In an excerpt from Queen of Your Own Life, Kathy Kinney (best known as Mimi on The Drew Carey Show) goes on a spiritual journey toward happiness and discovers the roadblock standing in the way is herself.
Life has a way of forcing you to make decisions about what you believe. I have found that life, death and miraculous events have shaped and smoothed my beliefs like constant water over stone. I consider myself to be a spiritual person. I believe my life is the perfect example that there must be a power greater than ourselves. Otherwise how did I get all the way to where I am now? People often ask me how I became a successful actor. My answer is always, "I really don't know." One minute I was a nine-year-old sitting on the front steps of my parents' house in Wisconsin, looking at my rock collection, thinking I would be an archaeologist when I grew up, and the next thing I knew I was living in Hollywood and acting in a movie with Robert De Niro.
After a great deal of thought and life experience I've come to believe that this power that is greater than ourselves is in charge and I choose to call that power God. Now, it doesn't matter whether you believe in God or Buddha or Jehovah or for that matter the half-yearly white sale at Macy's. That's all up to you. For the purpose of this story I think you need to know that I believe in a Great and Mysterious Deity that Rules the World, Knows All and Oversees Our Destiny, and I call It God.
When I was young I was entertained and comforted by my daydreaming and make-believe games. I was born with the gift of a very vivid imagination. But as I got older my imagination became something that I could use to torture myself with. If I had a headache I was afraid it was a brain tumor; if I sneezed I was certain it was pneumonia; if my elbow hurt, of course it was elbow cancer. Even if I felt happy that must mean soon all hell was about to break loose and I would lose my job, contract a horribly disfiguring disease or be kidnapped by angry rebels, who would not release me until their demands were met to have their handsome and charismatic leader set free. This last scenario was particularly imaginative as I was not employed, as you might think, at the United Nations but was working as a receptionist for a wig company.
After I moved to Los Angeles I began working with an agency as a temporary secretary and taking any job they sent me on, as I was always on the thin edge of broke. About this time I had taken up daily power walking in my neighborhood. It wasn't so much about exercising as it was about trying to outwalk the problems that were all vying for attention in my head. I wasn't making any money as an actor and it didn't look as if I would any day soon. Also, my mother's health was not good, so I was worried I was going to have to abandon all of my plans to be an actor to go back to Wisconsin and care for her. I was overwhelmed by worry and felt hopeless about being able to find solutions to my problems.
One day, as I walked down the street, there suddenly appeared in my mind's eye the image of God as CEO of a major corporation. He was sitting behind a huge old-fashioned desk and on the desk was an equally old-fashioned intercom. He said to me, "Okay, what can I do for you today?" I was very surprised and answered, "I don't know. I guess I have a lot of problems." God said, "Like what?" "Well," I said, "I'm really worried about my mother." He leaned over and, as he pressed a button on the intercom, said, "Geriatrics, what's going on with her mom?" An efficient voice very quickly answered, "We're taking care of it, God. Tell her not to worry." As he straightened up, God asked me, "What else?" I didn't have to think long before I said, "Well, I need a job." Again, he leaned over and pressed the button on the intercom. "Personnel?" "Yep, we've got something in the works. Tell her to relax —she'll have one soon." God sat up and said, "What else?"
And so it continued with all of my problems spoken and God having a department to take care of each one. When they were all dealt with, God asked, "Is there anything else?" I was at the very bottom line of my fears and said, "I'm afraid to fail, afraid to succeed, afraid to live and afraid to die." God smiled and said, "Don't worry—I'm taking care of that personally. You're safe no matter what." With all of my worries taken care of, who was I? What was my purpose? I whispered, "What am I supposed to do?" God said, "All you have to do is be happy, joyous and free—that's your job."
I felt a lightness of spirit that I hadn't felt since I was a little child. I actually began to skip down the sidewalk and stopped only because I didn't want to frighten my neighbors. I will never forget the deep sense of well-being and joy I had that morning. That profoundly healing image brought me great peace and still does.
I began to grow more comfortable using imagery as a tool to heal myself. A few months later I was having one of those days filled with frustration that make you want to scream until your teeth fly out of your mouth. I started to slip into an old pattern, pulling up the long mental list of all the bad days in my life as proof that I was a total loser. This time I had the clarity to stop myself before I got too far into the long, boring list of "poor me's." It suddenly occurred to me that I had an equally long list of good things in my life but I never thought to trot those out and dwell on them. I suddenly had a memory of an add-a-pearl necklace that a little girl in my neighborhood had received as a gift. It was just a plain gold chain, and on birthdays or special occasions people would gift her pearls to add to the chain with the hopes that someday she would have a long, beautiful strand of pearls.
I decided that I would keep a mental add-a-pearl necklace. I would think of the good moments in my life as pearls and then add them to the gold chain I would keep in my mind. I began thinking of the memorable events in my life that I was grateful for and visualized each as a pearl that I placed on the chain. It was soon a long rope of gleaming pearls. Through the years I've added so many pearls that the necklace has turned into a very long coil. I imagine that each pearl has a beautiful luster from all the times I have taken the strand out and touched them to remind myself how much I have to be grateful for.
I've used imagery on many occasions to heal and comfort myself. When heading out to an audition, I visualize all the creativity of the world, past and present, floating like a shimmering violet cloud right above my head. I reach my arm straight into the air to grab hold of it. While hanging on tight, I shift ever so slightly to the right to get out of my own way and let the creativity shine through me. It's always a great reminder that the only thing that stops my creativity from owing is me. I don't always get the job but it makes the audition so much more enjoyable.
One of my favorite imaginative moments, which I've chosen to call a spiritual experience, happened in my gray Honda Civic hatchback. It started one awful week when no matter where I went, people were paying me compliments about my work as an actor. I say awful because it used to be difficult for me to accept praise and, in fact, I found it quite painful. People complimented me in the grocery store, at the dry cleaner, at my temp job. I talked to a friend about it and she said, "Maybe you need to think of it as you've been given a gift. When someone offers you a compliment, thank them and then silently thank God for the gift." So that's what I did, but by the end of the week the complimenting still seemed out of control to me and I was really feeling raw and self-conscious.
After yet another person gave me a compliment while I was at the gas station, I snapped. I got in my Honda, and as I drove away I started yelling at God. "What is this about?" I shouted. "Why is everyone complimenting me? Do I have a gift and, if so, why do I have a gift? Why did Sarah Bernhardt and Mozart have a gift? I'm not saying I have that big a gift," I bellowed. "But why do some people have gifts and others don't?" Why? WHY? WHY!?! There was silence, as if I was in a vacuum, and then this thought came clearly into my head: "Don't question. Be grateful. Help others." It resonated so strongly for me that I burst into tears.
I traded that Honda in long ago but I will always be grateful for the words that came to me in it that day. They are the motto I live by. My imagination is still a great tool that I use as a balm to take the sting out of living. I've returned to God's office many times to lay out my fears and have him delegate them to the necessary department so I can get back to my job of being happy, joyous and free.
I often feel as if I am just one click away from bliss. It seems like all the vibrant light of the universe is trying to enter my body so it can fill me and then burst back out of my toes, fingers, eyes, knees and even my eyelashes. The only thing that stops me from being this brilliant and joyful in my life is me. Old thoughts of low self-esteem and fear hold me back. Decisions made long ago that helped me then, but are no longer valid, stop me from lighting up like a giant pinwheel and showering sparks of joy into my life and onto the lives of those around me.
I've worked very hard to let go of the things that pull me out of the happiness of the moment. I make the conscious choice each day to be grateful. I'm not a silly, naive optimist. I've been around the block more than a few times, so I know bad things happen. They've happened to me. Yet, I make the choice daily to stay out of worry and live my life finding great joy in the moment. I'm glad I'm not afraid to be called a Pollyanna.
Of course, you can't be happy every moment of life. And don't worry, we're not talking about the kind of euphoric happiness where your face hurts from constantly smiling and people are a bit frightened of you. We're talking about taking the fleeting feeling of "life is good" and, with practice, turning it into the comfortable, steady hum of happiness that becomes the undercurrent of a good life.
You definitely have the skill to discover how to live in the positive. With no formal training and very little thought you've taught yourself to actively be negative. If you make the decision to be happy you will improve the quality of the rest of your life. Spending your precious time in the positive, attracting even more positive, is a great gift to give yourself.
Maybe it helps to look at the idea this way. Negative thought and positive thought attract like-minded thinking into your life. Which one do you want? Because the choice is really yours.
Read more from Queen of Your Own Life
Kathy Kinney is best known for her iconic role as Mimi Bobeck on The Drew Carey Show. She has acted in more than a dozen films, guest-starred on numerous television shows and toured worldwide with Drew Carey and the Improv All-Stars. Kinney may also be seen in the title role of Mrs. P at MrsP.com, a website for children aimed at keeping the joy of books and reading alive.
A veteran publishing executive, Cindy Ratzlaff created marketing campaigns for more than 100 New York Times best-selling books, including The South Beach Diet. She is president of Brand New Brand You, which specializes in using new social media platforms to increase brand awareness, and is co-founder of the online publishing company Supreme Social Media.
For more information about the book visit QueenofYourOwnLife.com.
Printed from Oprah.com on Saturday, March 8, 2014
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