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Why you abandoned

The Garden of Eden

to go live in

The House of Good and Bad

The following is a lightly edited transcript of a dialogue with my friend Helen


Dwight: So I have a question for you.


Have you ever noticed how I mean, if I asked you who the happiest people are on the earth, who would you say? Who are the happiest people on earth? Like a group of people, a special group of people?


Helen: Uh Yes, it's children.


Dwight: Yeah, yeah, young children, right? I mean, when you look at a two-year-old or a three-year-old, you see them playing and running around or whatever.


I mean, sure, sometimes they're unhappy. Then they cry and then it's over, or they're angry and they express it and it's over.


But they're just always just like, they're so loving in life, right? With curiosity and adventure and an open sense of the future.


How many of us adults have that? Not many.




Helen: Yeah, exactly.


Dwight: Very rare.


So I don't know whether you're familiar with the the story in the Bible, but have you ever heard of the Garden of Eden?


Helen: Yeah.


Dwight: With the idea that the first people were Adam and Eve, they were in this beautiful garden and everything was just totally provided for them.


They were completely happy, you know, just completely, completely happy.


But then they got, they did something wrong, you know, and then they got thrown out of the Garden of Eden, right? And then life was hard after that, and that supposedly explains why we suffer. Life seems to be hard for people, you know, and suffering.


Well, I'm suggesting that all of us as children, and except for a few that had incredibly terrible childhoods, but for most all of us as children, we were in the Garden of Eden then.


Helen: We were.


Dwight: Why did we give it up? Yeah, why? Yeah.


I've been asking that question.


Why did we give it up?


And I think I know the answer, and I want to share that with you and see what you think, okay?


Let's look at a typical two-year-old or three-year-old, you know.


Whenever they feel anything, they just express it, you know. If they want anything, they ask for it.


They don't want something, they say no, right? They're not worried about mommy's feelings, or anything like that.


But something starts to happen around four, five, six, seven, four, five, six, seven, eight years old, we start to get concerned about "do I look good?" Do I belong? Are people going to think I'm bad? Are people going to push me away? We start to be dominated by the concern about looking good and not looking bad.


We start to not just express things.


You know When you're two or three years old, just whatever you feel, it just comes out of your mouth.


There's no holding back, right? But at a certain point, we start to decide maybe that's not so cool, or we gotta be careful, somebody's gonna think we're not in control, you know, or we just, we are thinking about what, what how our thoughts, how our expressions might hurt other people or how they may push us away or exclude us.

Very importantly, we find out that fear is the bad guy. We need to avoid it, or just not show it.


We start to be concerned about all that.


So we start to censor our self-expression, are we gonna express anything we feel? No.


They censor it, and model what the adults are doing, right?


So, we were taught to be "good people."


And what does good people mean? Number one, you think of your future.


You don't do what you want to do now.


I know you don't want to study, you know, you gotta study and you gotta work hard so you can do right in the future and have a good future, you know.

Helne: Yeah.


Dwight: Just all this play stuff, you know, you shouldn't be doing that, right? So we're taught to to sacrifice now for the future.


And then we're blamed.


Like when we don't do things like we're expected to do, which is to think about our future and look good to others.


We have to study hard or work hard, to go to sleep on time so we can get up at the right time in the morning, you know, stuff like that.


And the other thought thing, we're taught to be good and not hurt other people's feelings.


Think of other people's feelings.


Don't tell Aunt Mary you don't want her to hug you.


That's not nice.


Even if you don't want to be hugged by Aunt Mary, let Aunt Mary hug you.


You know, if you hurt Aunt Mary's feelings, that's bad.


You know, you should think of others.


You should hide what you're thinking, and what you're feeling because that might not look good and you will be criticized and pushed away.


So to be good, to be approved of, to be accepted, we're taught to put other people ahead of ourselves, like taking care of them, and also to look good to them, not to be spontaneous and self-expressed.


Now we've got to put on a mask and shut down our natural authenticity.


So the good person, the one who has a good mask, thinks of others, and thinks of the future. We are taught to sacrifice ourselves for others and to sacrifice what we want to do now for the future.


And then we learn, we learn to push whatever part of us wants to just play and express and curiosity and whatever, we push that down, we make it wrong, you know? We push that child part down, suppress that child and do our best to dominate that part of us.


We do all this. We abandon the Garden of Eden and enter into a life of suffering so we can be liked and accepted and considered to be a good person, not a bad person.


We have forsaken our natural birthright of happiness and for the sake of belonging, for the sake of looking good and not looking bad, we abandoned the Garden of Eden and came to reside in the House of Good and Bad, the House of suffering. The house where life is hard, where life is not fair, where there is always something to prove, always some debt to be paid, something to reach, somewhere in some indefinite future where we might get to be happy again.


What do you think, Helen? So the thoughts that come into my mind?


Helen: The first one is, how do we become children again? The second thought is that this is a process because as a child you only think of yourself, but as an adult, you may go to another extreme that you only think of others.


So maybe my question is how do you become a child again when you think of your others but also think of yourself?


Dwight: That's a very, very good question.


It's important, but I just want to, before we get to that though, I want to just go a little bit further with this idea.

Yeah, I may have told you before about a book called Five Regrets of the Dying.


Did I tell you about that book?


Helen: I don't have much impression of it.


Dwight: So there was this woman who worked in a place where their people were dying.


You know, where basically the doctors had given up and then they were just trying to make the people there comfortable while they're dying.


Helen: OK.


Dwight: So everybody, you know, is probably pretty old, 60s, 70s, 80s.


They know they're on the way out.


They've got less than six months to live.


So this nurse decided to do an interview.


And asked everybody, "What was the biggest regret of your life?" And then she collected the answers from all those interviews.


And she wrote the book called The Five Top Regrets of the Dying.


Do you know what the number one regret was?


Helen: No, it's hard to guess.


Dwight: "I wish I had chosen the courage to live a life true to myself rather than the life others expected of me."


They wished they could have been true to themselves, like a child is naturally true to himself, right? But they were taught not to be true to themselves, to be a good person.


And the second one's interesting too.


The second is, "I wished I had not worked so hard," which is related to sacrificing now for the future.


You know we are taught we should work for the future, have a better future, right?


Helen: Yeah.


Dwight: Pretty interesting, right? So we had the Garden of Eden.


We lived there with this world of curiosity and adventure and play, and each new day is totally fresh and and a sense of this open-ended future.


You know you didn't maybe even know what the future was going to be like, but we had a sense that it's going to be great, right? But it turned out to not be so great.


Even if I can't have my candy today, it's just going to be great, whatever.


We gave all that up. We abandoned the Garden of Eden.


We discarded the Garden of Eden in the name and expectation of looking good and avoiding looking bad.


And that's the number one fear of humanity.


The fear of looking bad, or not looking good.


People will die to avoid that fear.


Die for your country.


Sacrifice for your family.


Think of others before yourself. Don't be selfish.


Helen: OK.


Dwight: Any other comments or questions before we go on to your other question?


Helen: I'm thinking like the second regret is also related to the first regret that's like not to be your true self.


But then a question came to me like, what is the true self?


Dwight: That's a good point.


Helen: Yeah.


Dwight: Well, I think I could point to it in sort of a maybe a little bit negative way.


Yeah, like you could say, well, if your primary motive for doing something, like something maybe you wouldn't otherwise want to do or wouldn't otherwise do is to avoid delaying or to to get praise like people think you're great.


You know, like like that's the primary motivation.


It's not it's like it's not something else like you just enjoy doing it or it's just fun or something like that, you know. But if your primary motivation is to look good and not look bad, then that's not listening to what we might call your true self. 


I'm not saying, you know, I'm not suggesting that we give, try to get rid of that desire to look good and avoid looking bad.


It's going to be there. It's built into our DNA. If you were a member of a tribe of 55 people 11,000 years ago if you didn't prioritize looking good and avoiding looking bad, you were thrown out of the tribe and that was probably the end of your DNA.


But it's just a question of what are you willing to sacrifice for and whether are you looking long-term, you know. And so if somebody asks me to do something and I don't see how I can do it and still enjoy myself and take care of myself, then I would say, "A part of me would like to do what you are asking, but I'm not seeing how I can do that and still take care of myself." I would be willing for them to be upset with me and maybe even think I was a "bad person."


Because, you know, our number one job is to take care of ourselves.


Of course, we're taught the opposite of that.


We're taught that our number one job is to look good to others and to take care of others.


We're taught that instead.


The problem you mentioned earlier, that we do develop this concern for others, right, that young kids don't have.


And we do develop this concern for being accepted and looking good.


So how do you combine that? See, I think what you said earlier, Helen, was brilliant.


How can you have it both, you know, so that you can take care of yourself and still, when you can, take care of others?


And when you can't, then you can't.


And you say so and you take the actions to prioritize taking care of yourself, but also thinking long-term, not just short-term. That is the other part.


But we can handle that part by prioritizing the journey over the result.


See, how do you have the results? Sure, we want results.


But when you prioritize the results first, you know and then sacrifice the journey and sacrifice the loving now and the play and the adventure, then then you don't have both.


When we prioritize results over the journey and prioritize looking good short range, then we end up with fewer results, and our relationships suffer too.


It's going to even hurt your relationship with people.


It's going to hurt you.


It's going to even hurt your ability to get results.


But when you prioritize the process and the journey and prioritize including the child inside of you along with the parent, with your parent inside showing respect to your child inside, then we can return to the Garden of Eden.


And including loving the process and playing and spontaneity and freedom, you're probably going to get some good results.


But then we get back to choosing courage because we have a lot, so much fear associated with not looking good or not working hard or not, you know, like, my life's going to fall apart if I don't work hard.


I coach so many clients on that.


It's a very deep belief that you can't just have fun along the way.


You know, what do you think?


Helen: Yeah, that's quite common and I'm thinking like that.


Because you mentioned that if there are two parts, both we can do, then that's great.


And then you also mentioned that our first number, our number one job is to take care of ourselves.


I'm thinking like, is it true all the time? Like I think of a kind of an extreme example.


For example, you're an adult and then you're really in a bad mood that you kind of don't want to do anything, but then you have a child.


And the child cut herself and then she needs to go to the hospital.


And then at this moment am I really should taking care of myself 1st and then taking care of her later.


Dwight: This is a very good question and this is why the word selfishness gets a bad rap.


OK, because whenever I've read books or talked with people where they're arguing against selfishness, like selfishness is bad.


Helen, you have just given a very good example.


So that sort of thing happens, but selfishness includes short-term and long-term selfishness.


So yeah, I grant you, and you may have problems at that moment, 'cause your long-term self just really does wanna take care of each other, okay? You know, and there may be a conflict there, and hopefully, you can sort of arrange life so that the conflicts are put to a minimum.


And maybe there are situations where you just gotta tolerate, but that's an indication of a breakdown that we want to try to set up so that it happens very few times. Because if you keep relying on this thing called willpower, just put yourself through it.


I mean, there's even been a lot of studies done.


Maybe you can do it, but willpower is very limited. We need to design our life so that the times when we may need to use willpower are few and far between.


I mean, people think I've got a lot of self-discipline.


I have virtually no self-discipline.


Because I've set it up so I enjoy the process of these things that I do consistently, that people think of self-discipline


So if you if you look at short-term and long-term taking care of yourself, then almost always that conflict between taking care of yourself and taking care of others disappears.


Helen: So you're meaning like sometimes we could have like a short-term of not taking care of ourselves and that's OK?


Dwight: I might tolerate something for less than one minute, but then I'll find a way so it's not longer than that.


So anyway, like if you whenever it's whenever you have that situation where it really feels like you've got to sacrifice now for the future, that's a danger signal.


It's not something to repeat, it's something to figure out how it's much, much less likely to happen in the future.


And if we do that more and more, then there'll be less and less conflicts like that. People often have an attitude that if something is not hard, if there isn't suffering, then that is some sort of badge of honor. This is a toxic idea.


Helen: So when you say that, you give me an answer for the questions that I asked before like if a child is in danger, and the mother doesn't want to do anything is that I feel like I'm asking those questions actually still in the viewpoint of I got to take care of others first like because it seems a pretty dangerous situation.


But actually, if I also keep taking care of myself in mind, I could come up with better ideas.


Like for example, I could ask the father to take her to the hospital instead of me.


I always want to keep taking care of others first in my mind.


It's like a virus that continuously like unconsciously like shows up in my mind first.


Dwight: Yeah.


And you can take, you can take these sometimes extreme examples and say, yeah, yeah, I agree it would be difficult and we can look at that.


But in terms of everyday life, is there any reason why you can't prioritize in your everyday life? I think there are very few circumstances that come anywhere near that conflict.


You can prioritize taking care of yourself and still probably take good care enough for the other person or your relationship, even better. Because if you don't take care of yourself first, you're not going to enjoy your relationship with them so much.


You might even start resenting them, you know? That's not good for them or you.


Helen: So now I'm gonna take your ideas into practice, into practice.


Dwight: Yeah!

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