Get beyond outer fulfillment to inner peace.
In the essay on Fulfillment you read about the human urge to progress from surviving to thriving. In the essay on Networking you discovered that our efforts to actualize ourselves require relationships with other people. In this essay, you'll discover why and how we can go beyond self actualization to self awareness.
Self awareness is, paradoxically, selfless and a higher goal than self-actualization because it furthers global progress, not just individual progress. In a karmic sense, what goes around comes around if we pay it forward with random, selfless acts of kindness. Some say selfless awareness is a sudden epiphany. But it's been more like a progressive, asymptotic work in progress for me. Something Sam Keen wrote in Your Mythic Journey put me on that path a few years ago.
"Few of us know the characters, emotions, perceptions and demons that inhabit the theaters that are our minds. We are content to tell a single story, to construct a consistent character, to fix our identity. We are thus defined more by neglected possibilities than by realized ones. We rehearse and repeat a monotonous monologue while heroes and villains, saints and madmen, ascetics and libertines wait in the wings for a chance to seize the stage and run wild. Be all those characters who wander around in your head. Discover your many selves. You become authentically public only by going to the depths of your private."
Some people interpret self awareness as Wisdom with a capital "W" or Enlightenment with a capital "E". Those interpretations violate the KISS principle. Self awareness is a simple, enhanced sense of self—wisdom with a lower case "w". Being at peace with who you are. Being comfortable in your own skin, in your own heart, in your own mind. A deeply personal commitment to moral and ethical behavior. So let me encourage you to reject claims that wisdom is an enlightened state that...
Only a very few can acquire.
Renders religious faith obsolete.
Separates the Haves and Have-Nots.
Replaces religious with secular authority.
Is achieved only through reason and science.
We tend to look out at the world from inside ourselves. Our eyes tell our brains that everything is out there. And that can result in unrealistic expectations, which can bring the suffering of disappointment. Becoming enlightened (lower case "e") is putting your hand on your heart and saying, "Everything is in here and I like what I found."
Ironically, that makes you say, "I am more than just me." because finding yourself is letting go of Self. Letting go of your need for certainty, safety, approval of others, your attachment to outcomes and your efforts to reach your personal and professional goals.
"But that reverses everything I did to climb Maslow's Mountain. Will I have to let go of my connections with other people too?"
"No, you need connections with others to lose yourself so you can find yourself."
"That sounds like one of those psycho puzzles that circles itself until you're dizzy."
"No, it's a paradox. It sounds absurd or self-contradictory until you take a longer, closer look and discover that it's true."
"Ah, like truth hiding in plain sight."
"Exactly. Becoming enlightened is realizing that what you have been searching for is a who, and the who is you. You isn't a thing you pursue as if it were outside yourself waiting to be acquired. It's a person inside yourself waiting to be discovered."
"Ah, like that famous poet, T. S. Eliot."
"Yes. Eliot was right. The end of our exploring will be to arrive at where we started and to know ourselves for the first time."
"Can I still play golf, drink beer, and watch football on TV?"
"Sure, but when your ball goes into the rough, you spill beer on the couch reaching for another pretzel, or your team loses to those bozos from Boston, you won't bend your club around a tree, drop an "F" bomb on the sofa, or throw a brick through the TV."
Our quest to become wise and selfless is the end of our pursuit of things that matter and the beginning of discovering them in ourselves. But that's not the end of our journey to progress as human beings. It's the beginning of another journey to integrate awareness into every facet of life. And enlightenment isn't transcending mind, body and spirit. It's integrating our thoughts, our actions and our feelings into everything that matters.
Your journey brings you back to where you started: yourself. You had to take that journey to realize its destination. Those who laugh at you for traveling in circles are laughing at themselves in a negative way. When you return from your journey, you can laugh at yourself in a positive way because you now know where you've always been. And then you can laugh with those who have also arrived back where they started but in an awakened state.
Life isn't a train you can leave because you don't like where it's going. Life is a teacher and we are its students. When the students are ready, a teacher will come. And one of its lessons is that when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
So let go of your need to be safe and attached to outcomes. Embrace your vulnerability and the indifference of nature. Let your life become the selfless application of empathy. If you do, your life will move from getting to giving, from having to being. Let go of your fear of death and pursue your dreams. Or die trying.
Ah, death, that last good night that we would avoid if we could. It's supposed to remind us that the ups and downs of life are temporary and that taking life too seriously creates suffering. But there are legitimate and illegitimate ways to suffer, and the two stories below call attention to both. The first teaches us to pay attention to little things before they become big things. There is a time in the life of every problem when it's big enough to see but small enough to fix. The second story teaches us that everything is temporary and relative, so we should not attach ourselves to outcomes.
Both stories are subtle reminders that there are pessimistic and optimistic ways to suffer. A cynic, for example, will go through a fire and get burned, whereas a realist will go through a fire and be purged. When you're caught between a rock and a hard place, embrace the joy of being in the here and now of the moment, because every moment before and after that one is an infinity of nothingness.
For want of a nail a shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe a horse was lost.
For want of a horse a rider was lost.
For want of a rider a battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
All for the want of a nail.
An old farmer had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.
"Perhaps..." the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful!" the neighbors exclaimed.
"Perhaps..." replied the old man.
The following day, his son broke his leg trying to ride one of the wild horses. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "Bad luck has visited you again, brother!"
"Perhaps..." answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Good luck has smiled on you again, brother!"
"Perhaps..." said the farmer.