Through her web site, www.susanjeffers.com, she offers daily affirmations, stories, articles, and current information about her work.
“An old woman was once asked why she was always smiling. And she replied, "Well, I wear the world just as a loose garment." She didn't take it all too seriously, she don't get hung up in consequences. This book is about giving you trust in yourself, so that life becomes a dance for you, and you can wear it like a loose garment.”—Susan Jeffers
End the Struggle and Dance with Life: How to Build Yourself Up When the World Gets You Down by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. (253 pp.)
In her international best-seller Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway Susan Jeffers helped millions push through their fears and move forward in their lives. In her new book, she shows us how to release ourselves from stress, and live jubilantly. For many of us, life often feels like a struggle. Sometimes it's an effort just to get out of bed and face the treadmill of everyday living. Yet there are people who live their lives with an attitude of joy and abundance - even when faced with enormous adversity. Dr. Jeffers suggests that it's all about dancing with whatever life brings us. Here she provides insights, anecdotes and exercises to help us to relinquish our worries and thrive on our circumstances. She shows us how to see beyond all the bad news, how to "climb off the ladder to distress," how to focus on the process rather than the outcome, and how to drop those torturous "shoulds and shouldn'ts" that so impede our progress. Readers will both appreciate the wisdom contained in these pages, and relish the author's personal style. Jeffers delights with a wealth of amusing, entertaining - and ultimately inspiring - stories from the sages she's studied and the many people she's met on her own journey. In the end, her enthusiasm is infectious. It's a radiant book.
The following is an edited version of Susan Jeffer’s Bodhi Tree presentation.
Susan Jeffers: Just open the newspaper and you'll see terrible things happening all over the world, like disease, violence or natural disasters. There's so much struggle. I'd like to discuss the difference in the way people handle what happens. Some people handle crisis with a sense of serenity, but most of us battle.
People who handle crisis with serenity have mastered the art of dancing with life. Dancing with life is about moving into the flow of all our experiences, good or bad, with the feeling of gratitude, harmony and love. You might say, "I have trouble flowing with the good, how am I going to flow with the bad?" Well, that's really what ending the struggle and dancing with life is all about.
I have a pink quartz laughing Buddha who is my model of how I'd like life to be. He has a big belly, he doesn't have any money, he travels alone. Yet he has this smile on his face that lights up the room. He's discovered something wondrous within his being. You don't have to gain weight like my Buddha, or divest yourself of your money and relationships to find this wondrous thing in yourself. You can find it no matter what you are doing in life. You could be the laughing teacher or the laughing housewife. It's whatever you do.
Those who've read Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, know what I mean when I say most of us live in the lower self. That's the part of us that lives in fear. It doesn't see the possibility inherent in all situations. It doesn't understand the greater design. When we're caught in a place of the lower self, we become addicted to control. But if we move to the higher self, we will come to a place where we feel safe and complete. That's where we know that no matter what happens to us, it can be used for the highest good. And there is nothing to fear.
The higher self has vision. And if we listen to its messages, then we are lead towards joy. It doesn't make sense to live in the lower self the way that we do. There's this wonderful Yiddish saying, "to a worm in horseradish, the whole world is horseradish." In other words, when you're stuck, you are unable to see another way. In my work, I'm trying to show the way out of the horseradish.
There are many ways to get to the spiritual part of who we are. One of my favorite stories comes from Ram Dass, who was part of Timothy Leary's Harvard Psychology team which first experimented with LSD. In the early 70's, Ram Dass believed that psychedelic drugs were the way to enlightenment. There he was, addressing a meeting, surrounded by flower children. And in the front row, an elderly woman in a big hat was going yes, yes to everything he said, like she really got it. Afterwards she came up to him and said, "Ram Dass, your experience of the universe exactly mirrors mine." He asked, "How could that be?" She leaned over conspiratorially and told him, "I crochet." That's when he realized there was more than one way to reach enlightenment.
In my book I talk about dropping the heavy baggage, seeing beyond the bad news, feeling faith in a dangerous world -- and finding your place of power and love. I offer tools to teach you the art of letting go. Also, you have to learn how to take in all the blessings as well.
An old woman was once asked why she was always smiling. And she replied, "Well, I wear the world like a loose garment." Isn't that a wonderful image? She doesn't take it all too seriously, she doesn't get all hung up in consequences. Most of us wear life like a tight girdle! There are big things to let go of and there are little things to let go of, but most of us drive ourselves with the little things. For many of us, the wrong table in a restaurant can ruin a whole evening.
Twelve and a half years ago, I had breast cancer. Actually, I handled it like a champ. That was higher self living for me. About a year and a half later, I got married, and three weeks before the wedding, I had a bad hair perm. My higher self could care less about my hair, but I was distraught, my lower self thought it was the end of the world. If I knew then what I know now, I would have known how to turn my attention to the beauty of the moment and the beautiful man I was marrying. If you let them, those little things can ruin wonderful things.
Alan Cohen, author of Joy is my Compass tells a wonderful story about going into McDonalds and being instantly annoyed by a group of incredibly noisy, obnoxious kids. He couldn't stand it. He remembered someone telling him that McDonalds put sugar in the French fries and preservatives in the apple pie. It infuriated him, he thought he'd boycott the place. Then his higher self said to him, "What if nothing around you has any power to pull away your happiness?" At first he resisted, but finally, he looked around with new eyes. Then he let go. He thought, "What's wrong with some kids having a good time? A little sugar, a little preservatives, it's not going to take away my ability to love." We can actually create a dialogue between our higher and lower selves, and come to change our perceptions that way.
How do we let go of those major crises in our lives? First thing is, we don't need to adopt the victim mentality -- because it's destroying the happiness of so many people. I went to a party and a woman came up to me and said, "Hi I'm Laura, the adult child of an alcoholic." I strongly endorse 12 step programs, but titles like that are terribly limiting. We have to make our lives so huge and so filled with riches that something like that becomes almost irrelevant.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I resolved to say yes to the universe and to the experience. Saying yes to the universe is dancing with life. And if you think there's nothing to be gained from breast cancer, let me tell you a few things:
I believed that emotion might have something to do with my disease, so I decided to work on my anger. In the process, I discovered the fear and pain underneath it, and I learned to open my heart and to love much more fully than I loved before. I realized the beauty in the man who never left my side. I learned greater compassion and caring for the people who shared the experience with me. I learned that sexuality has nothing to do with the breast, which is amazing, considering how consumed with the breast we are in this culture. I have had countless blessings from this disease.
I also learned that aging is wonderful! Once your life has been threatened, that's a very true statement. Look at Christopher Reeve, look at people with AIDS who say yes, look at the models we have.
My favorite quote in my book is from the Torah which states, "in a world to come, we will be called to account for all the beautiful things that God put on this earth which we refused to enjoy." When I read it I realized that there was so much I'd been given that I had not appreciated. Then I thought, I have just been given permission to enjoy.
One of the ways to liberate ourselves is to make the ordinary in our life extraordinary. My father lived with the idea that life is a mass of boredom, interjected with a few exquisite moments. I believed him for years, then one day I realized how wrong he was, waiting for those grand splashes of brilliance. Why wait? Why don't we harvest our rewards every day of our lives?
A Chinese Zen Master said, "magical power, marvelous action, chopping wood, carrying water" There's actually a book called Chop Wood, Carry Water [by Rick Fields and others]. Its the idea that simple, ordinary things have magical power and marvelous action. Similarly, from Winnie the Pooh:
"When you wake up in the morning Pooh," said Piglet, "What's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast," said Pooh. "What do you say Piglet?"
I say, "I wonder what's going to happen exciting today," replied Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully, "It's the same thing," he said.
That first cup of coffee in the morning, the shower on your back, putting the key in the car and having it start. It's all unbelievable magic. We only notice these things when they break down or when they're missing.
It's about living mindfully, living deeply. We need to take these spiritual tools and put them into all that we do. It doesn't mean going to a cave somewhere and meditating for months. The tools can be brought into our everyday life. I used to hate supermarkets. So I decided I'll use the supermarket to see if I could change my experience of things. First I noticed all the variety there. Then I thought of what went into it all. I thought of farmers, the chickens, the grain, the bakers, the truckers that brought it all to my doorstep. When you start thinking how we take things for granted, it can blow your mind. At last I thought of the source of it all, the sunshine, the rain and the earth, and next thing I'm crying at the miracle of the supermarket. There's a wonderful poem by Emily Dickinson where she says, "as if I asked in common alms, and in my wandering hand a stranger pressed a kingdom and I bewildered stand." Find the kingdom in everything that you do. That's part of the secret with dancing with life.
One of my favorite tools for dancing, is to unset your heart. We say, I've got my heart set on this or that, then it doesn't work out and we're demolished. I don't mean that you don't plan goals and do the work to achieve them. But if something doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. A greater benefit may be coming along, or maybe more work needs to be done. The attachment to things being a certain way takes away all our peace.
Quettion: Is there a way to distinguish between your logical mind and your higher self?
Susan Jeffers: Anything that comes from the higher self is a pathway to love. If it doesn't have love about it then it's not from that place. For example, people talk about love in relationship, but in actual fact, what they're about is control. There's a quote that goes, "never try to teach a pig to sing, it wastes your time and it annoys the pig." If we allow someone to be the best of who they can be, that's love. Even if that means giving them the right to pull away from us. The higher self is simply the path of love, acceptance and fearlessness. We've all felt it. You know, when things are going wonderfully, and you're content, you're living in a higher self moment.
I liken spiritual tools to exercising the body. When we get our bodies where we want them, we have to keep working to keep them that way. It's the same with spiritual exercise. As soon as we stop doing it, we start losing the power. Also, we have to be able to jump into the pain inside ourselves, and cry in pain for others as well. I used to be a pseudo positive thinker. I put it all down to karma, I had no compassion. But when I let that dam burst inside of me, I cried and I cried -- a good healthy cry! A cry of yes this is happening, yes, the pain is real but I will find my way to the other side. We cannot deny the pain in our lives.
I was in New Zealand when the Port Arthur massacre happened. Everyone asked me, "Well, what do you say about that?" My response was that it was a wake up call to all of us. First, we have to enter the land of tears and know the pain of that situation. Then we must work to heal the pain and anger that lies within our own lives, and consider how much negativity we put into the world.
Question: How do you handle anger?
Susan Jeffers: I have a chapter in the book called Anger, How Sweet It Is. It's sweet because it's better than being passive, and it keeps us from having to look at what's beneath it. There are various tools: Screaming is a great way to release, because anger is toxic. The more we push it down the more poisoned we feel.
Here's an exercise: Close your eyes, settle yourself into a very meditative situation -- turn the phone off -- and think of the person you'd most love to hit in the face. In your mind's eye, keep saying to this other person, "I love you, I love you, I love you. First thing that'll happen is this incredible rage will begin coming up. Love him? There is no way! But you go back and you try it again the next day. I did it with my ex-husband. Eventually I understood that he did his very best, given who he was when we were married. But then I started to get angry at myself. So I started on me. "I love you, I love you, I love you." And I realized that I did my best too. The next day, in real life, I called up my ex and said, "I want to tell you all the wonderful things about you that I could never tell you when we were married. I was so insecure that to build you up would've made me feel smaller." We cried. It was incredibly healing. Not long after that I remarried. The baggage was gone because my anger was gone.
Question: Sometimes I feel I'm doing what makes my heart sing, then I feel other things pulling at me. How do I know when spirit is guiding me?
Susan Jeffers: In Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, I had that line which mapped out your starting point and your destination. So you're going along, then you veer, and you don't feel very good about it. I think it's simply a matter of saying, "Oops, I'm on the wrong track here." Then you use your tools to get clear. You know, I was off track in terms of my job. All of a sudden, I needed more challenge. I was sitting at my desk and a voice came into my head and said go to the New School of Social Research. I didn't even know where it was. But at the time I was practicing intuition. Next thing I'm standing in their lobby thinking, now what do I do? I went up to Department of Human Resources and straight into this woman's office. And I just told her: I'm here to teach a course on fear. I have no idea where the words came from. The woman said, "I can't believe it. I've been searching for somebody. Today's the last day to put the course in the catalogue. That how I started Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.
We have to see it as the dance of life. And we have to lighten up about it. Just let yourself be where you are now.