I was recently reminded of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Most everyone is familiar with this story. It is a great adventure, but there is also a deeper meaning to the story. Dorothy, a girl of about 11 or 12, and her dog, Toto, awaken in the Land of Oz after being swept up in a Kansas tornado. Of course, she is lost and frightened and wants to return home. She finds out there is a powerful wizard who lives in the Emerald City and who might be able to send her home. On her way to the City, Dorothy meets the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow, all of whom decide to travel with her to see the Wizard because they believe he is the one who will give them what they most desire. The Tin Woodman wants a heart, the Scarecrow wants a brain, and the Cowardly Lion wants courage. Eventually, they find the Wizard, but all he does is send them on a dangerous quest.
In order to overcome all the obstacles they encounter, Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow all unknowingly demonstrate the very qualities they are hoping will be given to them by the Wizard. They fulfill the quest, and eagerly set out to get their rewards from the Wizard. When they arrive, they discover the Wizard is just a fraud–he has no real power to give them what they asked for. Instead, he gives them tokens to represent each characteristic they sought. To the Cowardly Lion, he gives a potion of “courage.” To the Tin Woodman, he gives a silk heart stuffed with sawdust. To the Scarecrow, he gives a head full of bran, pins, and needles.
There is much more meaning to the story, but there are two particular psychological beliefs expressed I want to highlight. First is the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow believed they lacked certain qualities, so they sought them outside themselves, when in fact, they already possessed them. The truth is, like them, we are already complete. Everything we think we need from someone else is already within us. The second is they and Dorothy believed that when they found the wizard, then everything would be alright. This “when. . . then” thinking stems from an especially pernicious belief. Let us examine these two beliefs in some depth.
You Are What You Lack?
In traditional Judeo-Christian thinking, we have typically been told what we lack, so by the time we become adults, we are notably preoccupied with what we need to fix in order to be acceptable to others. I used to see so many clients who knew a lot about what was wrong with them, but quickly fell silent when I asked what was right with them. This was the psychotherapeutic paradigm of the 1980s and 1990s–people went to see a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, pastor, or other mental health professional to get “fixed” or “cured” of all their flaws and abnormalities. The prevailing belief was to go see a “wizard” out there who had the knowledge, skills, and strategies to heal people and make them whole.
With the introduction of positive psychology, a major paradigm shift began. The focus changed toward self-empowerment, self-development, and psychological health. Psychological research shifted to study how character strengths and virtues evolved in people and to find ways to encourage their emergence throughout the human lifespan. Life coaches and spiritual guides appeared. People began practicing yoga and meditation, doing energy work, reading self-help books, and pursuing a variety of self-help techniques like Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP).
Nevertheless, there is still an undercurrent of negative energy based on fear which undermines happiness and good health. (Read “The End of Guilt”) Even with the paradigm shift, the belief that we must forever be “improving” ourselves has not disappeared. Of course, I believe we can all change and grow, especially if we keep an open mind and are willing to take risks. I would not be writing this blog if I did not believe people could change. However, my point is to start from the perspective of what gifts, talents, characteristics or strengths do I have now–to acknowledge and embrace them first. Sometimes, simply taking the time to reflect upon and to write down your strengths is a good beginning. In fact, you can do this once a week or every day if that helps change your consciousness about yourself. Consider this quote from A Course in Miracles.
Again–nothing you do or think or wish or make is necessary to establish your worth. This is not debatable except in delusions. Your ego is never at stake because God did not create it. Your spirit is never at stake because He did. Any confusion on this point is delusional, and no form of devotion is possible as long as this delusion lasts. –Text, chapter 4, section I, paragraph 7, 6–10
When. . . Then
The second belief of our traveling troupe in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was when they found the wizard, then everything would change for the better. How pervasive is this thinking today! When I get through this divorce, I will be happy. When I get my promotion I will be happy. When we get married, we will be happy. When I can finally retire, then I will be happy. When I move to a warmer climate, I will be happy. When we get this kitchen remodeled, we will be happy. When my kids leave home, then I can start doing what I really enjoy. This litany goes on and on and on. This magical thinking is intertwined with the first belief in that it too is based on the conviction that some person, outcome, circumstance, or event in the future will make you happy. Again, this invalid belief is based on lack and the idea that fulfillment lies somewhere outside yourself or at some other time.
What about now? What is there in your life to embrace and celebrate at this moment? I close with this quote from The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
Have you ever experienced, done, thought, or felt anything outside the Now? Do you think you ever will? Is it possible for anything to happen or be outside the Now? The answer is obvious, is it not? Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.