Last week, I began a conversation about the essential relationship between goals and miracles – between that which can be brought about through our own personal efforts and intentions and that which occurs beyond the scope of human intervention. This is a topic that has been discussed and explored since the beginnings of philosophy, even in the opening lines of what I often consider to be the first “self-help” book ever published, Epictetus’ 2nd century classic The Enchiridion:
There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.
Now, the things within our power are by nature free, unrestricted, unhindered; but those beyond our power are weak, dependent, restricted, alien. Remember, then, that if you attribute freedom to things by nature dependent, and take what belongs to others for your own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed, you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you take for your own only that which is your own, and view what belongs to others just as it really is, then no one will ever compel you, no one will restrict you, you will find fault with no one, you will accuse no one, you will do nothing against your will; no one will hurt you, you will not have an enemy, nor will you suffer any harm.
In other words, human beings really struggle when we try to take charge of the universe, but do really well when we take charge of our own affairs and leave the rest to the seeming randomness and/or intelligence behind life. So why would I introduce the idea of “miracle setting” into the conversation? And how do we sort between that which is within our power (goals) and that which is beyond our power (miracles)?
Let’s take each of these questions in turn:
1. If miracles involve those things which are beyond our control or power, why even ask for a miracle?
I used to begin many of my coaching sessions by asking my clients if they were open to a miracle happening during their session. What I meant was this:
“Are you open to being surprised and delighted by what can happen when you stop presuming you already know your own limitations and stop limiting the infinite creative potential of life?”
So the reason I encourage people to set impossible goals and ask for miracles is that generally speaking, so much more is possible in life than that which we can imagine through our own limited perceptions and personal resources. Where we get ourselves into trouble is when we abandon what is ours to do or try to take ownership of what is not.
For example, people often come to me saying they want to write a book as if there must be some magical incantation or internal on/off switch that has to be spoken or flipped before it can happen. The simple truth is, if you sit down and just write each day for 1/2 an hour or so, you’ll wind up with between 2500 – 5000 words on the page at the end of the week. Within three months, that’s 30,000 – 60,000 words – the length of an average sized book. It might not be very good, and you might need a lot of re-writing to get it to a place where anyone else wants to read it (my first published book went through thirteen re-writes before Hay House brought it out), but whether you write a book or not is pretty much completely up to you.
By way of contrast, other people come to me saying they want a loved one to change in some way – they want an adult child to go out and get a job, or a spouse to stop drinking or being abusive, or a friend to stop behaving in self-damaging ways. All of these things are possible – but they are not within our direct control to create. And when we act like they should be, we drive ourselves (and usually our loved ones) a little bit nuts.
On to question number two…
2. How can we know what is within our personal power to create (goals) and what is beyond our personal power to create (miracles)?
The philosopher Reinhold Niebhur famously addressed this question in what has become adapted and known as “the serenity prayer”:
“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”
In other words, if the secret to both a happy life and a successful one is to do what is ours to do and to leave the rest to the gods (or God or life or a universal Mind), the most important thing we need is insight. Fortunately, the source of insight is already inside us and available to us at all times.
Here’s how I wrote about it in The Inside-Out Revolution in a chapter called “A Formula for Miracles”:
We look in the direction of what’s true in life, as opposed to searching for the most useful lie.
As we see more truth, we experience more new thinking and a river of insights begins to flow.
When an insight in life is sufficiently profound, its impact on our life is transformative. Nothing changes on the outside, but everything’s different on the inside. We experience a vertical leap in our level of consciousness and gain new perspective on our old way of being in the world… We give up on the apparent safety of the known in search of the as yet unknown – the field of pure possibility – the space where miracles happen.
While discussing this recently with my friend Robert Holden, he talked about miracles as involving a shift in perception, not so much from one point of view to another as from a limited sense of self, which we might call the personality or “ego mind”, to a larger sense of self – our essential spiritual nature, or “universal Mind”. Each time we re-orient ourselves towards the source of creation and away from its effect, we experience a miracle – fresh insight into the nature of the human experience, liberation from our own stuck thinking, and surprisingly often, new opportunities to create what we want to see in the world of form.
If I were to attempt to translate and summarize all this philosophy back into the language of “goals and miracles”, I would say it like this:
With all my love,