Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Will My GPS Get Me to Summerland?

                                         Will my GPS get me to Summerland? 


Actually no one has asked me this particular question, but in this article I am responding to reader questions about my last article.  If you haven’t read it, check out the article on greatest fears/greatest sorrows in the November Chatham County Line or this website. In the article I discussed the afterlife and recommendations for preparation during this lifetime: unconditional love and forgiveness. These recommendations were made by all my sources!  So all our technology, GPS, smart phones, apps, will not help us navigate our way to our eternal life. You can ask Siri on your iPad, but she is puzzled.  You may recall the articles about the Chatham County Stress Monster.  Don’t ask him; obviously he will send you astray on the road to the badlands.


This topic is serious and important but not devoid of humor or happiness.  Laughter is one of the pleasant and happy parts of life and happiness is an intrinsic part of these two great virtues: unconditional love and forgiveness. These virtues lead to happiness and joy during this lifetime as well as the future. You will all experience a self-review of the success of your lifetime in deciding upon your path in the afterlife.  There are no secrets, and falsehoods or deceptions or blaming others is impossible. Religious and spiritual sources all highlight the importance of these virtues.  Christ is often cited as a major source, but library research will uncover other religious as well as scientific support for these virtues. 


Okay, you ask, but how can I actually live according to these virtues? I’m so busy with work and  humdrum parts of life that I don’t even have time to think about these virtues much less try to put them into practice. Even more devastating is the amount of negativity and anger endemic in modern society. The news is replete with stress, hostility and blaming. Commentators choose their sides pro or con, democratic or republican, us or them, all judging good versus bad, with the other side exemplifying evil.  If all you want to do is survive and be an adrenaline junkie in the middle of conflict, so be it. If you want to follow your heart to live in peace and joy, let’s decide to put aside conflict and think some more about these topics.


Unconditional love and forgiveness both involve avoiding negative judgments. Unconditional love by definition is given freely, everywhere, without negative judgments on our part. In contrast, conditional love is only given to others who I decide/judge are giving love or rewards to me and whom I decide/judge I want to favor with my positive feelings. Forgiveness involves letting go of negative decisions/judgments while anger and revenge feelings are always based on negative judgments about others,


Another important premise in understanding these virtues is that they must be directed toward self as well as others. The Golden Rule is a beautiful guidepost for us in making decisions about  virtues which influence both current and eternal life. We must love ourselves and forgive ourselves unconditionally.


Perfection in achieving these goals is not possible. Don’t give up now. Of course we will stumble and fall many times as long as we stay on this road.  We can practice these values until they become habits, and research shows that habits can be established in several months of practice.  Our hearts are a great ally in helping our heads work toward these goals. I’ve discussed heart-based ways of positive living as well as the virtues of kindness and compassion in many other articles. These are the foundations of unconditional love and forgiveness.  Scientific research shows that we have parts of our body and brain (the vagus nerve, the caudate nucleus and anterior cingulate in the brain and the oxytocin hormone) which all assist us in deriving pleasure from compassionate behavior. (Consult two books by Dr. Dacher Keltner, Norton Press, “Born to Be Good,” 2009, and “The Compassionate Instinct,” 2010.)


I’ll mention a few other thoughts to help us on this path to eliminating negative judgments in our daily thinking. First note that our brains cannot help but make decisions which feel like judgments about all topics which come into our minds. We don’t need to try to inhibit this natural process. What we do need to do is inhibit the tendency to go on to the next step of assigning goodness or badness or blame to our observations. When our brains do take a next step toward negativity, we can put up a mental stop sign and think again with our hearts as well as our mind: “Who am I to judge?” Sometimes we are hurt in these interactions and find it difficult to put aside negative judgments. You will find articles about forgiveness on my website (including the Ho’oponopono approach.) which are designed to help you deal with personal animosity.


Unconditional love is a beautiful concept which involves reaching out to the entire universe with positive regard and positive acceptance. We feel unconditional love toward mankind as well as all other inhabitants of our planet, trees, flowers, animals. Philosophers tell us we’re all one and must care for each other. This wonderful concept will often break down in human life when we are a victim of personal issues such as a bitter divorce, family violence or abuse. In these cases we will have to struggle to put aside our personal vindictiveness, knowing that the outside world or afterlife will take care of judgment for those whose behavior requires punishment. We must protect ourselves against victimizers, then we can let go of personal hurt and bitterness.


It’s important to realize that love is not just a feeling; it’s a way of being in the world.  Love is demonstrated by kindness and compassionate behavior to all. Good works are a wonderful way to show love!


Another very important point. We must preserve our personal boundaries in this process. Forgiving does not mean letting people walk all over you or becoming such a people pleaser that you do not take care of yourself. 


Although these seem like heavy topics, it’s important to relax and enjoy the benefits of your present life and projected afterlife. When you practice unconditional love and forgiveness you will begin to feel uplifted in your heart, energized and optimistic while the stresses of modern life retreat into the background. I want you to live your lives in this positive space!