Is it possible to experience a life that’s utterly satisfying?
Is it possible to lead and complete a life that contains no significant regrets?
The answer is YES, it’s possible, but it’s also extremely difficult unless we address and possibly adjust some basic beliefs and assumptions. Such beliefs are basic because we’ve likely long-since accepted them as an integral part of our self. We accepted them as our beliefs because we needed to understand the essential meaning of this life, and because they appeared to be in the common domain, that is, they’re already accepted by most others.
These beliefs were imposed gradually, over time and, having originated from impeccable sources, they’ve been accepted and assimilated without serious challenge. Each one has been reinforced by repetition, and validated by others who have embraced similar ideas, and so they’ve become an integral part of who we are today.
They’ve been a benefit, in that they’ve offered ready explanations for many of life’s challenges and mysteries, so we no longer needed to think about those issues. On the other hand, conventional answers can prove to be erroneous, and they can easily cause us to follow broad paths of confusion, contradiction, and perhaps even self-sabotage.
These ideas and beliefs include such critical issues as our identity, including who we are, our purpose, why we’re here, our destiny, where we’re heading, and even the very nature of reality itself. As common beliefs, they are satisfying for a while but, over the course of our life, we gather a sense of incompleteness, incompatibilities, and inconsistencies, and we’re left with the nagging feeling that there just has to be more to life than this!
Could this book offer something better? If you are relatively secure with your current responses to who you are, why you’re here, where you are destined to be, and what life is all about, it could offer affirmations, confirmations, and compatible extensions to that with which you already feel comfortable. If you are still engaged in the search for meaning, it could present some productive ideas and strategies that will assist your search.
If, on the other hand, you’re already comfortably convinced that you have all, or most, of the required answers, or that there are simply no pressing questions that you need to address, then it might be provocative, possibly even frustrating. This book is a map for the questing mind. It’s intended for those who seek to continue growing and developing self-awareness in pursuit of a fuller life.
While I don’t have the answers that you might be seeking, I can identify and shed some light on some proven, safe, and productive pathways that can take you forward. In following these paths, many of the obstacles that could be distorting and diverting you along life’s way will be revealed, and alternatives might then be selected.
Having guided and led many people within the promising fields of personal growth and development, I’ve uncovered some intriguing principles that you could choose to examine profitably in your search for better options. My intention is to share these with you as you pursue your search for a more meaningful life.
It is useful to consider this work as a map, one which contains many features, together with connecting pathways. Maps traditionally convey the main features of the territory and the relationships (orientation and distance) between them. Local detail, though, is best discovered by individuals walking over the actual ground, which can be explored over an extended time. There are simply too many variables and optional points of interest to be considered for inclusion in any map, or which might justify the exclusion of detail beyond a given point.
There are also, of course, so many possible destinations and therefore multiple combinations of routes that could be considered. Likewise, there are common distractions and limitless diversions but, with effective and thoughtful use, a map could offer you opportunities to select both the destinations and routes that would make best sense for you.
Over many years, I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to many thought-leaders, mentors and coaches, teachers and tutorial leaders, students, and seekers. While the subject matter has been extensive, to say the least, the fundamental issues have been remarkably few. Strategies are legion it seems, but relevant principles are fewer and in clearer focus. The challenge, as we reorientate our self, is to keep such principles visible and self-evident, despite the enormous and overwhelming range of possibilities, each possessing its attendant attractions, distractions and distortions.
There’s likely just one pathway that is intended for you, and you alone, as you pursue your intention to design and execute the journey that is your life. You’ll need to decide who you really are, and then how you’ll express yourself in a way that’s real, honest, open, secure, and fulfilling for you. This may take some thought and effort, but it’s nowhere near as difficult as it sounds.
The fundamental truth is that you already know the answers. They’re within you, but there’s so much accumulated experiential debris that you can no longer recognize them. This clutter has to be cleared before your truth will emerge, and you can emerge and flourish.
Consider that we are like icebergs, in that just a small portion is visible, while our extensive and supportive substance remains below the surface, out of sight, out of mind. We may not know, appreciate, nor engage this fuller potential, even though it’s there for the taking. With time and exposure, it might rise to the surface and into view, but then the question is, do we have enough time for this natural discovery? We may choose not to make it an issue, and to focus only on the part of us that meets the eye. Is this wise?
One of my favourite quotes is, “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.” (Benjamin Franklin) Surely, it doesn’t have to be that way.
We all value wisdom, yet too few of us have the time, energy, or insight to pursue it actively. Over the years, in attempting to assist others with these deep considerations, I’ve deliberately accumulated substantial ideas, and I’ve constructed a few practical approaches and models that support fundamental and productive strategies.
No matter what our age and stage might be in life, it’s never too late to learn from our own experiences, nor from the experiences of others. Our current age and stage could be an interesting and productive place to begin our considerations. If so, then our first challenge is to determine our starting position— where are we right now?
Do we know, really know, where we are at this point in our life? All there is to go on is where we’ve been, leading to our present state of being. This is a question, however, that most of us can and will answer with a reasonable degree of confidence—my physical body and my self-image are who I am!
We know, though, that this is not reliable, for we can recognize readily that we are not the same person we were a while ago, say ten or even just two years ago; we’ve changed, and possibly, in some fundamental ways. Two more years, and certainly ten years from now, we will likely not be the same person we believe our self to be right now. We are looking at just the tip of our iceberg, and it’s so exposed and very vulnerable to change.
Sun, wind, and weather in all forms will erode the top part of the iceberg as experiences and events will always impact upon our present being. As the top is eroded, the bottom floats upwards to replace it; we are changing and continuously renewing our self from within; however, the form and content of the iceberg do not differ radically over time, just as we do not become different persons, we simply emerge.
So, our basic identity remains the same, and we can be confident that we’ll adapt to emerging circumstances. Maslow, and many other influential philosophers, have suggested that we share foundational needs for Safety, Security, Social Acceptance, Status Acquisition, and even Self-Actualization, the fullest realization of our individual potential. This hierarchy of needs will likely remain highly influential in our lives regardless of our changing circumstances.
When we are relaxed, feeling safe, secure, and accepted, our attention shifts upwards to higher concerns such as status and self-realization, while threats, rejections, and failures will encourage us to refocus on our more basic needs. Yet, we know that we are substantially the same person we always have been.
So, our perspective shifts, and a new self-appreciation arises. It’s my response to changing circumstances that informs me. It’s my responses, in the form of experiential, observable behaviour, which define me.
Our focus now is to acquire the image that we believe we should have; to look good both to ourselves and to others. We begin to recognize the need to present ourselves in the best light possible, to hide our imperfections, real and otherwise. We create a shield, a screen between who we sense our self to be and the outside world.
This is the emergence of ME, the ego identity and, with it, the concurrent emergence of seemingly unresolvable issues that we’re not able or ready to resolve right now; shadows that acquire a life and reality of their own, regardless of merit, and which we’ll inevitably defer. The shield is not really us, but it is comfortable and reassuring as it contributes to our safety and security needs, which are still at our core.
Time, with further exposures and experiences, helps us to differentiate life, to identify what is good, desirable, and even how we might best manage these events as we face a challenging world. We become conscious of our best self and find ways to promote this aspect of our self whenever possible. We invest more time and effort in self-reflection and critical evaluation. The realization that emerges is, my thoughts and feelings, especially those under my control, are what define me.
Central to this are my relationships with multiple, external references. I use my physical senses to assess myself relative to other points of awareness. I might consider an “A” list: Approval / Acceptance, Affluence / Assets, Ambition / Advantage, Attractiveness / Aesthetics, and Authority / Autonomy. Such comparisons, for many, will be a most comforting experience, to the extent that we become increasingly blind to the fact that we’re being delusional and self-serving.
This means that we’re attempting to create our Self on the flimsiest of foundations, the kind of person we’d like or prefer to be, rather than who we really are. Having done so, it can often take a major setback or life reversal to bring us back to true reality; this is not the kind of experience that we’d willingly embrace in our hearts.
It is however, a frequent and common encounter; the sobering realization that becomes a radical influence on our self-awareness. We suffer and we prevail; life enters a new dimension, a more mature perspective than before, and perhaps we recognize that we’re stronger and more resilient than we’d originally thought.
Such is the experience of arrival at this point that we could be tempted to remain here for the rest of our material existence. Surely, it’s a good, and better place to be, but it is not where we should relax, for it’s not where we need to be. There’s no benefit in remaining focused on our sensory experiences alone, allowing our physical senses, which can operate only above the waterline, to define our entire iceberg. As truth-seekers, we are obliged to consider that greater part of our self that lies beneath the surface of our physical / sensory awareness.
The breakthrough is a realization that my deeper intuitions and felt knowledge tell me who I really am. However, I’ll have to travel beyond the realm of my physical senses before I can experience a more complete awareness of my being. I’ll need to dive beneath the surface, to explore and incorporate this hidden depth because it’s only by including these deeper insights that I can expect to find and hold the true answers. After all, it is my greater part—the eight-ninths of my iceberg that’s not normally visible.
My challenge now is that this is terra incognita, unknown, and perhaps unknowable territory. My physical senses don’t work down here below the surface; I’m denied my senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, although I do have some sense of things that affect me, many of which are possibly profound. It suggests to me a reality that’s greater than myself, well beneath the levels of my normal awareness, and yet familiar and desirable. Paradoxically, I have no way to prove this to myself or to others.
Perhaps the most significant awareness in this realm is Love, the great attractive force. It has many forms or expressions, ranging from mild liking / appreciation to deep and enduring passion. We all experience it in different ways, some frequently and expansively, others in more select and concentrated forms, but we all know it in some way. Notwithstanding, we cannot create it at will, nor can we change or even moderate it by our own devices. It is simply there; we can recognize it, or we can attempt to ignore it—the choice is ours!
It stimulates, guides, defines, and even controls us, frequently to the point of profound and permanent lifestyle impact. We are defined by the company we keep. We are powerless under its influence, and it can, and will, alter our very self-concept and perspectives. Surely, it is the most compelling force in creation; perhaps it’s even creation itself!
Can I define myself at this level? It would certainly involve surrendering a key part of how I know myself right now—my personal ego identity, for love and everything like it, is universal. Is it possible to define myself in both realms concurrently? Would it lead to contradictions and ambiguities? In such cases, which would prevail? Is there a real me to be recognized? A fresh and unsettling realization… am I the totality of my life experiences, including my shadow-self?
We experience a substantial barrier, self-doubt. To progress, we’ll need to identify and resolve most of the shadows, those unresolved issues that we’ve displaced from our direct awareness because they were too difficult to deal with. Each one must be surfaced and solved, discarded, or discounted so that we are relieved of our unwanted baggage. We’ve created a false self over time which now we need to drop; for this, serious self-examination and scrupulous honesty is going to be required.
This is a heroic task, but we are compelled to find the answers or, alternatively, to live with self-doubt and a plethora of loose ends. Introspection, prayer, mindfulness, and meditation are all attractive stratagems at this point; our need is for time-out to confront and reconcile the many disparities. All we require is a reference point against which to evaluate our findings, a reference point that is well beyond our ability to suspend or manipulate.
The selection of such an independent reference point is, in itself, a challenge. Two possible selections are God / the Creator, requiring faith, and Science / the Source, requiring critical reasoning. Yet this is not a simple, polarized choice, mainly because it’s a misleading question. Both are options that have considerable validity, and which are far from being mutually exclusive. Their resolution is the Way, the ordained process that leads to natural growth / development.
It is this struggle that helps us to maintain our efforts, and the insight emerges, I am so much more than I have known myself to be!
By aligning our self with the Way, regardless of how we might define it, we set our self on the path to progress, happiness, and fulfilment. This, then, is our objective; this is the beginning of Wisdom!
There are bound to be periods of both success and of failure as we strive for growth in our awareness for the pathways are far from smooth and uneventful. Often, we’ll feel like we’re in a desert, in the darkness with little or no hope. Other times, there’ll be break-throughs and radical insights that urge and encourage us to continue our efforts.
As we progress, we discard, incrementally, the ego identity / false self that has been our comfort to this stage; it has no further purpose. Gradually, the darkness gives way to the light as our deeper senses replace the superficial senses of the mind. Our new, and vastly expanded, identity emerges, and the influence of previous standards are replaced with our awareness. Perhaps these could be based on a “C” list: Compassion / Connectedness, Creativity / Constructiveness, Care / Custody, Contribution / Consensus, and Concern / Collusion.
Our ultimate destination is the realization of our true essence, a spiritual manifestation that outlives our corporeal existence, while remaining an integral and essential core of all we represent right now, as we live. As most spiritual / religious / scientific / psychological, and philosophical schools have long since identified, this is a worthy goal for us all.
If this is your goal, and you’re experiencing the need and desire to review and refine your self- awareness, you’ll find help and encouragement here, so please read on.
To help you navigate, this book is in four parts; Part I is an exploration of the underlying Wisdom concepts that we all aspire to employ. They are not secret knowledge and, in fact, most of us will discover them in the normal course of life. For many, though, such discoveries come too slowly and too late for useful application. I wish I’d known back then what I know now! is an often-heard sentiment.
There are many insights in this first section that could be ‘Aha!’ experiences, but very few will stretch the bounds of credulity. The fuller value, however, is in the way these insights connect to create a resilient awareness of personal perspectives and clarity of purpose. You will be able to build your own view of wisdom that will be increasingly satisfying and fulfilling, a foundation for your further growth and development towards a fuller life.
Part II of the book is focused on the development of specific strategies that will identify and apply the pathways to take you forward; these strategies and techniques are an attempt to create awareness of proven paths that might lead the reader to the discovery of personal wisdom. Here are many options for consideration, for one size does not fit all. Feel free to experiment with varying combinations until you discover what works best for you.
In Part III, I offer a model, strategy and thoughts on how to develop an agenda that could support you in your ongoing search for personal fulfillment.
Part IV comprises detailed resources and assists that can help to move you forward with your process. It is a compendium of templates and materials that have assisted many others in their ongoing attempts to engage wisdom in pursuit of a fuller, happier life. They’re yours for the taking.
The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step; this is the most valuable step you can take, right now!
When you’re ready, let’s start.