Love and Aloneness – Unravelling the ego and pride

Published March 7, 2012 by matchsoul

There is a most bizarre word the media and the psychologists have begun to use to describe loneliness in our societies: they say it has become an epidemic. An epidemic! A description normally reserved for extremely prevalent and widespread diseases – that is what this state of mind has become.

And the statistics back it up. A third of the citizens of many civilized countries admit to suffering from extreme loneliness. And the impact on our physical health – one study reported that isolated men were 25% more likely to die than those in a relationship, and the women 33% more likely.

Why is loneliness so painful? There are many reasons – but there is one in particular I’m starting to notice. Loneliness is a curse because we don’t know who we are – and that is our basic anxiety. When you are alone, all your self knowledge, your identity, your personality – your ego begins to unravel. The deeper into your aloneness you go, the more you see all your self-knowledge as they are – false.

And it is scary – what you have known your entire life – false! It is so scary that much of our culture is based around this fear. Social clubs, associations, political parties, and even cafés – they all exist for one thing: so one can avoid being alone. And what if we are by ourselves? Then we turn to music, alcohol, the television, the Internet – all to avoid being in our own company.

But the strange thing is – losing our false identity, it is a blessing. It can be scary, yes, but when we turn around and face it – when we turn our loneliness into aloneness –that is when we begin to experience what is real.

When you are alone, everything that you have disowned, everything that you refuse to accept or acknowledge – they begin to arise. We begin to truly know ourselves, to see the genuine. And that is not something that can be told – it has to be experienced.

Comparison – the unravelling of the self

The first thing we have to know is – when we are in a crowd, we think we know who we are. You are American, Vietnamese, Indian. Why? Because you look around and there are people who look different. Everyone calls you by your name, so that is who you are. Everyone acknowledges your title, your job description – they call you Mister, Missus, Madam, Doctor, Reverend, and that is what you think you are.

You are beautiful, because those around you are ugly. You are tall, because your neighbours are short. You are poor, because they live in mansions. You are rich, because some live in cardboard boxes.

But who you are, is not any of these. As Osho said – your heart is neither European nor African, tall nor short, poor nor rich. Who you are is beyond these little labels.

And when you are completely alone, there is no one to compare to. There is no false standard to measure yourself by – and that is when all these labels and false layers start to unravel. Your identity, your very personality, begins to disappear.

And all our lives, that is who we think we are. Our identity card, our driver’s license, and our passport. Our history, our descriptions, and our reputations. Our jobs and our accomplishments. And when that falls away…some people feel it a form of death. And in a way, it is.

What is left? The genuine. I can’t describe it – I haven’t gone there yet. But the deeper I have gone, the more I realise how beautiful it is. To go completely into aloneness, to find the real – I can’t think of anything I’d want more.

So, go and be alone. Not lonely, just alone. Accept and heal whatever bubbles to the front. Throw away all your masks and your false faces. Go away from society. Stop being afraid of loneliness, and just be alone. Let it become your mirror, the perfect mirror, to see who you really are.

And one day – when you feel ready, when you can say that you have known yourself, taken delight and found Love in yourself. That is when your butterfly comes out of the chrysalis. And this process is different for everyone. How long does it take? I’ve been alone for close to a year – and there is still so much to find!

The proud and the egotistical

And comparison leads us perfectly to a question that I have been pondering for a long time: What of those who are so proud and egotistical? What is the difference between being selfish, and of being self loving?

Love for oneself, for one’s totality – the heart, body, and soul – is perhaps the biggest accomplishment one can ever achieve. Someone who has such Love becomes joyful, peaceful, and content. It is impossible for one who knows Love to be hurtful. I know a few such people – they are the most humble women and men one can ever meet.

And just as someone who loves their garden will spend hours planting roses, picking out weeds, and smelling the fragrances – so, too will such people take pleasure in who they are.

And this is the source of much confusion. There are so many people who seem to be strong, confident, but there is something wrong. You must have met such people before – outwardly strong and powerful, but when they left, they left you feeling drained or weak. What is the difference between the two?

If you look carefully, and you know what to look for, the difference is there for you to see.

I once heard: There is no neutrality in life; there is either love or hate. There is no zero in which you are simply empty. What we think of as neutrality hides a quiet contempt, a let-them-burn attitude. If you don’t love, you hate. It might be a subtle hatred or a cool dislike, but it is hatred nonetheless.

Such people exude an indistinct anger and hatred. They make themselves feel better at the expense of those they come into contact with. They have boosted themselves by trampling on you. They spit on others – “I must be higher than they are if I can spit downwards” – that is their rationale. Everything they have – all their self worth and power – is based on judgement and comparison, based on having someone underneath them!

Vanity, egotism, and pride – they all hide a subtle unhappiness, a cleverly disguised animosity. All hatred is self-hatred – and this lies hidden underneath their actions. And that is why they belittle others. Some of the overt ones rage, or yell – and it is all just an externalisation of their internal self-violence. All their strength, their confidence – just a flimsy façade.

The vain and selfish

And the second thing: their worth is based on comparison. In fact, if taken to an extreme, pride becomes a form of personality disorder – narcissism. And this is the parable that Osho used to explain perfectly. All I can do is use the same story.

The story of Narcissus is a well known one – a young man who was so beautiful that he fell in love with his own reflection in the water. And there lies the difference. A humble man falls in love with himself; a vain man falls in love with his reflection.

And in that reflection – the comparison we’ve been discussing. The psychology manuals list the traits of the personality disorder concretely: A modern day Narcissus believes he is special, that he is more beautiful than others, that he deserves more. She is arrogant; she demands attention and constant admiration. She takes advantage of others, with total disregard for their feelings.

How egotistical! And that’s exactly what it is – pride stems from the ego. Comparison strengthens it. Take them away from the crowd, give them no one to compare to, and their pride and their façade falls apart. When they have no one to trample on and sneer at, the truth is revealed, the ugliness in them arises.

I remember a few beautiful women; they spent hours on their make-up and clothes, and they constantly belittled other women. They seemed to have unshakeable self confidence – but when I got to know them better, all their insecurities – often about their looks! – rose to the fore. And it didn’t make sense initially – many women would kill to look like them, most men couldn’t take their eyes off them. Such empty egoistic pride – it doesn’t stand up to the test of aloneness.

Love is totally different. I have heard: In Love, there is no split, there is no other. The lover and the loved all melt into one. Narcissus – he was split. His object of affection wasn’t himself, it was his reflection.

Fake love rejects – when there is perceived imperfection, fake love kicks away. Real Love knows no comparison. When there is perceived imperfection, real love deepens. It holds even tighter.

Know Love – ego and pride, are the opposites of Love. Cultivate Love, and watch as they dissolve.

A Guide to Handling Guilt and Self Punishment

Published March 7, 2012 by matchsoul

Guilt is the source of much sorrow; the driving force behind a constant mental whipping, a constant stinging. And from whom? Who holds the whip?

What is one to do? Is one helpless?

This series is not to say one should abandon all guidelines for behaviour, or that we should not follow our conscience. Reparations, the power to change and improve – these are all actions that are done best without the torment of self-imposed shame, and that is what the series aims to promote.

The First Step

The first step is to recognise our feelings of guilt. For many, this section might seem stupid, superfluous, but it isn’t. Guilt is insidious, stealthy and cunning. Guilt is a thief in the night, one that has taken up residence in your home, so skilfully that sometimes you can’t recognise it.

I remember the first time I encountered a racist; my age was barely in the double digits and my self esteem was fragile. I was walking down the street, minding my own business, when a man walked up to me and began spitting, swearing, wildly gesturing. I was too stunned to respond; I stood there in silence until he finished and walked off.

The event weighed heavily on my mind for many years. I didn’t know what I was feeling; it was just a constant replaying of the event in my head. I felt inferior; I felt angry; I felt scared. And one day, I suddenly realised that I was blaming myself for the attack. I hated myself for not being strong enough to stand up to him, and worst of all, I felt I was somehow at fault; somehow I had deserved what had happened to me.

How preposterous, one might think! But it is not uncommon; a friend who works as a psychologist has told me many survivors of childhood abuse blamed themselves. To a young child, their parents are almighty. How can a perfect being be wrong? If their parents were abusing them, they must have been at fault, not the abuser.

And that realisation dropped me into a more subtle trap – I began to feel guilty about feeling guilty.

Take a Moment

Close your eyes, become still, and welcome any thoughts and sensations into your awareness. Is there anything that you have not forgiven yourself for? Bring to mind a person or an event that still carries an emotional charge. Then follow it back to the root. You might be surprised at what you find, for you might be feeling guilty without even knowing what it is.

How does one change what they don’t even recognise, what they don’t even know exists?

We Were Helpless

The second step is to realise that we were helpless. There was nothing we could do; we were not in our own hands, merely dragged along by the force of our past.

This recognition could be enough to drop the self-flagellation. If it doesn’t, at the very least it gives us permission to heal, to take the next step and let go of the pain.

Welcome the pain, feel the sorrow completely without necessarily acting on it. Relax into your sorrow; find compassion for yourself; and let the shame go. Emotions are the wind; we are the flute. Unblock the passage; let the shame be there, and you’ll find that it will leave you soon enough. That is all it takes. And yet we fight it, deny it, pretend it doesn’t exist – and that keeps us blocked, weighs us down.

Penetrating the Memories

There is a quiet meditation I have developed on my own; I’ve found it tremendously helpful for four things.

The first is to find the root of the problem. The second is to see for yourself the strength of the forces that were pulling you at the time. The third is to dissolve the emotion of guilt. The last, and perhaps the most important, is to prepare for the future, to make it easier to catch your pattern the next time it threatens to overwhelm you.

We’ve discussed this meditation in the first part of this series – it is simply to relive and recreate the original situation in your mind.

Take a few minutes for this. Find somewhere quiet and penetrate your memories. Relive the event as vividly as you can. Visualise it – what was happening then? Recreate the external situation, down to the finest detail. What was happening? What triggered it, what led up to it, what did you do in response?

And this is perhaps the most important step: turn your attention to your inner space. What were you feeling, what were you thinking? What triggered your actions? What contributed to it? We’ve discussed this in the first part of the series: your beliefs, your knowledge, your mental-emotional state – even external conditions like the heat and humidity have their part to play in deciding what you did.

Watch, analyse, feel. Go deeply into your unconscious. A journal will also be helpful.

Finding the Root

Use your guilt as a tool to penetrate yourself, to find the origin of your behaviour.

You give your opinion on a minor topic, and someone disagrees politely and respectfully. And yet you fly into a rage. Why? Is your opinion that important? Or is it something else?

I used to know someone like that; she told me she was invisible as a child. No one cared about her opinion; in her own words, “no one gave a damn about what she wanted.” Her entire childhood was spent as a shadow, and the shame had taken over her adult life.

Follow your behaviour to the root, and heal that wound. It will mean the end of your unskilful behaviour.

The Strength of the Unconscious

The second benefit: During the contemplation, you’ve gone some way towards recapturing the force of your emotions, your patterns, and the circumstances that led up to it. Combine that with this truth: No mental image can come close to recreating the pull that you felt at that time.

The truth is reinforced in your mind, and there will be an even greater relief: given what you knew, you could have done no better.

Releasing the emotions

The third benefit: We’ve discussed how feeling the emotions completely are the key to letting them go. This meditation helps tremendously in releasing the emotions you were feeling then; not merely the guilt you felt about it afterwards. This weakens the very patterns themselves, which prepares us for the next step.

Intimacy with your conditioning

The most important benefit: Psychologists and spiritual teachers alike state the key to changing our conditioning is to become aware of it as it arises.

How do we stop something we don’t recognise? First become intimate with your patterns, know what triggers them, analyse how they feel, remember the thoughts and emotions that lead up to your actions.

Delve into it and watch it, feel it from every angle. The more you do this, the easier it is to catch your unconsciousness when it is next triggered.

Mindfulness: The Key to Transformation

Emotional Intelligence is defined as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

The Buddhist practice of mindfulness has been tremendously helpful in my life. Constantly check inside yourself – ask yourself this question: What is going inside me? What am I thinking, what am I feeling?

When you first begin this practice, you might be shocked. So much tension in your muscles, ragged breathing, an unruly and obsessive mind, a background feeling of sadness or anger…

As Daniel Goleman said in Emotional Intelligence: The ability to control impulse is the base of will and character.

Awareness is the key to transformation and control. For most people, this change might be slow. Old patterns might still arise, for emotional intelligence does not come overnight. But the moment you have become aware of it, the change has begun.

Overcoming your self-defeating behaviours

Someone makes a snide comment; immediately you feel your anger take over. You leap to your feet, you pound the table with all your might, and you begin to scream in rage. Awareness might only come afterwards, a dawning realisation – “Oh no, I’ve done it again.”

But as you practice, awareness begins to arise sooner, interrupting your patterns at earlier points. You might catch yourself with your fist in the air, and stop it before it hits the table. The next time it happens, you might catch yourself just as you jump to your feet, and stop before you go any further. Soon you might catch the anger as it begins, even before it has taken over your actions.

It is important to note that one shouldn’t fall back into self-blame. Buddhist teachers call your past actions and thoughts unskilful; as distinct from wrong. Skill comes with experience; unskilfulness is therefore a result of inexperience and a lack of proper learning. Wrongness is twisted; a lie that we are somehow fundamentally flawed, somehow evil.

When you catch the past, simply breathe. Pause, and breathe. It is also helpful to have prepared an alternative. A simple example would be someone who wants to give up smoking – every time she feels the urge to smoke; she pauses, calms her feelings with a few deep breaths, and reaches for a pack of gum instead.

Out of the hundreds of books on this topic, I would recommend two: Self-Defeating Behaviors, a purely psychological tome with information on the deepest and most common patterns. The second is Emotional Alchemy, a mixture of Buddhist and modern psychology, with a slightly different approach and categorisation.

Combine this with some emotional work, and burn up the pattern before it has the chance to arise.

Making Reparations

Being free of guilt does not mean that suffering and pain was not caused. Very often, some form of reparation is needed. You might have hurt someone; do your very best to fix things and make amends.

Byron Katie told a story once; I forget the exact details. A man had stolen from a retail shop in his past, but he was never caught. How was he to make amends? He tried going back and simply paying for the items he had stolen, but they said the accounting system would show an error for such a strange action. And so he came up with a brilliant solution – he returned to the store, and made several purchases. But after he made payment, he placed the items back on the shelves, walking out empty handed.

True courage is living your change completely.

Change your thoughts and change your life – The Art of Cognitive Reframing

Published February 16, 2012 by matchsoul

We never, ever, see the world as it is. Our awareness – our beliefs, past conditionings, upbringing, the list goes on – these distort everything we see. They creep into every interpretation and misinterpretation.

This is obvious; you must have seen it for yourself. The same person can elicit very different reactions, wildly varying feelings in a crowd of onlookers. One man looks at a beautiful woman; he feels a sense of yearning. Another sees a potential new friend, and yet another shies away – he will never be good enough for her.

One of the most painful misinterpretations lies in self-perception. How do you see yourself? Realistic self concepts are rare, but a negatively distorted perception ruins lives. Weaknesses are magnified, assets and strengths are ignored. We have a tendency to compare; this leads to low self-esteem; a strong feeling of inadequacy and constant unhappiness.

A low self-esteem is the proverbial ball and chain; it drags you down in almost every area of your life – from your romances and your relationships to your work, your ability to achieve your goals.

This is a mixture of techniques that has worked tremendously well – it is based on cognitive psychology, with a touch of Zen.

Self-Concept Inventory

Bring to mind an issue, something that is holding you back or causing you fear and sorrow. Perhaps it is your physical appearance; perhaps it is the way you relate to others. It could be something in the way other people see you, a part of your sexuality. It could even be your performance in your school or work.

Find a journal, and begin writing. Write down the positives and the negatives in as much detail as you can. Be honest, be deep, and don’t censor yourself. Let it all pour out unto the paper.

An example: you might be feeling insecure about your physical appearance. So write down everything about it – your style of dress, your facial features, specific body parts, skin, height and weight.

The next step is to begin to organise it. On a fresh sheet of paper, dig out each description and write them on a new line. Mark each description appropriately: a + sign for the positive, a – for the negative.

Some Examples

Here are a few random personal examples, taken from a wide area of possible topics:

[-] Physical: Too tall, potential dates feel intimidated.
[+] How I relate to others: Good listener.
[-] Work: Very bad with accounting and record-keeping.
[-] Personality Traits: Too sensitive, emotionally weak and easily hurt.
Examining our weaknesses

The first thing we have to realise is that there is no such thing as perfection. Everyone has flaws, imagined or real. The problem lies not in having flaws, but in using them to attack ourselves, in giving them more power and attention than they deserve.

Our self-inventory are unlikely to be accurate; examination is vital – seeing facts for what they are is refreshing, empowering. Find a fresh sheet of paper, and begin to revise your weaknesses with these rules, taken from Self-Esteem:

Remove all negative labelling. A friend was condemning himself, calling himself a loser because his business wasn’t making him much money. Such descriptions are painful; cut all such words from your description.
Replace negative labels with accurate language. What are the facts? They are all you need – not the labels, not the insults. For instance, his business made a thousand dollars profit the last year. That is all he needs.
Be as specific as you can. We often take one situation and generalise the effects across a wide spectrum. He had generalised a perceived failure in business, seeing as a reflection of his totality, his entire value. He had ignored everything else in condemning himself – his family, his friends, his personal growth – that makes up his life.
Find exceptions. Sometimes we generalise in a different direction – deeper instead of wider. A failure in one business might be taken to mean a guaranteed failure in all future ventures, causing him never to try again.
Find corresponding strengths. Very often, there is something positive to be found in an event or personality trait, one that we have ignored by focusing on the negative. What is it?
Reframing Sensitivity

It might be helpful to see an example; so let’s have a look at a personality trait: Too sensitive, emotionally weak and easily hurt.

The first step was to remove the negative label – emotionally weak. It was a label, a criticism, and not a statement of facts. It served no real purpose. The other two were closer to descriptions of reality, so they stayed.

Too sensitive, easily hurt.

Next, I rewrote it to be as accurate as possible. I investigated – why did I start calling myself easily hurt? I realised I was quite sensitive to criticism; one comment could stay in my head for days and weeks.

Too sensitive to criticism, easily hurt by it.

Next was specificity. Was I sensitive to every negative remark? No, I handle constructive criticism very well. In fact I welcome it. Abuse by someone who had done it in the heat of the moment doesn’t affect me very much either – I understand how wild emotions could lead to words one doesn’t mean. Calculated attacks cut me the most.

Sensitive and easily hurt by calculated attacks.

Last, and most important, was to find exceptions and strengths. I had taken many attacks to heart and brooded over them for days; but there were also times I didn’t.

I also found corresponding strengths. I had considered being sensitive a weakness, but it carried many benefits – in social situations, it put me at a distinct advantage. Some have said it helps me in my writing; others have said it is a blessing once I achieve my career goal of being a counsellor.

Sensitive and easily hurt by some calculated attacks. But it helps in social situations, writing, and my future career.

In addition to this, I wrote down the specific instances and memories of exceptions and blessings.

Additional Examples

A reader might struggle to see how this applies to some of the other traits; it might be helpful to examine briefly another trait.

Before: Too tall, ladies feel intimidated.

After: I am 6 foot 4. One or two women in a crowd have been intimidated. There will be a few more in the future. But most have no problem with it; in fact, many will like the sense of security a tall man gives. There are also other benefits – in certain social situations, in leadership, and in many sports.

What a difference it makes! The effects of an unexamined label can be drastic. In my teens, I was so insecure about my height that it crippled me socially. One or two girls had been intimidated by my height; I took it to heart, and without examination, let the memories grow into a crippling label.

Understanding

Sometimes, a reframing and examination is not enough. Understanding will be helpful for the more painful labels.

A close friend was upset because he wasn’t doing very well after a few years of business; he was barely paying the rent. When I talked to him, I reminded him of what he had gone through in the past few years. He had gone through a nasty divorce; it had triggered severe depression and several bouts of anxiety. He had spent most of his income, energy, and time on mental health professionals, and was only recently well enough to dedicate more time to his business.

I walked him through the various steps, asking him to see his situation objectively. His competitors had begun their ventures the same time he had, but they were driving fancy cars, and that upset him. But he was still making a small profit; he was still paying the bills. It was therefore inaccurate for him to call himself a “failure”.

In fact, how could he blame himself? He should have been proud of having the courage to go through what he had gone through. It had been a tough few years, and he did extremely well considering the circumstances. Understanding is vital for deep sorrows; I have described it in more detail here. You might also like to read the guilt series – The Importance of Overcoming Guilt, and A Guide to Handling Guilt and Self-Punishment.

I also asked him what benefits he got out of it. He paused for a few minutes, and began nodding. “I’m far stronger emotionally now. I can handle things I could not handle before. I’m more compassionate, I connect better with people.”

“Can you see how this would make a positive difference in your future life and business?” I asked. He nodded silently, a slight smile on his face.

The emotional charge

This next step is one that regular readers will be familiar with, for I sing its praises all the time. But don’t let that put you off – loving and neutralising the emotional charge that accompanies your weaknesses is one of the most powerful steps you can take.

Your emotions underlie your thoughts; they are intimately connected. We’ve worked on the level of thoughts up to this point, to boost the speed of your internal change, work on the emotions as well.

This has been covered in detail in the emotional mastery series, but here is a quick summary.

Welcome the emotion, feel it completely without necessarily acting on it. Emotions are there to be felt. If we don’t feel them, instead trying to avoid them, run away from them, they just go deeper in our systems, showing up in other ways – aches and pains, addictions, influencing our behaviour. Just relax into it – the body might tighten up, so just keep relaxing. Feel it through the body, without thinking about it. Explore how it feels. Ride it out, and it will release its hold on you.

The first option is to heal the negative label directly; think of the weakness and heal how it makes you feel. The second is to go back in time. Find the first date that stood you up, the first time someone laughed at you for being overweight, and heal that pain.

Your New Description

The next step is to simply write up your new description of the situation or yourself. Many flaws and setbacks might still be there, but this new description is rooted in reality and not clouded by judgement, emotions or time.

This description, then, is something to be obsessed over. Read it constantly; think about it every chance you get. You might even carry it around in your wallet or purse. You could also leave it in prominent areas of your bedroom, your office – anywhere you spend a lot of time. Let this practice remove the misinterpretations that has been hurting you all this time.

Any time you are feeling down, turn to this new description. Heal and release the emotions your old description brings up.

Remembering the Exceptions and Strengths

The final step is to analyse the exceptions and the strengths. You’ve remembered the exceptions to your perceived weakness, their corresponding strengths. More importantly, we should focus on specific situations.

Take your time here, and dig up compliments, awards, and everything else you can think of. Write them all down, big or small. The reason for this is simple: many brains are wired to remember the negative and forget the positive. Our self-image, our very happiness – they are then created around our negative distortions.

For instance, I have always thought of my teenage self as shy and awkward around the opposite sex. Certain painful memories reinforced that image – I had latched onto the negative and distorted them so that they seemed to represent my entire past. Upon investigation, I began to recall many positive experiences with the ladies – in fact, they numbered more than the negative.

There might be discomfort at this step; many of us will have been raised to be humble. People tend to respond negatively to those we see as boastful or proud. But it is perfectly fine to blow your own trumpet in private – it is healing to your self-esteem.

Contemplating the Exceptions and Strengths

Meditate on this – close your eyes and repeat the benefits and strengths; relive these instances. Feel them.

Write down these instances in the same way you’ve written down your realistic view of your weaknesses. Read them, obsess over them. There is no major difference in the way we’re handling these and the way we handle our weaknesses; we’re giving them extra attention.

These forms of affirmation and contemplation are different from wishful thinking, building castles in the air. We are not imagining a false reality – we are basing them on reality, specific memories and instances.

Try it for yourself, and see if it doesn’t make a change in your life.

Link Love

Isabella Mori runs a unique blog, Change Therapy, on issues like mental health, addictions, psychotherapy, social issues, and Buddhism. The blog itself is highly recommended, but she was also interested in social media and how other bloggers participated.

Isabella is asking for some of my thoughts on the social media site named Twitter. I have an account there; I signed up many months ago, used it for a few minutes, and never returned. Sadly, that’s all I can contribute. I’ve never been interested in social sites like MySpace, Facebook and the like. I have accounts but only because everyone was sending me emails to sign up.

As a nice coincidence, Wellsphere is a social site that recently contacted me. It seems to be worth a look. Like most others it is free, and while I haven’t explored it properly, it is focused on health (mostly physical), personal development, and also promises goal-tracking services, networking, and other such goodies.

Finding a Purpose and Passion in Life: How and What?

Published February 16, 2012 by matchsoul

What is one’s passion? What is one’s purpose in life, and how do we find it?

A human being without purpose is like a leaf, tossed and turned about on the winds, going wherever fortune wants to take it. What can it do? Go east, says the wind, and so the leaf goes. Go west, says the wind, and the leaf follows. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I believe, if that is the way you want to live your life. Let the wind take you on a grand romantic adventure, never knowing what the new day will bring you.

Still, for many – a passion, a purpose in life, is something they search for. For many, a purpose brings power and confidence. The leaf is now an arrow – the rain and the storms might knock it off course, but it is still flying.

A recent trend in emails and comments come from readers who wanted to know – how do I find my purpose in life? And the simple answer is: you know the answer better than I do. I can’t tell anyone how to live life; all I can offer is a few random, perhaps contradicting or unconnected, thoughts. Are these thoughts right or wrong? Please decide for yourself, all I can hope for is for them to stimulate your own thoughts and search.

This post is deeply entwined with an old series on Aristotle; updated with new information and perspectives.

First, find strength

A quote, by Alexander Hamilton, springs to mind immediately:

“Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”

I don’t know how it was intended to be read; but I have seen this in my own life: without a purpose, I was a follower. I followed the path of fear, the path of least resistance. Whatever others did, I followed. When I found purpose, I found courage.

Be a follower; there is nothing wrong with that – if it makes you happy. But being a follower made me weak and unhappy. And it was a vicious cycle, for I felt so weak I could not find the courage to break out of it.

Find courage to make your own path. It might not come immediately, but seek it. Your life is your own. Your purpose is defined by you. Society sees success as being rich, young, attractive, and famous – and so we think our purpose has to revolve around achieving all that. But is it?

Whatever you think it is, seek it, but make it your own. This is not to say, do not take the counsel of the wise, or to ignore those who depend on you. But purpose and happiness has to be your own. They are not you; they do not have your past, your skills, your uniqueness – no one can tell you what it is.

Courage can come in many ways. My favourite method comes from emotional work, purging your fears and insecurities; another powerful method comes from mental work, modern cognitive behavioural therapy, a series that will resume after this one.

Overcoming setbacks

And you’ll find that a journey into courage is another cycle, this time in an upwards direction. As you work on yourself, you naturally begin to take steps in the direction you want to go. And the steps you take will raise your courage even further. When you meet an obstruction, do you let it weaken you, or do you take it as an opportunity to rise even higher?

Obstacles are part of the play. Enjoy the hunt; enjoy the process; enjoy the striving. Take both the ups and the downs, for both are inextricably tied together, in the same way that day and night are part of one totality. There will be nothing worthwhile that will not be met with adversity; an inner acceptance of this fact will allow you to meet it calmly and powerfully. Thinking otherwise – believing that your path will always be unobstructed – causes unnecessary suffering.

Further reading: Surrender and Joy in the Pursuit of Excellence.

Purpose and Happiness

For many, their purpose eventually leads back to one thing. What is behind all that we seek? Finding riches, helping others, even the desire to have a purpose itself – what is the driving force behind that? Happiness.

It can be hard to see how happiness is behind much if not all of our urges. Follow this train of thought for your own goals; I’ll use riches as an example: I want lots of money. Why? Because I was denied it in my childhood. So once you get it, what will you do? Buy lots of things. Why? What will you feel? Content. Happiness.

This is why I believe that no discussion of purpose can be complete without touching on the topic of happiness.

Undesirable Archetypes for Purpose and Happiness

It is possible that a man without a purpose, a woman without a passion, can nonetheless live a happy life. But it is equally likely that the same person will fall into unhappiness and purposelessness; buffeted by conflicting advice, role models, demands, wants, and needs.

Your parents want you to be this, your lover wants you to be that, yet you need something else, and you don’t have enough time or money. You look at the billionaires or the Hollywood stars and think that they have success; perhaps if you were more like them you would finally be content. So many directions you are being pulled in – which do you choose? How do you achieve anything when your resources are scattered?

Without a definite purpose, you will be dragged into many false beliefs, models of living life, often given by those who have not found their own.

In Happier, based on positive psychology, author Tal Ben-Shahar noted the four archetypes of purpose, three of which are undesirable: The Rat Racer, the Hedonist, and the Nihilist. It was interesting to read through his descriptions; I saw periods of my life where I conformed strongly to each one of them, and I suspect almost everyone will too.

The Rat Racer

Eternal delayed gratification: work now, and perhaps, just perhaps, enjoy later. The rat racer is eternally looking forward to something in the future to make him happy. He is always gritting his teeth, putting up with unhappiness, in search of something in the future. Always, he thinks – I will be happy once I get something. Just wait.

But the wait never ends. From the first grade, to high school, to college, to the job, to the promotion; it is an endless waiting.

There are times delayed gratification is important – sometimes we just have to sit down and do the taxes instead of spending time with our loved ones – but taken to an extreme, the danger is clear.

The Hedonist

The hedonist is always seeking pleasure now, at the expense of everything else. She would prefer to spend her last dollars on a good night out, leaving the overdue electricity bill unpaid. Let the dishes pile up; leave the house dirty – she would rather watch television. Smoke now, and worry about the cancer when it comes.

There is nothing wrong with the occasional spell of self-indulgence – in fact it is revitalising – but again the problems are clear if taken to an extreme. I spent much of my younger days chasing pleasure above everything else, and in many ways I’m still paying the price for it.

The Nihilist

Having thought about – or tried – the previous two ways of life and finding they don’t hold up for long, a nihilist is one who has given up. She thinks there is no path towards joy and so falls into helplessness and despair. At more extreme levels, this will probably lead to depression and other such conditions.

The final archetype

“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
~ Confucius

The final archetype, then, is what Ben-Shahar calls the happiness archetype. Transcending the either/or mindset of the first three, this archetype focuses on finding something you can do meaningfully and enjoy at the same time.

This model seems so simple, so basic, that many readers will scoff. “Who doesn’t know this?” they might ask. And yet I didn’t, or perhaps I didn’t have the courage to follow this model, until I began all my inner work. Until that time, I had followed what everyone else had said: work and toil – unhappily, if you must – to gain resources for play. A work and a purpose I loved seemed like a distant dream, a remnant from my childhood; no different from the costumed superheroes and fantastic adventures.

Just like the others, this archetype can be itself hurtful if taken too far. Believing in a purpose that will always bring you joy is unrealistic, and makes the tough times harder to get by. There will always be tasks you dislike; there will always be times you need to get away from it all. But for the overall purpose – find the courage to live a purpose that is both happy and fulfilling. It is definitely possible; Ben-Shahar goes as far as to call it the only way to happiness.

Further viewing: A video based on the teaching of Alan Watts, found at the end of A Touch of Greatness and Success.

No more waiting

If you are a rat racer, the basic structure of your thinking will be similar to this:

Once I have this, I will be content. Once I have done that, I will be satisfied. Once this person has done this, I will be happy.

But tomorrow never comes, for when it does, it will be now. I heard a story once: it told of a bar owner who came up with a brilliant marketing trick – he put up a poster on his walls, and it read: “Free beer tomorrow!”

But no one can ever collect on that offer, for tomorrow never comes. If we are waiting for something in the future to make us happy, then that is all we will get – a life of waiting.

Find happiness now and your dreams are likelier to be achieved. Angry, sad, anxious – how can you perform your tasks to your best ability?

Further reading: Surrender and Joy in the Pursuit of Excellence.

A Purpose that is Alive

A similar aspect: a static purpose is another means of setting yourself up for failure. It is the rat race all over again: something that is dead, just another object to be gotten, to fill a bottomless pit – it will never satisfy you. If your purpose is to make a million dollars, and one day you get it, what then? The search, the unease, continues.

Many people have told me the same thing: They’ve gotten their perfect lover, they’ve gotten their fancy car, and they’ve gotten to the top of their company. But where is the promised land? Wasn’t that supposed to make them happy?

I had a reader once who didn’t believe that riches were not the end goal; so perhaps this could be easier explained on a smaller scale.

“What a hard day!” you think. “I need a beer.”

After a beer, you feel like a cigarette, after a cigarette, sex, after sex another cigarette, after the cigarette some food, then time runs out and you have to go to sleep, only to do it all again the next day. A brief period of this will be satisfying; an endless cycle will be meaningless. I have lived this life for a few years; it felt like a golden prison.

Always there is a background unease – What next? What next? What next? The want is endless; it is structural – what you want changes, but the want is always there.

Make your purpose dynamic: seek to write rather than be a famous writer, seek to sing rather than be a famous singer.

Further reading: Dynamic Goals, Aristotle Part 4.

What is your purpose?

The question remains, then. How do we find our purpose? I believe we already know, somewhere in the back of our heads. It has just been obscured by our fears, our wanting of approval, the conflicting advice from society, our teachers, parents, television – all these forces, pulling us in all these directions!

Once we find our purpose, everything else begins to into place. Find your purpose, and create burning desire for it. Not just any desire – one that overwhelms you and consumes you. Everything else will come. Once you find it – you will find that courage will develop. Assertiveness will come. This fire will give a reason to stand up when you are knocked to the ground; when you suffer setbacks, it allows you to persist and hold to your faith.

Without purpose, how easy it is to simply stay fallen!

What is your purpose? Only you know.

Failure is an Integral Part of Success

Published February 16, 2012 by matchsoul

For many of us, success is something that we are constantly striving towards. Some of us are consumed by the idea of achieving success in whatever we put our minds to. It drives us forward onwards to bigger and better things. There are some people who take this too far and try to be successful at everything resulting in arrogance and a lack of respect for others. Unfortunately everyone seems to forget that failure is part of achieving success and that failure is integral to not only achieving success but also to appreciating it.

When you look at some of the successful people in the world, you will see that at times they have experienced failure and learnt from it, which has helped them become more successful.

Richard Branson, for example, failed exams at school, had business ventures fail, failed in attempts to go round the world in a hot air balloon, and got into debt. But all of these failures, whether large or small, have helped him to be more successful. Why? Because successful people learn from their mistakes and failures and use what they have learned to radically change the future for themselves. Without failure success is harder to achieve. By learning from your failures, from what has caused them, from what you contributed to the failure, and from what you can change, you can become more successful too.

Practical Ideas

Here are some practical ideas for dealing with failure:

Don’t see it as the end. This failure is just an obstacle to get round on the route to your ultimate goal. This might be the first stumble on your road to success, it might even be the hundredth but what is important to remember is that getting through it will only bring you closer to your goal. It is important that you view the failure as a problem to be solved rather than the end of the world.
Think things through. If you run head long into any problem you bound to either make the same mistake again or create new problems. You need to be able to think correctly under pressure (T.C.U.P) in order to solve this problem and get over this failure and that comes from not rushing in but instead thinking it through.
Try to work out what has caused the failure. Was it something you or someone else did? Was your attempt at success just at the wrong time in the wrong place? Were there circumstances out of your control?
What options do you now have? Can you try the same thing again or do you need to try to approach the problem from a different angle? Do you need extra help and resources?
Don’t be afraid. It is important that you don’t fear to try again, if you do you are likely to not put your full self into your effort, making it harder to get to your ultimate success.
Plan for failure. I’m a big believer in the Law of Attraction. The idea that thinking and doing positive things brings about positive things in your life, while negative thoughts and actions only bring about negativity in your life seems to really fit with me personally. I also think it is crucial, though, that you plan for failure and in a way expect it along your journey to success. Now I’m not saying that thoughts of failure should fill your mind rather that you should reflect positively upon it and see it as an inevitable learning experience. Having a backup plan for when things go wrong is not a bad thing, it is just sensible.
Finally, learn from it. Successful people are always learning and so should you. People tend to only learn for what goes well in their lives, dwelling only on the positive, but really you should try to learn something from every eventuality whether good or bad. If you do this you not only get closer to achieving your success but also expanding your comfort zones. You will also find it easier to handle future failures.
A Simple Illustration

A simple illustration of how failure is vital on any journey for success can be seen in the notion of finding a light switch in the dark given in Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. When you are in a dark room and you are searching for the light switch you start groping around to find it. To start with, maybe you are looking at the wrong part of the wall so you readjust because you have learnt the light switch isn’t where you thought it was. Next, you find that you are groping around too low, so again you readjust. You are now narrowing your focus (in the dark) to allow you to reach your goal.

So you start to use the sensory information you got and begin piecing it together to give you a better idea of where the light switch is. This time you find something that feels like a light switch, but doesn’t seem to switch the light on; maybe it’s the switch for the AC or a power point. You know you are close because the two switches are next to each other. You try again and this time you find the light switch and on comes the light!!!

In all your attempts to find the light switch, apart from the last one, you fail but instead of simply giving up and living in the dark you quickly learn from what happened and try again. So why – when trying to achieve something amazing in your life – do you give up so quickly? Are not all attempts at success no matter how big or how small the same?

The Sense of Achievement

Failure also heightens the sense of achievement when you experience success. If you have felt what it is like to fail, you will more grateful and respectful of the success you achieve because you will know what it took for you to succeed. Only by truly experiencing failure will you know what it means to truly succeed.

Too many people these days give up when they fail and turn away from what they want to succeed in, deciding maybe to try something else. If you choose to do the same when you fail then you never achieve the things you want in your life. And when you are sitting in your chair in the latter years of your life, you will regret the fact that you gave up too easily. Achieving success isn’t easy but everyone should strive for some kind of success whether large or small and not give up when the going gets tough.

Self-worth and Self-esteem

Published February 16, 2012 by matchsoul

What is self-worth?

Self-worth is as it sounds: how much we feel we’re worth. How good we are at certain sports, how easily we make friends, how much we weigh, how good we are at our jobs etc.

Self-help psychology tends to assume there is an intrinsic link between self-worth and self-esteem, and that the key to bettering a person’s self-esteem is to change that person’s perception of his/her self-worth. If you believe that you’re worthy and valuable in all sorts of regards you’ll feel better about yourself.

While this can be the case it can also be much simpler than that, provided it’s realised that emotional well-being and self-worth don’t have to be linked.

When self-worth is linked to self-esteem (how good we feel about ourselves) the relationship is pretty proportional. If we have a sense of little or no self-worth we feel terrible about ourselves and if we have high self-worth it’s the opposite.

Our sense of self-worth can fluctuate with our changes in circumstances, and I doubt positive mantras and visualisation exercises are always enough to combat the simple knowledge that in some areas you really do suck. There’s an alternative to trying to change your perception of self-worth to weigh up the scales well.

Understanding self-worth

Your self-esteem is likely connected to a sense of worth and value – it’s the same for almost everyone. But that sense is down to the value and worth you can be to others and not necessarily are to others.

Alone on a desert island, what are you worth? A lot? A little? In that situation you are completely worthless – you are of no use to anyone. But would that sense of worthlessness on that island bother you? Could you imagine any lone castaway battling with a sense of self-worth? That would be ridiculous. As Tom Hanks taught us, ice skate dentistry and argumentative footballs will always take priority.

In a more direct example: what might people suffering from low self-worth worry about when they wake up: whether they will contribute value to their work today or whether they can contribute value?

Our concern for self-worth is in our capacity, not in our contribution. Marooned on an island, unable to be of value to anyone, we just get on with surviving. Throw us back into civilisation and the business of self-worth appears again. The key to self-esteem is not necessarily in boosting self-worth, but simply in detaching our self-esteem from our self-worth.

Just as self-worth isn’t an issue when it comes to survival on a desert island so it need not be an issue in civilisation when you’re just trying to achieve happiness.

People doing very well at what they do…

Most people who do really well aren’t in the media at all, if ever. In the following examples I’m going to refer just to celebrities though, as it makes for easier writing and reading.

When you see celebrities on TV, especially in interviews, have you ever noticed how some seem very big-headed and others seem rather humble? They all know they ought to look modest, of course, but you can often tell when some are putting on an act and others genuinely have no interest in tooting their own horns.

Such celebrities can have equal levels of success in their different fields, yet behave very differently.

People with low self-worth which is linked to self-esteem

Some celebrities are very successful at what they do, yet have low self-worth. Maybe they’re worried that their fame comes from hype and not their accomplishments, maybe they feel really worthless in some other area…but somehow or other despite the glow of the media spotlight they still feel not quite worth enough. Such people can strike us as cocky, boastful, big-headed or even just narcissistic – using pride to cover up a deeper-seated feeling of worthlessness.

They’re better off with high self-worth.

People with high self-worth which is linked to self-esteem

Some celebrities have high self-worth…and they can still strike us as cocky, boastful and big-headed, but they’re obviously better off than those with low self-worth.

It’s still not ideal though as it doesn’t offer much security. The world’s best ballerina may have soaring self-worth (as in literally her worth as a dancer) but that would vanish if she became paralysed. If these people lose the thing which makes them valuable to others, they will emotionally crash down into low self-esteem – and it will be a long fall.

They’re better off not thinking in terms of self-worth, thus having no link between that notion and self-esteem.

People who don’t think in terms of self-worth

There are also plenty of celebrities who don’t seem to think in terms of self-worth and these are perhaps the easiest to name.

Tony Hawk, Jackie Chan, Warren Buffet, Stephen King, Will Smith…they’re very down to Earth and quite humble. It’s not so much that they have high self-worth but that they don’t apply any level of worth to themselves – low or high. As mentioned earlier, we can all easily not think in terms of self-worth in various situations, the challenge is to think like this consistently – irrespective of our circumstances.

Transcending the self-worth model

The better cure for self-worth is just to leave that system rather than try to win at it. In the system of self-worth you’re either low on it and you need more to feel good about yourself, or you have plenty and you’re happy with yourself – but that happiness can be taken away in an instant if you suddenly lose the thing which makes you valuable.

If you opt out of that mentality you’ll always have self-worth (literally a level of value to others), but it can simply have no emotional relevance to you and won’t be something you give much thought to.

How to do this…

I’m not a perfect example when it comes to thinking beyond self-worth (though the guy I share my blog with is…damn him) but I find as time goes on I get better and better at disregarding self-worth by doing one particular thing and avoiding another:

Remembering self-worth is a construct

Simply reminding myself of what this article is about is usually enough to kick myself out of thoughts of self-worth. Self-worth isn’t a mental model I’d have to deal with alone on a desert island and I don’t have to deal with it in my present circumstances here in civilisation either.

Not ‘faking it ‘til I make it’

I’m not sure I’ve ever done this. I hope I never do. ‘Fake it until you make it’ is such a business thing and it really promotes the self-worth mental model. Pretending to be more successful than you are until you reach that level of success for real…well it might be good for business but until you get the success for real you’re really stirring up self-worth troubles.

Poem: Courage

Published January 30, 2012 by matchsoul

Poem: Courage.

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