busy; too motivated; too focused on the rich, famous and successful. It’s a life that many people also agree is conditioning the young to strive for personal gain at any cost.

If this is true, then it is a sorry indictment of our society.

Our lack of influence?

A few years ago I rented a lovely cottage on the east coast. It was situated just 50 metres from the sea and my dog enjoyed the walks in the sand dunes which surrounded it.

The weather had been very good, but it was late in the season and at night it became freezing cold with biting winds.

One day we took our usual dusk walk and came across a drunken man who was staggering around on the sand dunes. He wore very flimsy clothing that was not suitable for the changing conditions and he had nearly a full bottle of whisky in his hand.

As I watched him, he lay down on the sand facing the sea, and it was obvious that he was going to stay there for some time. It was turning cold. I was worried that if he drank the rest of the bottle and fell asleep, there was a serious risk that he could die of hypothermia.

I went over to warn him of this, but in his inebriated state he was beyond reason and made little sense. I therefore decided to call the police.

I explained the circumstances, including the severity of the weather forecast, but they insisted it was nothing to do with them and that I should have called the ambulance service. They didn’t offer to make the call or ask for my details so that they could check that I had; they merely suggested that I phone the ambulance service.

I was astounded. Here I was warning them of a potentially life-threatening situation, and they didn’t want to know.

It left me feeling as though I was overreacting and had bothered the police unnecessarily. I genuinely debated if I should now leave the man there and hope for the best.

But I didn’t, and if I had, I am still convinced that with his lack of suitable clothing and the weather already turning freezing cold, he may well have been dead the following morning. I therefore called the ambulance service, which turned up within minutes and took the man away to safety.

If I had been the prime minister or the local mayor, no doubt things would have been very different. A dozen police officers would have turned up within seconds of my original phone call, and a television crew would have been hastily arranged to proclaim that I was a hero who had, in conjunction with our valued police services, saved a man’s life.

Here, in a nutshell, you can see the problem with society.

Although society is not some isolated, theoretical or fictional body and is argued to work by the combined presence of all of us acting in unison, in reality individuals such as you and me have very little influence over the institutions which administer society’s directives.

As an individual, for example, I can’t just call up the police and insist that they help a man in distress. I have to accept that they know best and are following the policies laid down by society.

But I would argue that because people sense that they are being pushed to the periphery, more and more vulnerable people are beginning to feel afraid, desolate and alone.

They are bewildered by a world which has marginalised them, and they cannot understand how this has happened. Society increasingly tells them to be careful of anyone who knocks on their front door, to be alert around strangers, to be wary of bogus phone calls and not to go out late at night. As a result, many people huddle behind closed curtains, do not open their front door and are no longer willing even to share a smile with their neighbours.

And it leads also to a community where the young are left to flounder, with no guidance regarding respect, dignity or social cohesion and where the ordinary man is frightened to approach or even smile at children.

Need for inclusiveness

Society is supposed to be about inclusiveness, about making people care for the world they live in, and about feeling happy and fulfilled that they are genuinely improving matters around them and contributing to the betterment of their fellow man, because as human beings, this is exactly what we all need: to feel good about ourselves.

Society should offer us this opportunity to contribute, to feel valued with a sense of purpose, to be part of a greater cause where our views are not only sought but are also respected and seen as being of worth. My contention is that our current society is not achieving this. Instead it seeks the exact opposite, where ordinary people are totally excluded from any form of decision making or shared responsibility. We might vote on election day, but other than that, there is little that we can do, even when we see things going wrong.

Conclusion

Society is never going to change unless we, as the individuals who make up that community, accept that both individually and collectively we have a part to play in that change.

We have already seen that we cannot have much effect on society’s larger institutions, but we can make a real difference to that small part of society – our family, friends and neighbours – with which we come into daily contact.

By determining that you want to make a difference, you can start to look at ways in which you might achieve this.

Let me give you an example.

Two weeks ago I ordered some wall panelling off the internet that was to be delivered within ten days. Shortly after, I received a handwritten card from the company, thanking me for choosing them.

I was surprised, because in this day and age, very few companies have such personalised customer care. The delivery was efficient, prompt and friendly, and although the female driver was only at my house for a few minutes, she actually gave me a kiss on the cheek to thank me again for my order.

Clearly this company impressed me because not only had it found a niche in the market, it also went out of its way to genuinely thank its customers for shopping with them.

We can only achieve this sort of society if each of us individually accepts that we have our own part to play, decides what our part is and then goes out of our way to deliver that aim.

In this way we can shape society – or at least a very small part of it. But unless we consciously determine to do so, then nothing will ever change.

Remember – You are society!

 

STEP FOUR

Society plays a very important role in shaping the sort of person we become, because it conditions us to accept the laws and values which it establishes.

These laws and values are determined by the leaders of the community, but they are constantly changing to mirror the needs of modern society, and sometimes this leads to specific sections of the community being disadvantaged

Ordinary people have negligible power in this situation, but as an individual, you can make a change to a small section of the society around you.

That in turn might spread or inspire others to do the same, and, eventually, it could lead to a much bigger change.

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Chapter 5 – What’s the purpose of it all?

When we are born we have nothing

When we die we take nothing

So why then in life do we strive to achieve

That which we cannot keep?

The mystery of our existence

My friend Robert lives in a small flat in Salford. His garden, which is also quite small, has a high brick wall all the way round it. Robert is very happy with this arrangement because he has a house cat called Holly.

Provided that nothing is leant up against the wall, Holly is perfectly safe, and Robert is fastidious in ensuring that things remain that way. The reason he is so paranoid about her getting out is that on the other side of the wall, there is a dual carriageway. Holly, having no road sense at all, would not last five minutes if she ever made it that far.

At the grand old age of 16, Holly isn’t as adventurous as she once was, but she is proof that Robert’s caution has paid off. He has protected her because he knows she is incapable of imagining what the outside world is like. She has no concept whatsoever of the enormity of the world at large and only knows and understands that very small part to which she has access.

And we’re the same. Our minds are not capable of considering the wider aspects of the universe or the mysteries of our existence. We’re not able to understand the inexplicable concept of infinity any more than we are able to make sense of the realities of death.

In essence, then, as our minds are so feeble, we are no different to the cat. We exist, explore our surroundings and then we die.

To a large extent, there seems little purpose to it all.

A life without meaning

Imagine that for your whole working life you only had one job: nearly 50 years of doing the same thing every day, day in and day out.

Let’s say that your job is to produce a small box. The box has two round holes at opposite ends and is painted bright yellow. A skull and crossbones is franked on the top, and on the bottom it has some form of bracket to which another part, not produced in your workshop, is obviously to be attached.

For 50 years you have been producing these boxes, but no one has told you what they are for, there’s no obvious use that you can think of and you don’t even know what happens to them after they leave your factory. Occasionally you ask a colleague or your boss, but everyone just shrugs and gives the same answer: they don’t know the purpose of them.

Not a single person in the whole of these 50 years has had any idea what these boxes are for, and, what’s more, nobody really cares. They just get on with making them, day in and day out.

You would have thought that they would at least want to know a bit more about the work, because otherwise, how could they ever feel passion or desire to do the job? How can they become motivated or have pride in their work?

It’s strange that when it comes to the even more important questions, such as what life is all about, most people act exactly the same: they just shrug and say they don’t know.

Incredibly, this is exactly how most of us lead our lives. We get on every day with living it, without questioning it and without worrying or bothering to understand what meaning it has.

If you don’t know why you’re here, where does the incentive even to get out of bed every day come from? What can possibly stimulate or inspire you each day?

Substitute activities

The answer is that we find substitute activities which do provide us with a purpose each day. In the factory above, for example, the workers would fill their lunchtime using mobile phones to play games, reading the newspaper or even starting a card school. Because the real work is so boring and demotivating, workers would instead spend all morning looking forward to this alternative activity. The lunchtime break would take up more and more of their energy and be extended for as long as possible to compensate for their dull work life.

Real life is the same. To compensate for the lack of meaning in our lives, we undertake other activities to pass the time, and gradually these take over our daily living. Increasingly people are turning to mind-numbing pastimes such as alcohol and drugs. They do this purely because there is no other meaning to their lives, and as human minds crave stimulation, they turn to alternatives such as mindless entertainment, gossip and other ways of blotting out reality – anything to ease the monotony or numb their brains.

Although there’s a difference between needless activity and necessary work, none of these things, including substitute activities, constitutes a purpose in life.

Purpose

I look down on the earth below

And ponder on where I should go

To north or south or east or west

To learn God’s lessons, which would be best?

Be poor or rich, or weak or strong

Deaf, dumb or mute or a healthy one

For now I must return once more

To learn the lessons not learnt before

Choosing your own purpose

Many women’s lives are taken up with looking after their children, and by no stretch of the imagination can this be regarded as a meaningless activity. Such work is both purposeful and all-consuming, accounting for a large part of their time.

But it does not constitute the ‘whole purpose’ of their lives. If their whole purpose was simply to bring up children, where would that leave them when those children eventually left home? Although their ‘job’ throughout their life may be to devote themselves to raising their children, these mothers still have their own individual destiny and their own reason for existing, which is different from their daily purpose.

Few people I know have actually worked out what this individual reason for their existence is. They know what their job is, and they know what activities take up most of their time, but they haven’t given much thought as to what the actual destiny of their life is. They plod on aimlessly each day, doing things of a repetitive nature with no real thought about the matter.

Gifts from God

The Bible says: “Each man has his own gift from God. One has this gift, another has that.”

If that is true, then we should at least give some thought as to what the gift is that God has given to each of us individually.

It may be that you are good at listening to people, or that you are blessed with the gift of laughter, good humour, kindness, understanding or the ability to comfort others. But blessed with some ability you undoubtedly will be, regardless of whether or not you have realised it yet and whether or not it was from God.

These are things that you won’t need to search very hard for, or to learn. They will already be an instinctive part of your character, a gift that you simply need to practise more.

When you do discover it, cherish it, use it often, don’t dismiss it and don’t hide it away or be embarrassed by it either.

Individual destiny

It is generally acknowledged that whatever is uppermost in your mind will be the thing that you spend most of your life focusing on. For example, if you are seeking fame, then you will likely spend most of your life comparing yourself against others, and this could lead to you becoming jealous and vain.

If you are seeking fortune, you may spend your time seeking money and you could then become greedy and envious, whereas if you spend your time seeking spirituality, you will most likely spend your life searching for tranquillity, peace and harmony.

Whilst some things are beyond your choice, your life is not preordained and it is you who decides which direction to take. If you have a job or a family, you have to earn money to support them, but this is not the sole purpose of your life. You have a higher purpose – a destiny – and it is up to you to determine what that is.

You may see yourself as a peacemaker, or a friend to others in need. You may see yourself as a person who spreads joy and laughter or someone who offers practical help and advice. None of these constitute your job. They simply give a deeper meaning to your life: a direction, or a destiny.

For many people this destiny will be linked to their gift from God, and by practising, experimenting with and expanding that gift, they may be surprised at what new paths in life open up for them.

But if you are simply seeking fame and fortune, then that is an end in itself. You would be more interested in promoting yourself and the acquisition of wealth than in helping others. The main purpose of your life – your sole destiny – would then have become self-promotion and the acquisition of money.

As an individual, then, you are free to follow your own path, to create your own destiny. You can simply ignore any gifts you might have and carry on as you are now, or you can choose to seek a different destiny at any time – the choice is entirely yours.

But there are many people for whom money, fame or power has become their only purpose in life. Society often holds such individuals in high esteem, and many people revere and follow their example. Occasionally these celebrities may give to charity or carry out some other equally good deed, but in the main, their whole consuming purpose in life is the search for increasing fame and wealth.

So although your life is not preordained and it is you who determines which direction to take, some decisions can dictate your path. To this degree your destiny can be affected by what you are seeking in life.

Are we all different in this regard?

There have been many theories put forward as to what the purpose of life actually is. These tend to range from the search for supreme knowledge by the evolutionists to the search for supreme spirituality by the religious.

Both of these ignore the fact that each of us differs in our motivation to want to know what our purpose is. For example, I have searched for my own purpose virtually all of my life. I was simply born wanting to know. I have no idea why; it’s just a part of my personality and nature. Others have no interest in the subject whatsoever.

Either way, the lack of understanding leaves many people aimlessly meandering through life with no particular plan, no aspirations, bored and looking for substitutes that are often damaging or dangerous for them.

Is death connected to our purpose?

How can we possibly hope to understand what the purpose of life is when we can’t even agree how the earth was formed? In chapter 1 we met Anna, who said that a question which had ‘no place to land’ was ‘no question at all’. In other words, unless there is an answer to be found, there is no point in asking the question in the first place.

For example, there are only two possibilities regarding death. One is that when you die you totally cease to exist; the second is that there is a life of some description after death. We can’t possibly know the answer until after we die, so Anna would say that it was a pointless question. Quite simply, it has ‘nowhere to land’.

It is only a pointless question, however, if there is nothing that follows death. You can’t try to find an answer to something which doesn’t exist.

But if there was to be life after death, then it is no longer a pointless question, because it stands to reason that if there was, then we should be spending our time on earth working to prepare ourselves for that afterlife.

Now we have constructed a question of which Anna would approve: what should we do, here and now, to prepare ourselves just in case there is another life after death?

It’s still a hypothetical question, because there may not be a next life, but we are legitimately seeking to understand what we should do if an afterlife did exist and how we should go about investigating that possibility.

A higher being

Our minds are so small and limited that we are incapable of finding the answer to questions such as those above, but we can still seek a better understanding of the matter.

The possibility of a life after death can only accord with the prospect of a higher being, and so our next question might be: if there is a higher being, what is he likely to want from us?

The only place I know of that gives any answers to that question is the Bible. Although it doesn’t offer proof positive as to whether there is a life after death, it is at least full of advice about how you should lead your earthly life in preparation for such an eventuality.

Following Anna’s mantra, then, we have constructed an answer to the question: what is the purpose of life? It is that we should try to lead our lives in accordance with the values that would be acceptable to a higher being and that these are likely to be similar to those contained in the Bible.

We haven’t quite answered the question, but we have at least found an acceptable answer that offers us realistic advice on how we should best approach this unfathomable subject.

The spiritual guide

There was a man who went to see his spiritual teacher.

“How come I always have thoughts of jealousy and greed?” he asked. “I’m always seeking fame and fortune, whilst you always seem so serene and peaceful.”

The teacher replied, “I will answer your question, but firstly I have to tell you that I’m afraid you only have 24 hours to live.”

The man was shocked, but he knew that the teacher was a man of God and that he was full of knowledge and wisdom, and so he believed him.

“Now to your question,” continued the teacher. “Let us discuss it.”

“I can’t,” said the man. “I’ve only got 24 hours to live and there are things that I must do. I need to go and see my parents and put things in order.”

After he had done this, and with just three hours remaining, the man lay on his bed to contemplate his life. When there was one hour left, there was a knock on the door, and there stood his teacher.

“I can’t speak with you now,” said the man. “I’ve only got an hour left and I must make peace with God.”

“You’re not going to die,” replied the teacher. “The exercise was to teach you the answer to your question. In the last 24 hours, have you had any thoughts of greed or jealousy?”

“Of course not,” replied the man. “I’ve been busy thinking about death.”

“And what about fame and fortune?” continued the teacher. “Have you been seeking them in the last 24 hours?”

“No,” replied the man. “I’ve been busy trying to make my peace with God.”

“Can you now see that what is uppermost in your mind at any one time determines how you will lead your life?” the teacher asked. “If you seek fame and fortune, then you will suffer greed and jealousy also. But if you think about death, then you will seek the things of God. You asked me why I appear so peaceful and tranquil. You’ve been thinking about death for 24 hours; I’ve been thinking about it for 24 years!”

My own journey

Many years ago I came across a famous poem which affected me so much that I adopted it as my own philosophy on how to lead my life. I’ve tried ever since to live by its teaching, and I still refer to it if I have a dilemma to solve.

I have found it to be easy to understand, and its message at first glance seems crystal clear. But I have also found that if you study it when the problems you face appear insurmountable, then the poem takes on a more profound and deeper meaning. It was found in Old St. Paul’s church in Baltimore dated 1692.

Desiderata poem

Go placidly amid the noise and haste

And remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible and without surrender,

Be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly

And listen to others,

Even the dull and ignorant:

They too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,

They are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself to others,

You may become vain and bitter,

For always there will be greater

And lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements

As well as your plans.

Keep interest in your own career,

However humble:

It is a real possession in the

Changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,

For the world is full of treachery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;

Many persons strive for high ideals,

And everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself,

Especially do not feign affection.

Neither be cynical about love,

For in the face of all aridity and disenchantment

It is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of years,

Gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit

To shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,

Be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,

No less than the trees and stars;

You have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,

Whatever you conceive Him to be,

And whatever your labours and aspirations,

In the noisy confusion of life

Keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,

It is still a beautiful world.

Be careful, strive to be happy.

The Dalai Lama

There is a more practical way of taking stock of your own life, and that is to judge yourself against the advice of others who have earned respect in this field.

The Dalai Lama, for example, has given the following guidance as advice on achieving ‘good karma’.

1. Realise that great love and great achievements involve great

risk.

2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

3. Follow the 3Rs: respect for self, respect for others, responsibility

For your actions.

4. Remember that not getting what you want is often a stroke of

luck.

5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great relationship.

7. When you realise you’ve made a mistake, move to correct it

immediately.

8. Spend some time alone every day.

9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.

10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

11. Live a good, honest life, and when you are older and think back,

You’ll enjoy it a second time.

12. A loving atmosphere at home is the foundation of your life.

13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current

situation.

14. Don’t bring up the past.

15. Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.

16. Be gentle with the earth.

17. Once a year, go somewhere you’ve never been before.

18. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love

for each other exceeds your need for each other.[lm15]

19. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get

it.

This may not be quite the same as finding your whole purpose in life or your unique destiny, but trying to live by this guidance is not a bad start along that path.

Conclusions

Most people do not question why they exist, and this leads them to meander aimlessly through life with no purpose or structure. Because human beings crave order, they create substitute activities to fill their time, but these are often harmful or dangerous for them.

Besides our daily activity, we also have an individual higher purpose for being on earth, and it is for us to determine what that is. Without proof of what comes after death, it is difficult for us to know what the purpose of life is, but we can reasonably assume that if there is an afterlife, it must involve a higher being.

The only reference that offers guidance to a higher being is that contained in books such as the Bible, and we can therefore use these as a reference guide to see how we should prepare for the possibility of another life.

In the main, these talk about things such as gaining wisdom and patience, walking in the light, loving one another and taming the tongue. They also warn against oppression and false teachers and encourage you to pray directly to God.

STEP FIVE

You are free to choose your own destiny in life, but the Bible says that each man has been given his own gift from God. That might be the gift of being good at listening to people, the ability to constantly be happy or the gift of compassion and forgiveness, but without doubt, each of us has something.

As a starting point to our own purpose in life, we should each try to work out what our own unique gift is and to learn to use that for the benefit of others.

If there is a life after death, then we should at least attempt to live by a set of standards that accord with that possibility.

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Chapter 6 – So what can I do?

In today’s society anyone who professes to love themselves is usually considered arrogant, but unless you do so, you are unlikely to be able to love other people.

Jesus went further, he asked us to “Love your neighbour as yourself” and not surprisingly, this is very similar to one of the Ten Commandments in the Bible.

This simply means that you are supposed to love everyone you come into contact with and it must follow that you only want the very best for them, just as you do for your own family. If you put other people’s needs before your own, it would also be impossible for you to break most of the other Ten Commandments.

For example, the majority of us are incapable of stealing from our own children. The mere thought of robbing them is unimaginable. The same would apply if you were able to feel such all-encompassing love for everyone else that you met. You certainly wouldn’t steal from them or commit adultery with their spouse. You wouldn’t covet their possessions, give false testimony against them or murder them. In other words, the Ten Commandments stem from true love.

Many of us are incapable of showing this degree of love for total strangers. We might feel it for our own family, but we instinctively know that’s where it ends. We might be able to show charity, kindness or compassion to strangers, but that’s about it. There’s certainly no unbridled love for them.

I don’t mean that it’s impossible, simply that at this moment in time, very few of us will have achieved the ability to love everyone equally. The world would be a marvellous place if we knew that everyone we met was sincere and only wanted the very best for us. Most of the problems in the world come about for exactly the opposite reason: we know that many people can’t be trusted, and we therefore learn from a very early age to be wary of them.

For the vast majority of us, it will be our own families and family life which will have formed our understanding of love. It’s part of a child’s upbringing to experience love, and, in turn, it’s part of a parent’s responsibility to freely and unconditionally give love and to teach their children accordingly. After all, if we can’t love our own children, then we will never find love for ourselves.

Most of us can look at our own family – our parents, our spouse and our children – and see just how much love and effort we have invested in these relationships. But sometimes these go wrong, and then we feel guilty and blame ourselves.

For the vast majority of people, however, and whatever their circumstances, they will have done their very best to maintain some form of rapport with their family, even though it may not have worked out as well as they had hoped. Inevitably we will all have made mistakes from time to time, got things wrong, failed someone or hurt them in some way; but this does not diminish the true depth of our love. And if we then make an attempt to put matters right, whatever the result of that, we should at least be very proud of our efforts.

Your own achievements may be small or big, but whatever they are, praise yourself as much for what you try to achieve as for the final outcome. There will be many times when you cannot attain your goal and where others will criticise your lack of effort. But if you honestly tried your best, with a good heart and for the right reasons, then even if you don’t accomplish your task, congratulate yourself for at least trying.

Our short stay

Our life is but a short stay.

We are born, exist,

develop as people

and eventually pass on our way.

Some have fame in life,

others have riches,

notoriety; others

have pain and strife.

But in the vastness of time,

earthly merits, rewards,

royalty or fame, are small.

These attributes leave no sign.

Now a more humble man

who meanders through life

has little to boast of,

remember or tell.

For to him his contribution

(if you can call it that)

is small, in comparison

to the others’ span.

But true fame should last.

It should be as though

throughout this life you have made

an impression – a cast.

And what better mould to leave

than a family – whose existence

is assured throughout eternity,

modelled on your seed.

And as the generations grow

in remembrance of the founder,

they can look back – to you:

“He created our family, you know.”

So if true wealth is found

in loyalty, devotion,

love and happiness,

all of which in you abound,

you can ponder the fact

that as the future unfurls,

your words will go forward

as a monument to yourself.

For there is no better way

to be remembered,

to be honoured

in this life,

our short stay.

The poem asks us not to strive to achieve material goals such as fame, monetary rewards or power, but to seek instead more spiritual attributes such as love, compassion and understanding for others. By doing so, we will leave on earth a worthwhile tribute to ourselves that will bear fruit in future generations.

Although we cannot hope to change the whole world or even the major part of the society in which we live, we can make a small difference to our own family and friends, and, in turn, that might influence them to change also.

So where the poem speaks about families “growing in remembrance of the founder”, it is simply trying to illustrate that future generations may well be shaped by what you teach those around you today, and that your actions can therefore make a huge difference.

So besides striving to find inner love for ourselves, we should also try to find some form of love (or kindness, compassion or caring) for everyone we meet. We may never truly succeed with this aim, but the world will be a much greater place because we have tried.

Conquering negative thoughts

One of the ways we can enhance our ability to love ourselves is to try and overcome negative thoughts.

You may have heard of or even seen a film called Pollyanna. Just as Anna, the child in our opening chapter, believed passionately in her ‘Mister God’, so Pollyanna believed passionately in ‘being positive’.

No matter how bad the circumstances, Pollyanna would look for reasons to be cheerful. The film was about how her attitude impacted on all the people around her – made them feel good, helped to improve situations and made the world a brighter place to live.

We can’t all be Annas or Pollyannas, but there is certainly a lesson to be learnt here. Just by constantly training ourselves to look for the positive we can have an impact on everyone around us, which, in turn, makes us feel better as well.

We’ve all learnt to judge ourselves too harshly. We look at people of our own age and constantly ask how they seem happier than us – how come they’re more confident, have more friends or seem to be better mothers?

You already know the answer; you already know that it’s not true. The person with a million friends is the butt of their jokes when she’s not in their company; the perfect mother weeps and wails endlessly behind closed doors because she can’t cope, but feels she needs to keep up appearances in front of others.

Many of these people appear cool, confident and in control on the outside because they learnt how to achieve this in their youth. They were told not to show emotion: don’t let others see you cry; always keep up appearances; keep a stiff upper lip.

What I’m asking you to do is simply to be honest. Don’t pretend to others that you’re perfect – show them that you too are vulnerable, that you get things wrong, that you hurt and cry and that, just like them, you’re trying to get through life in the best way that you know.

We all have one thing in common in this life of ours. We’re human beings – that’s all we are. You’re not better than me, no matter how good looking you are or how much money you have, and I’m not better than you, no matter how slim my figure is or how well I dress.

We’re exactly the same: just people muddling through. But in that muddle, we can help each other out a little and try to work out who we are and what our own place in that muddle is.

It’s time for you to relearn who you are and what you believe in. You might be quite surprised when you start confronting some of your own beliefs to see that, actually, you don’t really agree with them at all. It’s just that you’ve always been told something and you’ve never really taken the time and trouble to question it.

Why do I want you to do this? Simply because until you find yourself – work out who you really are, what you like, what you believe in and how you view yourself – you’re never going to move forward as a person. You will always just say what comes into your head because that’s what you’ve always been told.

Once you know who you are, are happy inside yourself and love yourself, then no matter what insults people hurl at you, nothing will matter. You will know the real you and will not be affected by what other people think.

If you really know yourself and are happy in your own skin, why would you be bothered what other people say? Why would you be bothered that you don’t look like the glamour models in magazines? You’ll be too busy being happy with yourself to take any notice of the shallowness of the outside world.

Growing up

Many years ago I visited a hypnotherapist, who was a wonderful man. I’d been to him to try and stop smoking. He was such a genuine person that I recommended him to a couple of female friends.

Shortly after going to see him, both of these women left their husbands. He did such a good job at making them question their own lives and helping them to realise who they were that they decided that the life they were leading was not what they really wanted.

Both of these women were transformed. They went on to lead much more fulfilled and happy lives. They were more confident, freer and, at last, knew who they were.

That’s because this hypnotherapist made them question themselves, analyse who they were and face up to reality. That’s something that few of us ever do.

I’m not hoping that you will leave your partner, but I certainly am advocating that the biggest favour you can do for yourself is to work out who you really are and to ask yourself if you are happy with the person you have become.

If not, then change things!!!

Think for yourself

From the very second you are born, you are told what to do and what to think. Your parents, grandparents, neighbours, schoolteachers, the police and even the Government will all have tried to tell you what to think, what to believe and how to act.

It’s incredible how strong these early sentiments are in programming our lives, and, to a large degree, they are necessary. You need to be taught right from wrong, to know not to burn yourself and the like; but, in all of this conditioning, there’s also a lot of rubbish that you need to learn to throw away. Early conditioning in childhood affects the rest of our lives, and most of us acquiesce to the advice we were given without even questioning it.

Even in their 50s and 60s many adults have not moved on from this early childhood conditioning. I have neighbours of that age who still say, “Well, my mother always told me never to …” The problem is that although some of the advice and knowledge which they gave may have been good, it will also have included many of the fears and prejudices of the person who imparted that knowledge.

It never ceases to amaze me how so few adults manage to outgrow these preconceived ideas from their childhood. As adults, we should learn to question every assumption that we hold and to gradually replace those that we realise we now disagree with. Only those considered opinions which we have formed ourselves and which we absolutely agree with should be retained.

Judging ourselves

In chapter 4 we looked at the power of society and the way in which it shapes our view of ourselves. We may consider ourselves too fat, too ugly or not very intelligent, and that means that we feel inferior. We are exceptionally good at whipping our own backs, and this in turn shapes the way we feel about ourselves.

This is partly because society has taught us to do this. If we are rich, we are considered untrustworthy, unapproachable and mercenary; if we are down and out, we are considered a thief, a charlatan and someone to be wary of. If we are ordinary people, others judge us just as harshly: she’s fat, he’s stuck up, that child is ugly … We learn to judge others and ourselves extremely harshly and spend a lot of time feeling guilty about a wide range of things.

This chapter is not about judging yourself; it is about rediscovering the real person within you and learning to both love and be proud of that person. Yes, of course, learning to be proud of the fact that you are a good person will lead to other people judging and criticising you, but that’s their problem. They have exactly the same opportunity as you to find inner happiness, love and peace.

Try to take notice every time you start to feel guilty, to worry unnecessarily, to tell yourself you are fat or to take a big whip to yourself. Look inside yourself and remember back to when you were a child. Look for the things that you liked about yourself; remember the times you helped others and the good feelings you had as a result. It’s time to start loving yourself. For some people, that is not going to be achieved overnight. For most, however, the process of learning to love themselves is not that difficult – it’s merely a habit that they’ve got out of.

Forgiveness and guilt

One of the greatest harms that human beings inflict on themselves is to suffer from guilt or to refuse to forgive others.

If we refuse to forgive others, then we also harm ourselves, because these negative feelings fester inside us. They cause us distress and anxiety and prevent us from leading a peaceful and tranquil life.

While it may be difficult to forgive others, failing to do so can mean that you are causing yourself harm by placing a barrier between you and love.

It’s the same with guilt. It forms a barrier to our ability to love ourselves.

In my own circumstances I simply refuse to feel guilt. If I have a choice to make, I always choose the most realistic option and the one which I believe does not cause any other person unnecessary harm.

That’s not to say that I have never done things that upset other people – only that I have always chosen what I believed to be the right thing to do at that moment in time.

This means that I don’t have to waste my time suffering guilt, because I know that whatever the circumstances, I always considered other people in any decisions I made.

I learnt this lesson very early on in my quest to find God, because I realised that I could never live up to the high standards that seemed to be expected of me. I therefore spent my entire time feeling guilty and questioning if I should do this or that or even take some other path.

It was then that I realised that all I could do was my honest best. As long as I always did that, I could do no more. It didn’t matter if I made the right or the wrong choice; I only had to make an honest choice that caused the least harm to others.

This has offered me unbelievable freedom, because I no longer have to fight my inner demons in terms of whether I have made the right or the wrong decision. I know that I cannot always get it right, but as long as I’ve thought about others, then I absolve myself of guilt, because I know that I would have made any decision for the right reason.

It’s the same with forgiveness. If you want the inner freedom to be yourself and not to suffer from hate or negative thoughts, then learn to forgive and absolve others just as I have learnt to absolve myself.

The fragile mind

This ability to suffer from unnecessary guilt or negative thoughts shows just how fragile our minds are. Often it is our subconscious minds which dictate our inner thoughts and we have little control over this situation.

This fragility shows itself in other ways where, having experienced something once, it is impossible to return to our previous naivety or to pretend that the subject doesn’t exist. It’s a difficult concept to understand, but if we take the example of pornography, once it’s been experienced, it’s impossible for most people to get it out of their minds. It’s as if their mind has been corrupted, as though they have flicked a switch on and they can never turn it off again.

It’s a bit like the story of Adam and Eve. That story is fundamentally about two people who were totally innocent but then experienced sin. The only way God knew that they had lost their innocence was when they started wearing fig leaves to cover themselves. Having lost their innocence by experiencing desire, there was no way they could ever get this innocence back.

It’s only recently, with the arrival of my next door neighbours’ little girl, that I’ve begun to understand this concept properly.

At the age of three, she is a great one for running around without any clothes on, but as she is still totally naive and innocent, it doesn’t even occur to her that she is naked. She obviously suffers no shame or embarrassment because she has no concept of nudity and is just enjoying herself.

She may well know the difference between having clothes on and not wearing clothes, but she has no understanding whatsoever of the concept of nakedness.

She isn’t aware of what adults think about nakedness – that you “mustn’t let others see you naked”, that you must always “cover yourself up”, “hide your modesty” and “act prim and proper”.

One day something will happen to make my neighbour’s little girl change. She will grow up and her naive and innocent mind will adapt accordingly. No more nude frolics. She’ll be like the rest of us – an adult.

Of course, once she’s “grown up” and experienced this awareness of nudity – that exact second when it enters her mind that she needs to cover herself up – she can never go back. Once lost, you cannot regain that wonderful innocence and naivety.

And that’s what I mean by fragile minds and why it’s so important to protect ourselves from certain outside influences. Once we’ve experienced certain things, we can never quite go back to how we were before.

That’s why all of us should be worried about what society is portraying: the advice to lock your doors and stay inside after ten o’clock, the threat of your child being abducted or the fear that terrorists could be stalking the streets. Even the search for a perfect body or breasts of a specific size.

Once you become hooked on this perfect body image or begin to worry about the dangers you might face on the street, there’s no going back. The fragility of your mind has been altered by the society in which you live, and it has been irrevocably changed forever. I’m not saying that some of these subjects are not advantageous for us, but when 11-year-old girls begin to diet or pensioners are terrified to go out alone at night, then things have gone too far. We do therefore need to be constantly aware of this fragility of our minds and to protect them from unnecessary exposure to damaging subjects.

In the search for what we can do to improve our lives there’s one last area I’d like to cover, and that’s striving to maintain high standards.

Striving for higher standards

Some years ago I met a businessman who was in the process of purchasing a house which had been repossessed by the bank. He was getting it at such a good price that he was keeping the location a secret until the deal was signed.

I asked him how he felt about the owner of the house, who had obviously lost an enormous amount of money through this deal, and whether or not he felt any responsibility for their distress.

His reply was: “It’s business.”

And so it is! I am not criticising this businessman. I could just as easily criticise the bank that sold the house at such a low figure provided it repaid their own loan, or the Government for raising interest rates.

The point is that he was only doing what society allowed him to do. Once again, though, society is wrong. Business life does not constitute a totally different way of life to home life, and just because society says that something is right, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s morally right. Similarly, excuses such as “That’s the way we do things around here” or “Everyone does it nowadays” are not acceptable.

It can’t be right for any person to prosper at the cost of another person’s misery and then be told by society that he has done right. That same person cannot go to church and stand before God and say, “I’ve just profited from someone else’s misery, but I’m still an honourable and upright citizen.”

In our society, however, the more profit you make – and regardless of how you make it – the higher you are regarded. If you have a lot of money, you are positively revered. But can you then go to church and say, “I have made lots of money at other people’s expense, but society still considers me to be a pillar of respectability whom other people should emulate”?

Would God agree?

So there are no excuses. We are individually responsible for our own actions, and we must each strive to achieve a higher moral standard, whether we are at home or at work.

Conclusions

There are steps we can take to improve our contribution to society. These include realising that business life should be absolutely no different than how we act at home. You cannot have two totally different sets of values and justify this by arguing that different rules apply – they don’t, and this applies equally to any other situation in life.

It is for you as an individual to determine your own values and to act accordingly, but you should constantly try to achieve ever higher standards wherever possible.

You should also aim to discard childhood conditioning, including any fears and prejudices which parents and others instilled in you. Instead seek to create your own thoughts and opinions. This is the basis of finding your true inner self and is the beginning of self-belief and self-approval.

Learn also to conquer your negative thoughts and instead to look for the good in everything and everyone. Make decisions wisely so that you can refuse to accept guilt and, wherever possible, forgive others and move on with your life.

Most of all, seek love in all its forms, and, most importantly, learn to love yourself.

STEP SIX

Love everyone, including yourself.

Outgrow your childhood conditioning, including the influence of your parents.

Learn to be yourself and conquer negative thoughts.

Seek self-belief and self-approval.

Refuse to do anything that would cause you guilt.

Wherever possible but without surrender, forgive others.

Protect your mind from unwanted or unsavoury intrusions.

Strive to achieve higher moral standards.

 

Chapter 7 – Good and evil

Hear No Evil – See No Evil

No room to move

To turn or stretch

Within these walls

This little wretch

No air or breath

No sight or sound

No bodily functions

Yet abound

Not yet born

But neither dead

A perfect body

A well-formed head

No fear or feeling

Sadness or glee

Within this void

A perfect me

A warmth enfolds me

In its shell

A cord that feeds me

All is well

No understanding

Of things to come

Of why I’m here

What I have done

No knowledge

Of the choice I made

My parents, friends

Or previous grave

And as I prepare

To find my way

We should reflect

On this short stay

For in this shell

No doubt or fear

No hate or evil

Can come near

The above poem tries, in a very simple way, to illustrate that in the womb, there is no such thing as evil. Evil only applies to our human existence and we apply the term purely to human activity.

We don’t classify natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes as being evil and regardless of how ferocious or predatory they may be, we don’t associate animals with the term either.

In a way, we equate evil with having the free will to choose between two different paths: that of goodness or that of evil. The choice is entirely ours.

Fundamentally though, the question is about power. If the power of God does exist, is it a force for good, and if the power of the Devil does exist, is it as a force for evil?

What constitutes good and what constitutes evil?

Let’s consider this through the case of Tommy. Tommy is an eleven-year-old who is constantly in trouble with the law. He’s always up to mischief and totally oblivious to authority. He has no moral code, he’s not concerned about the hurt he causes other people and it’s obvious that, on his present path, he’s going to end up a habitual criminal.

His mother, however, sticks up for him.

“He’s just a naughty child,” she says. “He’s certainly not evil.”

And most people would agree with her. He might be a bit of a “bad lad”, but that’s not the same as being evil.

So I looked up evil in the dictionary. It states that evil is bad; harmful; disagreeable; a time when one suffers misfortune; malicious; doing material harm; sin; of the devil.

Using this definition, Tommy should probably be classed as evil. But is he really a child of the Devil? Quite rightly, it’s not a statement any of us would be prepared to make about a child.

Next I gave some thought as to what constitutes goodness. One of the most powerful examples of this is a mother’s love. That’s because it’s unconditional and seeks nothing in return.

Love, then, can be said to be worthy, morally sound, kind, generous, beneficial, virtuous and valid whilst evil is the exact opposite: wicked, depraved, sinful, morally bad, harmful, injurious and malicious.

Against these criteria, I’m afraid that Tommy, or at least his behaviour, does err on the side of evil.

Let’s take another example

A businessman spent his entire working life accumulating great wealth. In the process he thought nothing of using other people. He destroyed careers, trampled on people, abused them, and cast them aside when they were of no further use to him.

By our previous definition he would be classed as evil.

Later on in his life, after he had amassed a huge fortune, he was struck down with a terminal illness. At that stage he decided to give vast chunks of his money to charitable foundations which he set up in his own name. This brought hundreds of people huge relief from suffering.

But how are we to judge him now? Throughout his business life his deeds were obviously evil because he harmed hundreds of people. He was malicious, arrogant and depraved in the sense that he was only interested in his own needs. But there is no doubt that he ended his life doing very good deeds and gave most of his money away for the benefit of others.

So should we write off all of the evil acts that he did throughout his life just because he carried out good deeds at the end of it?

What about the widow whose husband committed suicide shortly after this businessman sacked him because he had been five minutes late? Would our new description of him as a very good man really satisfy her quest for justice?

And at the end of the day, when God judges this man, just as when he judges Tommy, will he consider this man to be good or will the man still be thought of as evil?

Before we move on to try and make sense of this, I want to introduce one more spanner in the works: society.

Society

Television, newspapers, politicians and the judiciary love the word “evil”. Its use conjures up a person or group of people who are inherently bad, beyond redemption and hell-bent on doing harm to others. It further implies that we need to intervene urgently to stop them from doing further harm and that unless we do, they will cause havoc in society. It is a very emotive and powerful word, which, to a large degree, forces us to take action.

But the ordinary man in the street thinks that “evil people” are somehow “exceptional”. These are people who have committed atrocious crimes and who you occasionally read about in the newspaper but it isn’t something that normal people would usually encounter in their everyday lives. Ordinary folk, they would say, are simply that: ordinary. They don’t come into contact with evil on a daily basis.

That’s why Tommy from down the road who has stolen a few cars and broken into a few homes is not considered evil – he’s just a bit of a “bad lad”.

Many years ago I attended a lecture from the chair of Psychology from a leading university.

He asked us to consider the case in which a 12-year-old boy, similar to Tommy, had been caught at school carrying a 12-inch knife. He came from a deprived background, was being bullied, and had a small history of violent behaviour.

The lecturer asked us what we made of the situation.

We came back with several theories about bullying, social deprivation, bad parenting and the like, all of which tried to explain this child’s difficulties. We argued that his action could at least be understood, even if we would not actually condone them.

“No,” said the lecturer. “You’ve missed the whole point. What this child did was simply wrong.”

And of course, he was right.

The problem with modern society is that we’re used to looking for reasons that try to explain unacceptable behaviour and which might then justify it. But in the end, we’ve missed the point – some actions are just wrong!! No matter how we try to justify them, they are evil, and no amount of argument will alter that fact.

Personal definition of evil

My own belief is that we should define evil equally in terms of what’s inside a person’s mind: what their actual intentions are about a given event or what their moral philosophy is on a particular subject.

Unfortunately however this definition would leave society with a huge problem. How for example could we examine the thoughts or inner workings of a person’s mind? How could we ascertain their real motives or establish what their true intentions were?

In less extreme cases, such as the businessman illustrated earlier, is it possible to establish if he really did see the error of his ways in later life and regret his brutish ways? Had he genuinely tried to make amends by carrying out good deeds, or was his motivation simply that he hoped that by setting up a charitable trust fund and doing good things, he would be remembered as a saint?

Of course we can never know, because it’s not possible to see what’s inside the mind of another person. To a large degree then, we are incapable of judging good or evil.

My definition is therefore not a comfortable one for society because it makes any sound judgement virtually impossible but it does at least question the simplistic view of society with regard to the subject.

Fortunately, it’s not necessary for me to construct a workable definition other than to illustrate the point that it is likely to be your inner thoughts, feelings and intentions which will contribute to whether you support good or evil.

Individual thoughts and actions

I think society should be equally interested in the thoughts and feelings of an individual as we are about their actions.

Take the example of five people who each stole a bottle of milk from a supermarket. The act was exactly the same in each instance but each had a different motive

The first person was a mother who had no money but desperately needed milk for her baby; the second a young lad who was doing it for a dare; the third a pensioner with Alzheimer’s; the fourth a habitual shoplifter; and the fifth a racist who stole the milk simply because he hated the shop owner because he came from Pakistan.

So although the act was the same in each case, the reasoning behind them was different. Should this affect our definition of evil? Of course it does and it should teach us a lesson also.

It tells us that we need to consider the motives behind any given act and not just comment on the act itself, as newspapers and politicians do. The media often declares an act to be ’pure evil’ without even knowing the full circumstances of the case.

Good and evil

As a society we have devalued the word evil to a degree that it could not possibly be used to describe little Tommy. He may be naughty, but he can’t possibly be evil.

But is that true? My belief is that if, when you die, you have left the world a better place than when you entered it, then you have contributed to good. If however your legacy to the world has been negative, then you have contributed to evil.

There is only good and evil. You are either on the side of right or on the side of wrong. But if you were to ask most people about their lives, they would argue that they were somewhere in the middle, that they had done some bad things and some good.

My argument is that you should lead your life to ensure that when you die, the sum total of your earthly deeds will have contributed to good. If we all saw our lives more in this way, then we would certainly put more effort into doing good, for very few of us would want to die knowing that we had left a negative legacy.

Imagine that when you die there are just two doors and you can only pass through one. Every single action in your whole life is counted and measured to see if you should enter the door marked “good” or the door marked “evil”.

There is no third door, no middle way, only a choice to determine if over the course of your life you have contributed to God’s work or the Devil’s. It’s a sobering thought.

In reality, we’re really considering whether you’ve tried to assist God or whether you have unintentionally contributed to Satan’s work.

Our lives can be summed up as a spectrum that looks something like this.

Godsaintliness – good actsgood / badbad acts – evil actsSatan

When you die, your contribution to life can be summarised as being somewhere along that spectrum. Most of us will indeed be somewhere in the middle, but that doesn’t mean that you will not basically have contributed either to God’s world or to Satan’s world.

In my opinion, you can’t sit on the fence – overall your life will have contributed mainly to one or the other. Which one is entirely your choice!

Another sort of evil

There is another form of evil which pervades our everyday life. Few of us however recognise this as wickedness. It leads to many people leading their whole lives surrounded by fear and trepidation and is born out of the wickedness of the society in which we live.

I can best explain by telling you about my father, who received a nuisance call from a sales company in the middle of the afternoon. At the age of 72, he wasn’t able to get to the phone as quickly as he used to, and in his rush he fell over and broke his hip.

In hospital he developed pneumonia and died five days later. Of course, the salesman on the phone knew none of this, but in a way, his behaviour did contribute to my father’s death. His was just one of dozens of similar phone calls that my dad received each week trying to sell him something or other. Being of the age where respect came naturally to him, my father always tried to answer each phone call punctually.

My point is that the actions of salesmen like this are causing elderly people to become increasingly afraid to use the one essential lifeline that many of them still have: a telephone.

Some time ago two other things happened to me. The first was that I received a text message on my mobile phone in the middle of the night, which stated: Please phone this number urgently as there is a message waiting for you. Not surprisingly I phoned straight back, thinking that something bad may have happened to one of my family. It turned out to be a premium-rate call to a prize company and I had been scammed.

The second event was that I needed to cancel a holiday. The wife of the couple we were due to go on holiday with had just been told that she might have a serious medical condition which may require an operation. She felt that she couldn’t go away until she knew the outcome of the tests she was due to have but for which no date had yet been set.

When I phoned him, the booking agent stated that we could cancel the holiday, which we had already paid for in full, by giving 56 days’ notice, but that we would only get 10% of the total price back.

I later found out that this was not the case and that we should have been offered substantially more.

Events such as these are so common, I could have outlined dozens of different examples. I chose the three above simply because they represent the everyday realities of life that most of us now accept as normal.

By my reckoning, the scam text message certainly wasn’t sent out of kindness or goodness and therefore the people who sent it contributed to evil. It’s as simple as that. If you’re not doing good deeds then you’re doing the opposite. In my opinion there’s no middle ground, regardless of how much you might try to justify it.

The actions of the booking agent who informed me that I would lose virtually everything I had already paid were neither compassionate nor caring. These too were evil, because his sole motivation was to make more commission for himself at my expense. And my poor old father’s death was the result of a society where sales firms automatically dial thousands of phone numbers all day long with no thought for the consequences or fear that those calls can engender.

We’re so used to accepting such antisocial behaviour that we have totally lost sight of the effect it has on society. Increasingly no one cares or is willing to go out of their way to help. In fact, many individuals now see your weakness as an opportunity to exploit your gullibility.

Society is becoming so uncaring that in the newspaper this morning there was an article about a man who had been hit by a stolen car. What was really shocking was that other cars simply drove round him without stopping to help. One motorist, in his desperation to get away, actually drove over the man’s legs.

That morning a spokesman on television explained that it had happened very early in the morning on a dark night and in a poor area and that other motorists could therefore be forgiven for not wanting to stop to help.

So it’s clear that society is changing. More and more people are being encouraged to knowingly exploit others to the degree that it’s now becoming the norm. The rest of us just try to distance ourselves from such evil and to huddle behind closed doors in our own little environments where we feel safe and secure.

And that’s why I argue that throughout your life your thoughts and actions do contribute either to goodness or to evil. You cannot expect to exploit other people and then complain at the end of your life that there’s only one door marked “evil” for you to pass through.

Consequences

Politicians are always telling us that we live in a caring and compassionate society, but as we have seen above, that is not always the case.

The problem is that we’ve all become so used to this “social evil” that we don’t even stop to think about it anymore. While I’ve named it “social evil”, it is of course committed by individuals. Most people would be affronted if I called them evil, but they simply don’t see what consequences their actions are having.

The man who is having an affair at work, for example, has no thought or care whatsoever for his lover’s husband or children. His mates laugh, pat him on the back and think he’s lucky. At worst society considers him a bit of a Jack the Lad. He’s not going to prison for it, he’s not going to be punished and he hasn’t a care in the world. Except, that is, his actions are evil!

The salesman who refuses to leave your house until you sign his contract, the travel agent who refuses to refund your money, the ticket tout or the scam phone caller – none of these people would see themselves as evil. A little bad, perhaps, slightly uncaring, possibly bullying – but evil? Certainly not.

But their actions will most certainly contribute to a society which is deteriorating and where the old and the weak are increasingly taken advantage of. The man who is having an affair, for instance, is storing up great hurt for the children of his mistress which will scar their futures and make them untrusting and possibly even fatherless when the affair becomes known. These people diminish society, degrade us as human beings and cause harm and distress. Disguise it as you like – it is an act of evil, as it’s certainly not contributing to goodness.

There are no easy answers to such complex questions as good and evil, or God and the Devil if you prefer. The best we can do is to find a definition that we personally are happy with – one that sits easily with our conscience.

But it should also be a definition that leads you to try harder to do good deeds and to know for yourself, with honesty, if you really are contributing to good or evil.

You can easily persuade yourself that your actions are on the side of good, but you might have a slightly more difficult time proving that if there really is a day of atonement when you die.

Many people at one time or another suffer from such thoughts as Why is everyone so nasty to me?, Why doesn’t anyone seem to care?, How could they do that to me?, I’m frightened to go out of the house alone and Nobody has the time anymore.

The truth is that this is brought on by a society which doesn’t care, which looks the other way. The words care and compassion are laughed at and weakness of any kind is exploited. More and more, this sums up the society which increasingly exists in the West.

I know that this concept of evil is uncomfortable, but if someone or something is contributing to the degradation of society’s norms, then I’m afraid they are equally contributing to evil. Similarly, it’s clear to anyone who cares that modern society has lost its way.

I want to end this chapter on a more positive note to show how one person can make a very positive contribution to the debate and fight back against these increasingly negative times.

I came across the story of the manager of a children’s day centre some years ago. One of her jobs was to write training letters to her staff every month to ensure that they maintained dignity, respect, care and compassion for the children.

The following is one of the letters which she wrote to her staff following her emergency admission to hospital for three weeks. It illustrates how one person’s lone stand can make us all stop and think.

Do angels exist?

“I hate people who, having come out of hospital, can do nothing but tell you all about their operation. So, tempting though it is, I’m not going to rabbit on about the number of tubes that I’ve had in me or the state of my bowels (although you may have found this very interesting).

Over the years, however, many of these training units have been about what makes a person ‘special’, and much of my three weeks in hospital has been spent analysing the staff to see if they measure up to my previously wonderful words.

I spent a total of 6 days in an NHS hospital and 14 days in a private one.

In the NHS hospital I could have wept for the staff because they had got it so wrong. None of them could possibly have gone home with a sense of well-being at having achieved something or that wonderful feeling of knowing that you have made a small difference to someone’s life.

The staff here spent hours in a power struggle with no sense of direction and with many staff actually crying because some other employee had upset them. If anyone tried to show you care or compassion, it was obvious from the reaction of the other staff that this was not ‘the done thing’ or that you were ‘too soft’.

It was like recuperating in the middle of a battlefield where some staff actually introduced themselves by saying, “I hope you’re not going to cause any problems,” and where a trainee doctor introduced me to the staff by pointing and saying, “That one over there needs its temperature taking.”

I don’t want to be too cruel because there were some very good staff, but they were held back by the ethos of the ward.

But at this NHS hospital I did find one angel. I only met her for a few minutes, but she was kindness personified.

I met her in the operating theatre waiting room and she stroked my hand, smiled and uttered kind words. Obviously, she was only doing her job, and I have no doubt that she neither meant a single word of what she said nor will she ever give me a second thought, but she gave that little bit more than she needed to and offered kindness to someone in their moment of need.

Does this really make her an angel? Well, to me, and at that single moment in time, it did and still does, because she was prepared to give of herself merely to help me. There was nothing in it for her. She needn’t have bothered, but she did, and for that single moment in time she became an angel. Someone who does good, spreads kindness and makes the world a better place.

At the private hospital the staff were very pleasant, certainly efficient and exceptionally willing but, unfortunately, no angels. There was one person who nearly made it because she was prepared to share with me something of her own personal problems and tragedies and she was very kind and thoughtful, but an angel requires just that something extra, that something special, and so I put her in the category of trainee.

Then I came back to work, to all of the children, where I was smothered in hugs and kisses, as well as touches of the hand from other staff and genuine words of friendship.

Oh, to be back where I belong in the company of – yes, you’ve guessed it!!!

So it doesn’t take much to be an angel. You simply have to give that little bit more to someone in need, to help make their day and the world a little brighter, to offer words of comfort (whether you mean them or not), to make someone’s face a little brighter, to smile, to touch, and to show you care.

And when you ask me if I believe in angels, the answer is most definitely yes. I’ve encountered all sorts of people in my three weeks and it’s been an education.

But my angel had to give very little to earn her title, whilst my trainee gave considerably more. Perhaps this is unfair, but the angel instinctively knew my need and knew instantly how to meet it, whilst my trainee wouldn’t normally have given even as much as she did. Her environment didn’t really encourage that sort of thing, and so it was only when she actually knew me more that she felt free to give a little extra. My real angel immediately gave it without a second thought.

So when I look back at these training letters that I’ve written over the years, I don’t retract a single word. Having been in that position where I was frail and in need myself I can now say with certainty that feeling needed, feeling that someone cares, seeing a friendly smiling face, being touched and made to feel safe and secure, and meeting someone who will stop, even for a moment, just to enquire about your life – that is what life is all about. Nothing else matters.

Becoming an angel possibly requires just a little bit more, but just to have been an angel, even for a fleeting second, just once in your life – isn’t that a wonderful feeling”?

Conclusions

Any individual can fight against the erosion of society’s values and, in doing so, can make a huge difference to the world around them. Equally they can attain the dizzy heights of being an angel, even if it’s only for a split second.

It is my belief that we should lead our lives as though every act we perform will, at the end of our days, contribute to supporting goodness and God.

Evil, however, is a concept which applies solely to human beings here on earth but which we are free to ignore. It is within our capacity to seek either good or evil, but we cannot seek both, nor, in my opinion, can we sit somewhere in the middle.

Society is gradually deteriorating to a stage where more and more people are encouraged to exploit the old, the infirm and the weak. Individuals are increasingly refusing to show care and compassion for their fellow man.

Ordinary people however only regard this as “badness” and refuse to accept that such acts might be classed as evil.

Evil, then, is partly hidden from view and has many other facets which we are unable to discuss in detail here. This subject will be further discussed in Book 3: There you are.

STEP SEVEN

You have a “free choice” where evil arises, and therefore, in most situations, you can choose to accept either good or evil.

Try to establish if an act is defined by love which is unconditional and seeks no reward, or by evil, which is all powerful and a force of destruction.

Realise that antisocial acts contribute to evil and that your own acts can make a substantial difference to such events. With a bit of thought, you can materially improve events for those around you.

Wherever possible, learn to look at the motivation behind an act to see “why” the act was committed.

Lead your life as though, when you die, the sum total of every individual act you have undertaken throughout your life will be deemed to have contributed either mainly to good or mainly to evil, which will determine if you have supported God or Satan throughout your life.

Remember that people and organisations are becoming increasingly intolerant and willing to exploit the old and infirm. There is also an increasing lack of care and compassion for our fellow man, but you can improve matters by refusing to join in with such activities.

 

Chapter 8

The ten most frequently asked questions about God[lm19]

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1. How do I find God?

When God created human beings, he endowed them with innocence and love and surrounded them with everything beautiful.

But man rejected this and has ever since sought more worldly pleasures. Humans seek money and ambition, fame and adoration. They seek power not wisdom, pleasure not humility, preferring instead the things that give them instant gratification.[lm20]

They spend just a few hours looking for God before giving up and saying, “Where is the Lord hiding?” or “He doesn’t exist.”

Therefore, even when God stands ready with his arms outstretched to embrace you, you will still not find him because your mind is too cluttered with earthly matters. To enter God’s realm, you need to cast aside thoughts of money, fame, ambition and power and concentrate instead on the peace and tranquillity that announces God’s presence.

It’s only during those more peaceful moments when our minds are truly calm and we are in unison with God’s purpose, that we can begin our search for Him in earnest.

Start looking at the things that are pleasurable to God. Wherever you find peace and humility, love and true friendship, honesty and sincerity – that is where your search should focus.

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2. What do I do if I hit troubled times but the Lord doesn’t know me?

Just because you have never thought about God, or prayed to him, or acknowledged him, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know you.

He knows all your deeds, both good and bad.

He knows for example that you helped a blind man cross the road or that you cuddled a child who was crying. He would also have been stood by your side when you examined the beauty of a flower or when you sighed at the magnificence of the setting sun. Each of us will, at one time or another, have carried out similar acts to these.

Our minds are not capable of comprehending that God is with us every second of every day, whether we acknowledge him or not. While many people readily believe that God can magically appear the instant they start praying to him, they do not accept that he is with us all the time, even if we don’t believe in him.

But we should already understand this concept because most parents are constantly there for their own children even when those children are disloyal, disobedient or some distance apart. As a child of God, he cares for you in exactly the same way.

God is already with you in both good times and bad. It’s you who does not acknowledge him, not him who does not acknowledge you.

So although you think that he doesn’t know you because you have never spoken to him, you are still his child and he loves you just as any parent would.

In summary, whenever you call God’s name, whether you say that you know him or not, God will be there with you.

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3. Why, when I pray to God, don’t I feel as though God’s there?

There are two reasons for this. The first is that you don’t really believe in God, and the second is that you are trying too hard to pray.

Imagine trying to pray to a lump of wood and hoping that you will ‘feel emotion’ during that prayer. It’s simply not possible to achieve such an aim, because a lump of wood has no soul. There is nothing to connect to, because wood is devoid of any emotion.

For many people, this sums up their experience trying to connect with God. They find that because they don’t know or understand him, there’s no emotional connection and therefore their prayers are lifeless, with little or no meaning.

Similarly, many people set aside special times to pray. They make it so separate from their ordinary lives, placed so high on a pedestal, that they find it difficult to know what to say when they do pray. Their God is so distant, so unreachable and so pious that their own prayers seem pathetic and inadequate.

There is an alternative, which is to simply be more at ease with God. Try to talk to him more often, throughout the day and about subjects that you think you might have in common: “Oh, look, Lord, what a beautiful sunset”, or, as I did during a magical carol concert, “This is for you Lord, it’s the best I have to offer you”.

These are shared, intimate moments between you and him, times when you acknowledge and enjoy his company and companionship. With practice these moments will become more natural and spontaneous.

As with any father, God wants to be involved with his children all the time, not just at one special moment of the week set aside for the purpose.

Prayer is simply a communication between you and God. Learn to talk to him more as your friend, then as your father, then as your creator and finally as your Lord. Don’t forget that everything around you, everything you see, was created by him.

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4. Why does God allow evil to exist?

First we need to understand the concept of love.

Love is encapsulated in the soul of a mother towards her baby. It’s a love that is unconditional and brings as much joy to the mother as it does to the child receiving the love. It’s the mother’s sheer joy at the beauty of her baby and the feeling that she wants to protect it and always keep it safe whatever the cost to her that epitomises this true love.

The mother knows how special this bond is, and no amount of money or fame could ever replace this feeling. It’s something that she cannot put into words and is a feeling that wells up within her very soul.

The word evil does not enter this equation, for this is pure love.

Most of us can understand the feelings of this mother. But suppose the mother hated the baby, was jealous of its youth, compared it with the child who lived next door and wondered how much she would get if she were to sell it. What if she made calculated decisions for its future based purely on her own needs?

But this is exactly what most of us do on a daily basis. We do not seek the best for others or applaud their good fortune. We vainly criticise their looks or physique and laugh at their misfortune. We shriek with glee at their downfall and hold grudges that create bitterness and divisiveness.

Many societies do exactly the same by promoting jealousy, hatred, revenge, greed and power. In this way we have created evil in the world and pitted man against man.

If God created the love and beauty of the mother towards her child, who then created the evil in the world, and who has the ability to change this?

God watches over all of this and rejoices at the love in people’s hearts. But he also watches the evil, and his soul cries out for us to wake up, open our eyes and learn to love each other.

Then evil will be destroyed.

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5. Why do young people die? It seems so unfair.

We don’t have this reaction when a flower dies, so why do we accept that flowers must die, but consider it unfair when humans do? Both are part of the universe.

Because we don’t understand the universe, we measure everything by our earthly lives. We conclude that individuals should live to a great age, because otherwise there has, we say, been an injustice.

We consider only our own feelings, emotions and hopes in this equation and refuse to accept that our knowledge of the universe is so small and insignificant that we are ill placed to make any judgement in the first place.

Therefore, we use the wrong measures where death is concerned because we do not understand the universe or the concept of heaven. To do so you would need more knowledge.

Sometimes our dreams contain such vivid nightmares that we are relieved when we wake up and realise that nothing bad had really happened; it was all just a dream.

We accept that dreams and nightmares are fictitious, a sort of fantasy played out in our minds. Given a dream in which you supposedly die, you know that in reality you will eventually wake up and see that it wasn’t real: it was just a dream.

When it comes to death, however, we accept nothing of the sort. Death, we believe, is real; it is the end of the line, the final curtain if you will.

But what if it wasn’t real? What if life itself was just part of a greater dream? What if death as such didn’t actually exist, but was just part of this bigger dream?

What if, when you woke up, you returned to heaven in exactly the same circumstances as when you’d left it and everything in between had just been an illusion, a dream.

In this scenario, nothing in your whole life would constitute reality. There would be no good or bad, no death, no injustice, no evil – just a long and very realistic dream.

This is pure fantasy, of course, because we simply don’t know the truth of the matter, but for all we know, it could be true.

The moral is: don’t waste your time asking questions about things that you have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of.

When you impugn God with questions such as, “Why does he allow people to die young?”, you simply do not have sufficient knowledge to make such an accusation. We have no way of knowing God’s plans, thoughts or intentions, and therefore we have to put our trust in his authority.

Then we can rejoice when he calls someone home rather than feeling bitterness that an injustice has been done.

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6. In a war, whose side is God on?

In a war, people say, “Look, my cause is just and the Lord is with me,” but their opponents turn around and say exactly the same thing.

The Lord cannot be on both sides. So who is right?

The question asks God to choose just one side. But even if he were to choose the side that was virtuous, you would still be asking him to side with any man who might be evil, provided that they were on the side of a righteous cause. Alternatively, you could be asking God to side with a good man, who in some instances might be fighting for an unjust cause.

In other words, the question poses the dilemma that God might either have to side with an evil man or have to side with an unjust cause. God of course would do neither of these things.

The answer is that God is not interested in causes or taking sides. He is only interested in the individual person and what is best for them to fulfil their potential.

God is by the side of every individual, every second of the day and regardless of the circumstances in which they find themselves.

7. Of all the religions in the world, which is the right one?

To follow God is to love your fellow man, to seek peace and to use words of comfort and conciliation.

But many religions have, throughout time, failed to do this. They have set man against man and have been the cause of much argument and suffering.

Some religions pretend to speak on God’s behalf but instead preach hate, diversity and discord. This leads to evil being carried out in God’s name. This is no part of God’s teaching, but is merely part of that religion.

Religions are supposed to exist to guide the poor in spirit. However, many such religions spend more time squabbling among themselves. No religion can expect to lead others when it cannot even lead itself.

Some religions seem to have forgotten their purpose. They use the Bible to harangue each other – and this is exactly how wars and troubles throughout history have started.

However, if any one religion stood up and proclaimed to be the best, the true religion and the only way to God, all other religions would naturally castigate this claim.

Pure religion should be about helping your fellow man, about love and compassion, tolerance and conciliation. There are some religions that claim to follow this path. But no single religion promotes the idea that you should belong to several religions at any one time, and to this extent they teach discord.

Another problem also occurs because many of these religions also impose conditions, structures and rituals that you must comply with to remain a member of that church. In reality, then, very few religions promote true harmony, because you have to comply with their rigid and prescribed ceremonies and rituals, which are sometimes seen as being more important than the human values that are the cornerstone of their faith.

Many people are confused about the difference between religion and faith. Religion is the structure that binds a given belief together, while faith is the ‘spirit’ of that belief. You can have faith without religion or even religion without faith.

My simple answer is that there is no single religion that is either the right one, the only one or the best!

8. What is the real purpose of life?

God endowed us with free will, and it is therefore for us to choose our own purpose in life. But we should be aware that we can only choose to store up treasures here on earth, or in heaven – we cannot choose both.

So if we choose to follow God’s path, we must seek the things that give him pleasure.

You should seek true love, which means always putting others’ needs before your own, even though this is difficult. So much hatred and bitterness has been caused over the years solely because individuals have not loved one another.

You should go out of your way to help others and to try to understand them better. Foster compassion and tolerance for others, as this will also teach you patience.

You should spread happiness not discontent and help those in need. If you turn a blind eye to the needs of those around you, you turn your face against God.

You should foster peace and tranquillity, giving yourself the time and opportunity to reflect. Build a world around you that shuns discord and aggressiveness and turn instead to peace and quietness. Even if hatred and aggression surround your life, you can still find peace within yourself.

Above all, be gentle with yourself and with others, just as God is with you. God accepts that you make mistakes and he forgives them instantly. God is your father and you are his child. He wants only the best for you, so go placidly in life, take your time and seek the things that bring peace.

And lastly, seek God with all of your heart, for this is where you will find your true destiny.

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9. How can I ensure that I get into heaven?

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Let me tell you the story of the three men stood at the gates of heaven.

Gabriel asked the first man why he thought he should be allowed to enter.

“Because I was the richest man in the whole world,” the man answered. “People marvelled at the amount of money I had amassed.”

“Show me your money,” replied Gabriel.

The man looked at him in amazement. “I haven’t brought any of it with me,” he said. “I had to leave it all behind.”

“I’m sorry,” said Gabriel, “but without your money I can’t let you in.”

“Why should you enter?” Gabriel asked the second man.

“I was the most popular and well-known person on earth,” replied the man. “Everyone wanted to be near me, to be seen in my company or for me to attend their functions. That’s how well known and popular I was.”

“I’m sorry,” said Gabriel, “but I’m afraid that I don’t know you. I can’t let you in.”

Finally Gabriel turned to the third man. “And you,” he said, “what’s your claim to fame?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t got any,” replied the man. “I’m not rich or well-known and I haven’t done anything special in my life.”

“But you have,” said Gabriel. “I saw you cross the road to help a lady who had fallen over. And what about that time when you spent the whole night consoling the man whose wife had just died? We’ve been expecting you – come on in.”

h1<>{color:#000;}.

10. Why doesn’t God prove himself to us once and for all?

This is a very arrogant question, because God has already given us more than sufficient proof.

Who do you think it was that made the sea and the sky, the flowers and the forest, the wild beasts that roam the wilderness or the colours and hues of the trees in autumn?

Who among us could recreate this task, let alone work out where the soul resides or where the Holy Spirit lives?

We have turned our backs on God and rejected him because we never smile or thank him when we marvel at the diversity and beauty of the nature that surrounds us.

We never thank him for the wondrous sights in the world: the mountains and rivers, the glaciers and waterfalls, the highlands and moors.

We take for granted everything that God has provided for us, including our own ability to feel such love and tenderness for our children, and yet we still ask for proof that he exists.

We are to seek him by faith and faith alone so that only those who are willing to hear will hear, and those who seek to find him will find him.

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Chapter 9 – Conclusions

The book concludes that to understand the purpose of life, we firstly have to know who created us.

It argues that there are only two theories regarding this: the evolutionary theory or the concept of God. One is a scientific theory and the other a religious one.

The scientific theory tells us how the human race evolved. For me, it lacks the answers as to why I am different to everyone else – why I have an ‘inner me’ that is unique from the millions of other human beings who were created in exactly the same way that I was.

If it’s true that I was created in this way, then I shouldn’t be unique. I should be exactly the same as everyone else, a mirror image. But I’m not.

There is no other ‘me’ in the whole wide world, even though hundreds of other people may have thousands of similarities to me. I just know intuitively that I have a ‘me’, a soul, or an inner being, which is capable of somehow distancing itself from my body.

I don’t know how I know this, I don’t know where this feeling comes from, but I do know that I have it.

It’s a feeling that’s separate from the thousands of other thoughts that come from my brain – separate from the vast encyclopaedia of knowledge that’s stored up there and separate from my emotions or physical feelings. It’s just something that I instinctively know – that I am alive and I am ‘me’!

The fact that I have this spiritual awareness separates me from anything scientists can recreate. Nothing created by scientists will ever be able to claim that reality of existence, to be able to look at itself as a separate entity or say, “Look – this is me.”

If we take the example of a computer for instance, it contains operating systems and programmes that make it capable of answering endless questions and solving a variety of equations. In many ways then a computer is similar to a human being.

Both have an inbuilt capacity to reason, to search a store of knowledge and to extract specific information to solve problems. One computer however is very much the same as any other computer of a similar make and model. They look alike, work alike and to all intents and purposes, are exactly the same.

Human beings, however, are different. Even if we took a set of twins who looked the same, dressed the same and were indistinguishable from each other, they would still each be uniquely different to the other.

The twins may appear, just as the computers did, to match each other in superficial terms, but each contains an ‘inner being’, a ‘me’, that is uniquely different from the other and I don’t believe that a random fusion of atoms and molecules caused by the collision of two planets could possibly account for this consciousness. I believe that it can only have come from God.

The book also concludes that if we were created by God, one of the consequences is that we were also born with a sinful nature. The basic instincts of human beings do not revolve around love or compassion; they rely on the more base elements of self-importance and self-gratification.

By understanding that we were born into sin and that we had no say in this, we can begin to see why sometimes we think and act as we do and to realise that no matter how much we try, how good we become, we will always be sinners in God’s eyes. He originally wanted us to love everyone equally, but because of the way we were formed, we are too self-centred to fully achieve such all-encompassing emotions.

We may be able to control our words or actions to the degree that we don’t sin by society’s standards, but in our thoughts we will always harbour dislike and be judgemental of others. We can’t help it – we are simply born that way!

Because we cannot stop ourselves from sinning against God, many people find it difficult to feel close to him because they experience guilt about harbouring such sinful thoughts in the first place. They somehow believe that God will find them abhorrent, worthless or a failure, and that they will be judged not good enough to be identified as part of God’s family.

This book tries to show how this and other aspects of human nature are acquired and to help the reader identify which of these negative aspects apply to themselves.

For example, the book says that if you realise you were born into sin and played no part in creating that sinful nature, you can progress to a level where you should be able to forgive yourself. Then you can hopefully also learn to love yourself as well.

You can also learn to love other people and start making allowances for them. The book says that whenever you feel annoyed, frustrated or intolerant with someone, you should stop and try to see the situation through their eyes. Try to see some good in them and change your opinion so that you learn to feel love, compassion and sympathy instead.

It takes practice, patience, willingness and understanding and, what’s worse, no one except God will know that you are doing it. But you will.

You should also stop whipping your own back and learn to conquer negative thoughts. Instead of doing this, look for the good in everything and everyone. Learn to make decisions wisely so that you can refuse to accept guilt and, wherever possible, forgive others and move on with your life.

Seek love in all its forms, and, most importantly, learn to love yourself. It’s time to learn to be gentle and forgiving with yourself.

One of the greatest lessons of the book is that human beings don’t exist in a vacuum. Our thoughts, actions and feelings are all intertwined with the society in which we live, and this has the potential to dramatically shape our lives.

Society constantly tells us what is acceptable and what is not. It tells us what to believe in and how we should lead our lives, but, as we grow older, it’s for us to question any negative conditioning. We also need to discard outdated fears and prejudices that our parents and others might have instilled in us in childhood.

It’s for us to determine our own values and beliefs then, and to act accordingly.

As a single human being we cannot materially change the society in which we live. We can, however, make a real difference to that small part of society that we come into contact with daily – our family, friends and neighbours.

The book also argues that as individuals, we have emotions that can change from minute to minute and even second to second. This means that we present differing and confusing images to other people.

Because of this, many people misunderstand each other, and, in the long term, this leads to people becoming entrenched in their own position. This in turn leads to feelings of hate and despair. As a result, we become unhappy, and that unhappiness leads us to say and do things that hurt other people.

Add to this our own thoughts about why we exist or what the purpose of life is and you have a situation that is so totally confusing that it’s not surprising none of us really know who we are.

If we could see, feel and experience life as someone else does, the world might seem a very different place to us.

We assume that everyone else sees the world in exactly the same way that we do, so that when we say something to another person, we expect that they will receive the message in the same way that we meant it.

This is not the case. Firstly, their understanding depends on the way in which they view life, and secondly it depends on what they were feeling at that moment in time.

This goes to show that not only do we have trouble understanding ourselves, but we also have to interpret how others are feeling at that exact same moment and to ensure that we are meeting their needs as well as our own.

But we can, with a little patience and skill, enhance our communications with others. We can learn to improve matters simply by being honest, staying calm and refusing to react to any negative emotions from them.

This takes time and commitment, but if you succeed and are genuine, other people will flock to you, because they will perceive you as being kind and understanding.

Few people ever achieve their true potential, because they are weighed down by society’s demands and the conditioning of their youth. They cannot break free of these restraints and are therefore incarcerated by a list of rules and regulations that, in many instances, are totally arbitrary and outdated.

Many moons ago our family went to Disneyland in Florida with some friends. While planning the holiday, the only problem on the horizon was our friends’ 12-year-old son, who had a habit of acting in a way that caused embarrassment to everyone around him.

It’s not that he was bad or naughty, just that he didn’t conform to society’s norms, with the result that his parents were often ostracised and criticised by anyone close by.

I decided in advance that when we got there, I would be more outlandish than he was in order to try and show him how upsetting such behaviour could be to other people.

On the first day at the Disneyland Park, I started walking backwards, exaggeratedly avoiding the cracks in the pavement, swinging my arms wildly as I walked and a host of other such embarrassing acts.

The effect was immediate. Steven, the boy, asked me to stop doing this. He cringed as everyone who passed by looked at me while children pointed and laughed. He didn’t find it funny, just humiliating and shameful.

For the rest of the holiday I pared my behaviour down. Steven himself was pleasant, cooperative and friendly and the holiday was a dream. No tantrums, no wild behaviour and no acts out of the ordinary. Just good family fun.

The point is that to achieve this, I had to show Steven the consequences of ignoring society’s norms. This was the sheer humiliation from other people and the feeling of shame and mortification they heaped on us.

It was only by me disregarding these consequences that I was able to teach Steven how difficult it is if you choose to act in the way he often did. I couldn’t have achieved this if I hadn’t refused to conform to society’s normal standards.

The book states that you should throw off restrictive obstacles and instead seek to create your own thoughts and opinions. This is the basis of finding your true inner self and is the beginning of self-belief and self-approval.

This is exactly what I did with Steven. I threw away all restrictive encumbrances because I believed that there was a better way to show him the error of his ways.

Unless you learn to do this, you cannot begin to consider and question whether the things around you, that you have always been taught are correct, really are so. Most people, for example, do not question why they exist, and this leads them to meander aimlessly through life with no purpose or structure.

You should begin to question everything and to form your own opinions. The book argues that human beings crave order, and because they do not know what their purpose in life is, they create substitute activities to fill their time. These can often be harmful or dangerous.

Each individual has a higher purpose for being on earth. It’s for you to determine what that is. In the main, these tend to be things such as gaining wisdom and patience, walking in the light, loving one another and searching for peace and tranquillity.

In this way you will be nearer the goal of leading your daily life as though every act you perform will, at the end of your days, have contributed to supporting the concept of goodness and God.

It’s within our capacity to seek either good or evil, but we cannot seek both, nor, in the opinion of the book, can we sit somewhere in the middle.

Society is gradually deteriorating to a stage where individuals are increasingly refusing to show care and compassion for their fellow man.

This leads to evil, but it is brought about mainly through the apathy and ignorance of individuals who refuse to take control of their own lives and have no regard for the society in which they live.

By taking charge of your own destiny, you can overcome these obstacles, learn to love yourself and break free from the restraints of society.

We can all help to fight against the erosion of society’s values and, in doing so, can make a huge difference to the world around us. Equally, we can attain the dizzy heights of being an angel, even if it’s only for a split second.

In this book we listed seven steps to help achieve all of the above:

STEP ONE

● If you hope that God exists, then you are the only person who knows how best to act on that belief. You may have been told that you need to attend church, give to the poor or conform to the church’s sacraments; and although you should listen carefully to such teachings, at the end of the day, you must determine your own way and your own values.

● If music enhances your spirit, then sing to God. If you love nature, sit in your garden and ask him why he chose to make plants this way. It doesn’t matter how you communicate with God; there’s no right way and no wrong way. It’s a private conversation between you and him to tell him that you really do hope that he exists.

STEP TWO

● Society’s values do not always coincide with God’s values, and man’s way is not the same as God’s way. As human beings we are programmed from birth to be self-centred, greedy, hateful and arrogant. Try as we might, it’s virtually impossible for us to outgrow this phenomenon. God wanted us to aspire to love our fellow man and to foster sentiments such as compassion and kindness. Although we can never totally master those values, by learning to control our feelings we can at least take a step in the right direction.

We need to learn to judge ourselves less and to be gentler with ourselves when we fail to live up to these high standards. While we may not attain these ultimate heights, we should at least be proud when we have started on the journey. Then, when we are asked whether we have chosen society’s way or God’s way, we will at least be able to smile and answer that we’re on the right path.

STEP THREE

● Learn to master your emotions so that everyday circumstances do not cause you stress or anxiety.

● To avoid misunderstandings, tell people how you are feeling.

● Seek happiness by making those around you feel better about themselves and boosting their confidence.

● Do things that enhance your own feelings of worth and pride, but ignore gossip and negative situations.

STEP FOUR

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Society plays a very important role in shaping the sort of person we become, because it conditions us to accept the laws and values that it establishes.

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. These laws and values are determined by the leaders of the community, but they are constantly changing to mirror the needs of our society. Sometimes this leads to specific sections of the community being disadvantaged.

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Ordinary people have negligible power in this situation, but as an individual, you can make a change to a small section of the society around you

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. That in turn might spread or inspire others to do the same, and, eventually, it could lead to a much bigger change.

STEP FIVE

● You are free to choose your own destiny in life, but the Bible says that each man has been given his own gift from God. That might be the gift of being good at listening to people, the ability to constantly be happy or the gift of compassion and forgiveness; but without doubt, each of us has something.

● As a starting point to finding our purpose in life, we should each try to work out what our own unique gift is and learn to use that for the benefit of others.

● If there is a life after death, then we should at least attempt to live by a set of standards that accord with that possibility.

STEP SIX

● Love everyone, including yourself.

● Outgrow your childhood conditioning, including the influence of your parents.

● Learn to be yourself and conquer negative thoughts.

● Seek self-belief and self-approval.

● Refuse to do anything that would cause you guilt.

● Wherever possible, but without surrender, forgive others.

● Protect your mind from unwanted or unsavoury intrusions.

● Strive to achieve higher moral standards.

STEP SEVEN

● You have a ‘free choice’ where evil arises, and therefore in most situations, you are free to choose either goodness or evil.

● Try to establish if any act is defined by love, which is unconditional in that it seeks no reward, or by evil, which is all-powerful and a force of destruction.

● Realise that antisocial acts contribute to evil and that your own acts can make a substantial difference to those around you and, with a bit of thought, can materially improve events for everyone involved.

● Wherever possible, learn to look at the motivation behind an act to see ‘why’ the act was committed.

● Lead your life as though, when you die, the sum total of every individual act you have undertaken throughout your whole life will have contributed mainly to good or mainly to evil. This will determine if you have supported God or Satan throughout your life.

● Remember that people and organisations are becoming increasingly intolerant and willing to exploit the old and infirm. There is also an increasing lack of care and compassion for our fellow man, but you can improve matters by refusing to join in with such activities.

To leave you with a constructive exercise that you can work on over the coming months I’m going to list thirty things that you can measure yourself against.

From this list you should select those areas where you think that you, as a person, need to improve.

For example, if you don’t smile much then make a note of that item. If you smile a lot then just ignore that item and move on to the next one. At the end of the exercise you should have a list of practical items where you think you can make improvements in your life.

Circle each item where you think you can improve yourself in that area

1. Learn to rely on yourself – don’t rely on what other people say or tell you

2. Learn to love yourself

3. Question things

4. Foster hope, faith and trust – regardless of how many times you’ve been let

down

5. Don’t be cynical

6. Smile and laugh more

7. Learn not to worry so much – try to be more positive

8. Learn to look for the good in others

9. Say nice things to other people

10. Stop worrying

11. Reject negative thoughts – be more positive

12. Be honest

13. Treat others as you would want them to treat you

14. Honour the 10 commandments

15. Reject guilt – unless you deserve it

16. Be proud of yourself and your achievements, however small they are

17. Be slow to anger

18. Talk directly to God

19. Avoid being arrogant

20. Foster high ideals

 

21. Keep peace with your soul

22. Grow old gracefully

23. Do not be loud or aggressive – try to be serene and placid

24. Try to be more patient

25. Try to be compassionate with other people

26. Don’t listen to gossip – it’s negative

27. Be genuine with other people

28. Try to rekindle those things that you particularly liked about yourself, either now or in the past

29. Learn to take control of your life

30. Learn to admire people who show the above attributes and rely less on those people who don’t

You should now have a list of areas that you think you can improve. Your list may be very long or small – it doesn’t matter.

From the list you’ve just made, consider which you think are the five most urgent areas for you to concentrate on, the five things that you think would possibly make you a nicer person.

Now summarise each of those items in as near as you can get to a single word for each of them and write them down on a piece of paper. It might look something like this: – smile more –be compassionate – be positive – rely on myself – say nice things.

Put the list somewhere where you will read it every day – on your bedroom mirror; in your wallet, your diary – anywhere where you will see it at least once a day.

All you need to do now is put it into practice and, when you think you’ve succeeded in one of these areas, replace it with another one from your original list.

Over time you will be amazed how easy it is to improve on these areas provided that you really do want to and you remind yourself each day what it is you are trying to achieve.

This list of 30 things to compare yourself against that I’ve just given above has one purpose and one purpose only. If you never listen to another piece of advice in all your life then please, please – listen to this one.

Its purpose was to help you to find yourself.

The book finally concludes that it’s for you as an individual to determine what your own purpose in life is. One of the greatest wastes in life is that so many people, even when they reach old age, have still not given any thought as to what their purpose is.

 

This is because they cling to what they learnt in childhood and refuse to break free from such early conditioning. It’s both difficult and painful to grow up and to seek your own values, expressions and beliefs, but not to do so leads to a life that is wasted. It leads to a life ruled by what others tell you.

In the end, however, there is only you who can decide how you want to lead your life and what choices you should make.

 

I wish you every success with that journey!

 

 


Is That It?

A book that helps you to take stock of your life, to consider who you are, what you stand for and where you are heading in the future. Most people, whatever their race, creed or colour, will at some time in their life have pondered the meaning of it - what's the purpose of it all? They are unlikely to have found an answer to that question, but in this increasing cynical world of ours, we can at least consider what our own part in it is. This book tries to rekindle that search, to rediscover the goodness within and to re-build a desire to make a difference. It is a book that inspires you on a journey of spiritual growth and enrichment of the soul, but it does so in a very down to earth manner.

  • ISBN: 9781370694099
  • Author: John Prentice
  • Published: 2017-05-11 14:05:13
  • Words: 36017
Is That It? Is That It?