The Combination

Imagine that you're a diver who enjoys exploring the deep blue sea. One day you hear about an ocean site that contains a sunken treasure.

You locate the site, search around in the depths, and eventually find a chest sealed with two combination locks.

You spin each lock for quite some time, trying to find the combination — but you don't know the right set. And it's challenging to see clearly deep in the ocean. There is a swirl of sediment that makes things murky. Eventually you give up and rise to the surface.

Over the next few days, you ask other divers if they have encountered the chest. Does anyone have any insight about how to open it? Does anyone know the combination?

You search for years. Finally you learn what the combination is. You dive back down, turn the locks, and find enough treasure to give you – and everyone around you — a life of ease.

Unlocking that chest is the goal of the spiritual path. It is also the goal of psychotherapy, or any other healing path.

Each of us has a spiritual treasure within the depths of our consciousness. All we need to is unlock it. And what are these "locks"?

I often describe them as a two-part combination of the following type:

Lock one is some sort of belief that "I'm not good enough."

Lock two is a belief that "I'm all alone."

All we need do is undo those two locks, or "core negative beliefs," and treasure will spill forth.

I sometimes say to my clients, "Let's see if we can find one thought from column A, and one thought from column B." I then make a sample list, to illustrate combinations:

Column A ("I'm not good enough"):

I'm not very attractive.
People don't think I'm very smart.
I've failed financially.
I'm too old.
I've made such a mess of my life.
I'm really socially awkward.
I'm too sensitive.
Column B ("I'm all alone"):

No one really likes me.
It's not worth dating – I won't find anyone.
My friends don't really want to spend time with me.
I'll never find a partner.
No one will want to hire me.
I'll be rejected if I try to reach out to them.
If I do let myself trust someone, he'll probably leave me.

Almost every one of my clients has a very clear Column A-Column B pair that dominates their lives. Diving into the psyche, finding that combination, and undoing it, is the essence of our work.

For example, here are some combinations that I've frequently seen:

"I never did well in school. If I apply for a job, I'm sure I'll get rejected."
"I don't make enough money – once women find out about that, they won't want to date me."
"I'm way too shy. People will make fun of me if I put myself out there."
"I'm not young and attractive anymore. It's pointless to look for a partner at this point."
"I'm not like normal people. People won't relate to me if I open up to them."

And so forth. As you can see, Column A involves some type of "I'm inadequate" belief, and Column B involves some form of "I'm basically alone."

This type of guilt-and-separation thinking, says A Course in Miracles, is the essence of our misery. But the good news, says the Course, is that it isn't true!

We are not "less than" or inadequate, regardless of what the capricious judgments of the world tell us. And we are not alone, on a spiritual level.

We are innocent, and we are connected with every living thing. Shifting our beliefs to this is what unlocks the treasure chest. Virtually all of my therapy work is directed toward this end.

Sophisticated Spins

Now, it may sound easy to find that combination and reverse it. But the mind is ingenious at masking what needs to be done.

Let me share a few "spins" that kick up sediment in the depths of the psyche, and obscure the task at hand.

In a great number of people, Column A is projected. Instead of saying, "I'm not good enough," people turn that belief outward. The mind finds an endless list of targets to project the "not good enough" belief onto. For example:

"My ex is such a jerk."
"That politician is absolutely crazy."
"My boss is such a downer."
"My kids never act intelligently!"
"Women are so irrational."

And so on. Once Column A is projected out, the lock is hidden. At that point, the problem doesn't seem to be our own self-defeating thinking. Instead, the problem seems to be that guy over there – and her too – and them.

Column A can even be projected onto objects or systems: the economy, people's bodies, that religion, this ethnic group, the weather.

"Taking back" that projection – identifying the "less than" and other guilt-filled thoughts that we're projecting – is key to finding the Column A combination lock. A great deal of almost every therapy session of mine is spent trying to help people identify and undo that projection.

Another set of spins is even more sophisticated. Some people work very hard to resolve one column, while keeping the other in place. This is somewhat common along the spiritual path.

For example, many of the "helpers" in the world have done a great job unlocking Column B, while keeping Column A locked tight.

These people see themselves as deeply connected to those around them. They see all of us as one spiritual family. They give lovingly to those in need, knowing that such giving is aligned with their spiritual nature.

However, these people may, at the same time, harbor a deep sense of unworthiness and guilt about themselves. I'm sure that you know some people in this situation – loving, giving, and kind to everyone except themselves.

If you were to look closely at these folks' combination locks, you might find that Column B is largely unlocked, while Column A is sealed tight. When I have clients in this situation, I encourage them to focus all of their efforts on self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and ultimately self-love.

A rarer version is the person who has largely unlocked Column A, but has kept Column B in place. These people have a great deal of self-respect; they are kind to themselves. But they see themselves as disconnected from the rest of humanity.

These people tend to isolate themselves. They may have great philosophical, intellectual, or artistic gifts. But they see themselves as different and unique – separate from the people around them.

Some of my gifted clients are in this position. For them, I encourage them to focus all their energy on helping and supporting others. As they begin to do so – through volunteering or other forms of service – they begin to see that they are not so "terminally unique." They begin to feel a deep similarity to those around them. And they learn about the great healing power of giving.

Ultimately, our task is to continue to find and unlock both of these locks — beliefs that we are inadequate, and beliefs that we alone. Beliefs that we are "less than," and beliefs that we are separate. Beliefs that something is wrong with us, and beliefs that we are different.

In truth, we are spiritually innocent, and we are spiritually connected. Embracing this new combination unlocks an endless treasure.

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