On an exquisitely sun-dappled Saturday morning in July, my sister Linda facilitated a book group discussion of Wendy Backlund’s book Victorious Emotions. Creating a Framework For a Happier You. This book had impacted her life in a positive way, compelling her to share the lessons she is learning and hear how others were moved by the book.
About four or five years ago, Wendy was the inspiring keynote speaker at a women’s retreat. Like Linda, Wendy is a pastor’s wife who used to be shy in her spiritual life.
Wendy advocates that we have the ability to create positive neural pathways, incubating catalysts of joy, happiness, appreciation and developing positive emotions by focusing on what we believe rather than what we feel.
It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. – Henry David Thoreau
I have a vibrant personality, a zest for life, and my go-to state of mind is one of enthusiasm and many of the positive adjectives that Wendy promotes. But I’ve had times in my life where I would get into a rut, and ruminate on the negative, grasping for more negative experiences and memories to justify a dark mindset.
And I would get irritated with someone cheerfully chirping adages of “things could be worse” with alacrity; they were well-meaning, but sometimes I wasn’t ready to truly hear what they were saying. I was too busy wallowing in a sea of pity.
This pattern of behavior, letting negative thoughts overwhelm me, had the potential
of spiraling into a self-defeating maelstrom that could pull me into the depths of darkness if I clung to the sinking emotion.
Wendy addresses the above behavior in her book; she is spot-on with insisting that we demolish our old thinking patterns, rehearse and re-imagine new, positive strongholds. Her book tosses a life raft to anyone that has succumbed to negative emotions hijacking a perspective of an event or circumstance.
Let’s sashay back into the sunny home where ten women had gathered to discuss Wendy’s book.
Most of the women in attendance have been friends for years, attending church services, retreats and celebrations together. I was somewhat of an interloper, not on familiar ground with this diverse gathering of women who had bonded over coffee and conversation through the seasons.
Nevertheless, I was immediately reminded of the importance of women’s friendships. It swept over me like a hug from my Grandma Rose; she’d gather me up in her soft embrace, holding me against her heart, and just before releasing me, she’d plant a big kiss on my cheek, leaving a trace swatch of her signature red lipstick, a visible reminder of her love.
That morning I was reminded that nurturing relationships meet you in many forms and you can discover them if you look carefully; they span generations and time.
As my sisters’ friends (and now my friends) arrived, the atmosphere carried a melody of laughter, intimacy and storytelling; the coziness of familiarity added to the warmth that they shared with one another. And me.
Eventually we meandered (were herded) into the conjoined dining and living rooms, each of us balancing coffee or juice and selecting confections in route. Candles flickered on the sideboard, drawing our eyes to a demitasse filled with apricot jam and a miniature filigreed spoon. A fortification of assorted bagels encircled the delicate heirloom. A variety of Pinterest-inspired Promethean breakfast sandwiches caused several of us to collide as we discerned and grappled with spatulas and tongs, indecisive of which to choose.
Our shepherd casually lounged cross-leggedly on the couch, a mug of steaming coffee in her hand, surveying the room with an enthusiastic smile. From her perch, Linda had a birds eye view of all the attendees (and a view of my plate). She was truly in her element, assessing any needs in terms of food & beverage fare, winking at a friend across the room, deftly joining in to support a diffident conversation. I admire those that can effortlessly and affably entertain in confidence; Linda is the embodiment of a hostess nonpareil.
The coffee table showcased our book du jour, along with an accompanying journal penned by Wendy Backlund and a small symmetrical stack of books with a cognitive psychology slant. Vibrant paper-weights of hand-picked bouquets blooming in mini crystal vases rested on top of several hand-outs that Linda had prepared, listing her favorite quotes and inspirational messages.
I chose my seat with deliberate and covert intent: I needed a way to disguise the abundant plate that I had heaped with a little bit of everything. To be honest, I was holding what looked like a sampler’s platter; my sister had beautifully crafted several breakfast items that I had deemed ineluctable. I had zero discipline or regard about restraining what I had layered onto my bone china plate. After a quick logistics assessment , I settled into a winged chair expertly positioned in shadow and angles. The furniture and I conspired to disguise my plate. If I kept my feet flat on the floor, the plate was lower than the oversized chair arms. I took demure sips of coffee and hoped nobody would notice the amount of times my fork traveled from lap to lip.
For the first time that morning, silence descended on the room, as the occupants settled into a culinary exploratory and positioned their respective copies of Victorious Emotions or notes close by.
It was a comfortable silence, I felt nurtured and safe as I anticipated our discussion. I was not concerned or worried about sharing vulnerabilities or my personal missteps.
Linda invited conversation, encouraging all to share their thoughts on the book. Each of us has a unique perspective, different parts of the book spoke to us in different ways.
Collectively, we agreed that this is a book that should be read in installments…read a chapter or two and reflect. In fact, you can open the book to any page and be inspired; it isn’t necessary to read the book chronologically.
This is not a quick-read; this is a tome that is meant to be savored and mentally ingested thoughtfully. There were excerpts that resonated with each of us, where we could identify with the author because our flawed responses mirrored hers. We came to understand that some beliefs that we conjure up in our heads are not necessarily truths.
I got the impression that several women were searching for something to deepen their faith or to live with more hope in their lives. In our journey through life, sometimes we collect unhealthy things, intangible things, like worries and negative thoughts. Collecting negative thoughts is the single greatest obstruction to success.
Here are some of the thoughts, the truths, the triumphs, the falsehoods, the quotes that reverberated through our minds and through our discussion:
- “Our brains do not know who we are. Our brains can only create a sense of identity based on what they have been told, what they have imagined, or that they have experienced. It is crucial that we teach our brains to not get our identity out of our experiences” – Wendy Backlund.
- Cultivating an inner unity within ourselves is our goal, bringing our subconscious and conscious mind into alignment. Many times we are unaware of what we subconsciously believe because we are more aware of what we THINK we should believe.
- One of the attendees discussed a verbally abusive husband. When he died, the Lord said, “now you are both free”. She had felt her identity was based on her relationship to her husband, she didn’t have an individual identity, it was a package deal, masked by another. Most of her life she would preface a statement with “I can’t”. She had rehearsed these negative mantras for years, 80-some years. She is retraining her brain to respond to how God sees her.
- “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose”, Proverbs 18:21.
- Life is a learning journey. God is merciful, he lets us go through ups and downs to learn to be ok with worry, to fear, to go through what we are going through, but remember that we may think we are not victorious, due to our mindsets or our pasts, but we ARE victorious.
- One of the attendees struggled for more than 30 years with her inability to have children. The Lord spoke to her, “I knew before you were born, you wouldn’t have children. I knew you’d be a teacher and would have hundreds of children”.
- God has a plan for us. If our hearts are accustomed to hearing his word, we will be in harmony with the Holy Spirit. Joy is the result of being restored. Hope is the feeling of expectation. Faith is the full trust of confidence that we are restored.
- As a young girl, one of the attendees was labeled in a disparaging way. The Lord spoke to her, implored that she not believe those negative things and bestowed on her the beautiful nickname of Sunshine. In her presence, you can feel warmth emanating and illuminating her spirit.
- Next, we went around the room and some shared the nickname that the Lord had anointed us with and we discussed our interpretations and how they played into our lives: “Radiant One”, “My Precious One”, “Sparkle, “Warrior”, “Honeybee”, “My Dear” were some of the nicknames. What nickname does God refer to you by?
- One of the attendees gets joy in helping someone that needs encouragement. Her advice: don’t be afraid to invite someone into your home (literally or figuratively), you each have much to gain from it.
- We discussed emotions we’ve encountered and conquered. There were people-pleasers in the room. One attendee had many fears, brought on by her experiences. She had envied others with adventurous spirits but her internal dialogue of “I could never do those things” placed limits on her. She made up her mind to cast off that negative mindset and is in the process of planning her own personal adventure.
- Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is moving forward when you feel afraid. Even though fearful, we can overcome. – Joyce Meyer
- At the end of each day or as a new day begins, express gratitude, the good things, the blessings that you have been gifted. Meditate on the positive.
- “Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant, a seed, this plants the giant miracle” – Ann Voskamp.
- “Our lives are a puzzle, don’t miss those little pieces”.
- Our joy doesn’t have to be based on our circumstances.
That sun-dappled morning emerged into a day of victorious golden sunshine. Several of us walked away bolstered by profundity attributed to the depths of our book discussion and how it touched us personally. We have a renewed goal of rehearsing our past successes until they become a part of our new identity.
By surrounding ourselves with those that nurture and support us, and the ones that we trust to speak up to remind us to adopt a more accurate mindset of our true selves, we can switch off auto-pilot and some of our dogmatic beliefs and lay the foundation to build happiness as our default emotion.
As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. – Henry David Thoreau