I had the most delightful telephone chat yesterday with a dear friend who, after asking what day it was, gleefully declared, “It’s been 14 days!”

She explained: It had been 14 days since she smoked a cigarette. Hallelu!

Jeanne had smoked for 39 of the last 41 years, taking a break during pregnancy and again, following acupuncture treatments targeting her nicotine addiction. A bright woman with an advanced degree from an Ivy League school, Jeanne was always aware that cigarettes were ruining her health, but—

“I wanted to be a smoker,” she conceded. “I enjoyed it!”

Jeanne also had a hefty incentive to smoke: The last time she stopped she mushroomed from 110 pounds to 170. Hands down, cigarettes seemed a cuter alternative—until they weren’t.

Jeanne’s undergraduate major was math; but she didn’t need a degree to calculate that, at $9.21 a pack (with Illinois, Cook County and Chicago taxes), cigarettes were burning an irreparable hole in her monthly budget—more than $200 in cold hard cash that she could have saved or spent on something more beneficial, like food or a health club membership or fun, like designer pumps or books.

Jeanne had the option of clutching her habit, even though it didn’t serve her well, and complaining incessantly about the high cost of cigarettes and the bitter Chicago winter, as her teeth chattered between puffs. That’s what most of us do when adversity strikes: We get stuck in what we think is a comfort zone. It’s not.

Longing for what was (in this case, cheaper smokes) prevents us from experiencing the blessing of what is (a healthier body). Most new situations demand change, and change removes us from the familiar; that’s why we are so hell-bent against it. It’s like the old adage, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” We don’t want to be stagnant, but we don’t want to change, either. Can’t have both: We can’t grow unless we move from our current level—and take the lessons we’ve learned with us.

As Albert Einstein once said, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” Makes sense, but whether it’s a problem in our workplaces, our relationships or our checkbooks, we still look for answers by maintaining the same thoughts and beliefs, and consequently we take the same shortsighted and often counter-productive actions.

What if, instead of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, we approached challenges from a higher level of thinking? Aloft, we might be able to see our problems differently. If nothing else, they would look smaller and have less power over us, and absolutely no power over our emotional state.

Thinking about our problems (or obsessing about how to solve them) every waking hour not only holds the problems in the mass between our ears, it slows the natural cycle of their departure. Quite possibly, acquiring answers requires less thought and more creativity.

If you can accept that possibility, maybe you can imagine this: You are more powerful than you think—and you have access to more powerful answers than you know: Just for fun, close your eyes and imagine Earth as a sphere the size of a tennis ball. Hold it in your hand.

Imagine that this ball is inhabited by millions of intelligent, invincible and invisible beings—each made in the image of their Creator. Let’s call them souls, for lack of a better term. You can’t see them and they can’t see each other unless they’re wearing some kind of physical gear. Let’s call that gear a “body.”

Are you still with me? OK. Now let’s suppose that none of these intelligent beings is native to the tennis ball planet; everyone is a visitor. They come for only one purpose: to play a fascinating and clever game called “So, You Think This Is Life?” The rules of the game are simple and redundant, by design:

  1. Do nothing to others that you wouldn’t want others to do to you. 
  2. Love others as you love yourself. 
  3. Forgive others’ mistakes the same way you’d want yours forgiven. 

All acts that violate these simple rules are self-punishing: As one of the books available on the tennis ball admonishes: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment that you pronounce, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7.1-2)

Long story short: Violating these simple rules absolutely sucks the fun out of the game. But even that misery doesn’t last forever because every invisible soul enters the game (and the planet) with an exit strategy. Every soul gets out alive. After all, they were made in their Creator’s image, so they are just as invincible and eternal. By contrast, no body has ever left the game alive. Many are so focused on what happens when the game clock runs out that they fail to accomplish the goals of the experience.

The real object of this game, which is very popular among the invisible intelligent beings, is to remember how creative and powerful they are—no matter what distracts them or scares them into believing that they’re mortal. Mortals are naturally afraid. Fear naturally leads to failure because fearful souls have impaired cognitive ability. In fact, they’re too afraid to trust anyone to successfully navigate them through the challenges of the game. And what an extremely challenging game it is, which is why billions of souls are so attracted to the little sphere.

If given the opportunity to spend a brief period, let’s say an average of 75 tennis ball years (a bat of an eyelash in the infinite scheme of life), navigating through a variety of dramatic scenarios designed to make you forget that you are eternal, would you try it? What if you could bolster your chances of success by playing the game as a team sport? Like you, some of your team members are inside physical bodies and have egos. They can be helpful, but not consistently, because their physical trappings are also handicapping them.

Luckily, some of your teammates are not visible. They are sparks of Divine Light. They have not forgotten who you are, and they have agreed to remind you and guide you back on track whenever you wander out of bounds.

Despite their accessibility, chances are, you only consult with them unconsciously, when your ego/personality and body are asleep. Rarely do you recall what happened or the guidance that you were given. You can’t understand why you’re not making progress.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that others are able to overcome more challenges in a shorter period of time, and rarely are they fearful, stressed over overwhelmed when a challenge arises. Just a guess, but these souls are probably consulting with the Divine more frequently, through prayer or meditation, and they have managed to maintain some perspective. They remember who they are and why they are here, despite the fear-peddling and other chaos that run rampant on this small sphere.

What if you, as an infinite and powerful Soul, were aware that whatever you are experiencing right now is precisely what you need to go through to grow to the next level? Perhaps this difficulty might have been created to get your attention so that you could get back on course. Perhaps it’s merely balancing out one of the rules you might have broken. No matter what the reason, until you learn the lesson inherent in the experience, you are bound to repeat it until you do.

What do we create when we believe that life is difficult and that we serve a hurtful, vindictive, complicated and capricious God who solves problems by satanically killing and torturing people? Confusion, fear and pain. Maybe we stand a better chance of winning this game if we consider that everything we experience is designed for our benefit—even if it’s an astronomical price tag on a pack of worthless cigarettes.

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