My friend has just finished an army service. After serving for several years, she is getting discharged, and starting a new phase in her life. When toasting her, I mentioned something about taking the time “to look inside” and not to rush to a new venture too soon. Since noisy Russian night-club isn’t the best place to have this kind of conversations, I thought of taking it here.
When one set of certainties disappears – a job or a relationship that comes to an end, we need to take a step back, detach ourselves from our usual busy life, and take a look within. Instead of rushing forward down the familiar path of new relationships and new jobs (but how new are they really?), we should recognize this opportunity to regroup.
Author and lecturer Stephen Covey suggests a simple mental exercise: imagine you are at your own funeral – your body is in a casket, flowers, people dressed in black. He asks you then to write down the feelings and thoughts that it stirs in you. Which people you would like to see there? What would you want them to say? Never-mind the pathos of the situation, the goal here is to visually imagine your death as something very real and close.
He gave his class a week to think about it, and then asked them to write a paper on this experience, and how, if at all, it changed the way they look at their lives. The results were interesting – more then two thirds of the class (they were mostly young people in their twenties) wrote that they discovered how much they love their parents, and how sorry they are that their lives don’t reflect that, and how they would like to change that.
The goal of this exercise is to take a bird’s-eye view over our life, and working back from it’s end, start exploring what’s really important and meaningful to us, what lies in the core of our being, but is hidden away by the superficial busyness of our daily life. After all, how can we find our path in the world, if we don’t know who we really are? Our best guesses might be based on our parents’ expectations, our social circle’s unexamined half-truths. This “inside-out” approach isn’t easy, but this is how we become who we should become – by understanding ourselves and then consistently acting upon these insights.
We are often tempted to take shortcuts, to look for quick fixes, to work on methods to “fake it” – to look confident, to be more sociable, desirable, “to win friends and influence people “. And often these “external” methods can help us get rid of limiting beliefs and behaviors, and benefit us in a concrete ways. But you can’t develop your character based on pretension, you can’t shape your life built on technique. Lasting change can only come from within.
Looking Out (But Keeping a Distance)
In the process of rethinking our assumptions about ourselves, we will inevitably encounter programs that promise solutions, truths and even happiness. And we naturally might be tempted to accept them as the whole truths and dissolve ourselves in them. This is in our nature to either fight or join. To hop between being a skeptic and an adept. But this isn’t what we need here: we need a spirit of exploration and examination, that is both open-minded and critical. And we also need to realize that no program, no mantra will work if it’s not in tune with our deepest needs and desires.
Be it religion, ideology, or a guru with all the right answers, they all may be valuable in our pursuit of answers. But they will only serve us if we keep a certain distance from them, always keeping a critical look, questioning their applicability to us, testing and integrating valuable insights but not immersing. Otherwise, instead of finding, we will loose ourselves, again subscribing to someone’s ideas.
Happy discovering to Marina and the rest of us 🙂
Private victories precede public victories, making and keeping promises to ourselves precedes making and keeping promises to others. It’s futile to put personality ahead of character, to try to improve relationships with others before improving ourselves. – Stephen Covey