That Thing We Do

willyFrom elementary school I remember a science experiment where each student was given a stiff piece of hefty construction paper. Carefully, the teacher poured out onto each sheet of paper a handful of tiny metal filings. They were iron shavings actually, that I remember looked like what lined the sink after my father trimmed his sideburns.

Our teacher then gave each of us a magnet to pass beneath the paper. Of course, those filings moved and danced, scattered and piled up. There was even this little game, still being produced today, called “Wooly Willy” that worked the same way.

“Wooly Willy” was anything but; he had a blank face and bald head. But with a “magic wand” – a piece of plastic with a magnet glued to the end – you could move iron shavings around to give him a beard, mustache, eyebrows, or a coif of thick, wooly hair.

When you are a young child and you see these whirling pieces of metal, indeed, it appeared to be magic. This unseen power, beneath the paper’s surface or under “Wooly Willy’s” face, could make things move. And with no knowledge of ions, polarity, or magnetic fields, it might as well have been sorcery.

Thus, the reason for the experiment in the first place: To understand how invisible forces can produce clear, obvious movement. It was a simple, elementary school demonstration that has profound application – and I’m not talking about clandestine political movements, Free Masons, or the Illuminati.

No, I’m talking about you, and about me, and how each person’s actions and behaviors are the result of what is “moving” beneath the surface. What we say, how we interact with others, why we respond to life as we respond: There is no mysterious answer here. We do what we do because our actions are connected, like iron to magnet, to the emotions, feelings, and motivations within us.

The Hebrews have a word for this catalytic force beneath our bodily surface: “Leb” or “Lebab.” It is the inner person, the consciousness, the spiritual engine; or as it is most often translated into English, the heart. “As a person thinks in his heart,” the writer of Proverbs said, “so is that person.” And again, “Everything you do flows from your heart.”

So why are you so quick to get angry? It’s not your outer antagonists. It’s your fear and insecurity within. Why does your friend stumble into repeated relationship failures? It’s not that he or she simply makes poor choices; it’s the neediness inside. Why are people so mean, defensive, and downright nasty? It’s not because the “world” is that way, but because their hearts are that way.

For too long religion, spirituality, and “self-help” has been an exercise in behavior modification, in trying to get people to do and act “better.” That’s a program destined for frustration. We must begin within, and when we discover what drives us to do what we do, we will better understand why we do what we do.

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