Really Want To Discover Yourself?
Adventure can be an end in itself. Self-discovery is
The Secret ingredient that fuels daring.
- Grace Lichtenstein
Discover Who You Are ...
I nodded my head and answered, "Yes. I really do."
The Wise Woman replied, "Then you must prepare yourself to take a journey. One that will help you remember who you are beneath all the clutter of everyday life."
"The clutter of every day life?" I had never heard the term before, but it made sense to me, once I took a moment and thought about how my life had being going recently.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked me gently, looking intently at my face.
"I guess I am thinking about my life. When I think back over it, I can't really say that I remember much of it. It all seems like a bit of a blur. Like my life has become like a merry-go-round, where I keep doing all the same things over and over, each week very much like the next. Living for the weekend, or the next thing on the horizon, hoping it will make me happy .. or whatever." My voice trailed off as a gloomy mood started to descend on me.
"That is what you get when you think gloomy thoughts," her voice penetrated the gloom like the flare of a torch gleaming through a fog.
"What I get?" was all I could reply, not sure at all what she meant.
Calling for Weather ...
"When you think gloomy thoughts, you are calling for gloomy weather that will further dampen your thoughts and change the environment around you. Make it a habit, and it will eventually change who you are."
"How can my thoughts change who I am?" I asked. That sounded impossible.
"It is simple really. Your thoughts determine what you believe is possible for you and train your expectations so that you see what you are trained or expecting to see. Think about red cars and that is all you notice on the drive to work. Focus on how much you hate your job, or how boring school is ... and that is what your brain will present to you .. the evidence to back up your beliefs. And if you do that long enough, you change your world view and limit what is possible for you to achieve."
"Okay," I said, not quite sure that I could argue with that, but not sure I totally believed it either.
"The point is not to swallow what I say. Question it, test it out in your own life, bounce it off of your life experience and see if what I say rings true for your life." Her words surprised me. If was the first time I had heard someone telling me to test out their ideas. Now why did that surprise me so much that she seemed different?
"Most of the time growing up, I bet you were expected to listen and parrot back what the teacher or your parent said, right?"
I nodded again, somewhat sheepishly, thinking that I still did that, when my boss or anyone else in authority talked.
"Don't feel bad about it, it is what you were supposed to do." At my look of pained disbelief, she continued, "That is how all of us learn the ways of our culture, tribe social class, and family. As children, we absorb all that is around us to build a view of the world and how to safely navigate it to get the things, feelings and experiences we want. There is nothing wrong in being a sponge. The problem lies in the fact that many times, what we absorb has a lot of false ideas and superficial reasoning mixed in. But when we are young, we are taught to listen and not talk back. And so we develop the habit of thinking that everyone knows more than we do -- which is true when we are very young and lack life experience."
"Yes," I agreed. Her words made me feel a bit better.
"Then, you grow up. And if yo are lucky, you belong to a society that has a ritual that marks the change fro child to adult." She smiled as she looked at me.
"Why is that important?" I asked, already suspecting the answer.
"Because the ritual does several things. One is to make you change you habit of listening and following into one of leading and challenging false beliefs. You are supposed to starting thinking for yourself and making your own decisions. And the other is to break out of your shell and the limited expectations set for you by others. You are meant to start discovering who you really are and what you are meant to do with your life. Often this is a vision quest -- and what you discover about who you are resets the expectations of those around you regarding what life tasks and life path you are meant to follow."
Her voice was gentle as continued. "Clearly you did not come from a culture such as this, otherwise you probably would not be here, trying to discover yourself."
"So I was supposed to already have done this?This searching and discovery?" I asked, not sure I wanted to know the answer. I was not sure, but it felt like the answer would change my life.
"Ideally, yes, you do this when you are in your teens, before you choose your schooling which determines your profession and life work."
A bunch of emotions must have crossed my face, because I heard her gentle laughter.
Her voice was kind when she explained, "Most children go through an exploring stage, where they are searching for the clues as to who they are and who they are meant to become. Often, it is expressed in the question, 'Who do you want to be when you grow up.' The calling stage begins when they find some possible answers and begin to test out those answers to see which are true for them. Once they know, they move on into the focusing stage, where they focus their time and energy on learning the skills of their lifepath, profession or trade. And a culture does not usually let you advance to the next stage until you have finished the work you are meant to do in the one you are in."
"How do they do that?" I asked, curious to know the answer.
"The more significant question is 'why?' Why does a culture not allow you to move on? And the answer is simple, it is a waste to train people for the wrong profession. The 'how?' is answered with the rituals, tests, trials and quests young people are sent on -- and the initiation rites they undergo. All to guide and/or force them to work through these issues of growing up and to discover the answers they need to survive and help the culture or tribe thrive."
I laughed. That certainly wasn't me.
"At least not yet," she replied to my unspoken thought.
I sat with that thought for a few moments. And then other thoughts started to intruded into my mind. Did I still want to discover who I was? Or was it too late for me? Would knowing who I was meant to become change my life? And did I want that change. I had a life now, such as it was. Was I willing to risk what I had for something better, or would the answer leave me worse off, or send me off chasing a dream to could never catch?
Her laughter brought my thoughts to a halt, and I looked up to see her smiling at me. I automatically smiled back, and then started to laugh as I realized that my thoughts must have flashed across my face.
"Yes. No. Yes. Yes, you do. Yes, no and maybe." Her reply caught me by surprise, and I laughed even more when I realized I could not remember all the questions I had, a bit more interested in how she knew what I was thinking than what the answers were - at least at the moment.
"That can wait for later, for now you want to focus on your questions. Your first was, I think ..."
Did I still want to discover who I was?
"Well, if you are still sitting here, then I think the answer is yes. But only you know when either the pain of your life or the promise of a better one is strong enough to galvanize you into action."
"Could I just go on a weak inclination?"I asked, half joking.
"That will work, but at some time, you are going to face some hurdles, and you will need some strong motivation to get over them. And the journey of self discovery is an up hill climb for most, so you will need something to keep you going instead of getting sucked back into the dullness of your everyday life. And the people and things around you can really help you in that, or hurt your efforts." Her glance at me was a bit probing.
"Do you have people in your life that support you totally and love you no matter what you become?" She asked.
That was a tough one for me to answer. Sure I had people who said they loved me. But would they love me if I become someone different? Did they just love me for who they thought I was and what I did for them? I sat there wondering for a while.
"I don't honestly know. I think I do, but I have never put them to the test. I need to think about that some more," I admitted, more to myself than her.
Was it too late for me?
"The short answer is, it is never too late. Some people leave it till their deathbed, but even then you can discover who you are -- although it makes it a bit tough to life out your answer. But even then, you have heard stories of people who have become a higher, gentler, more loving version of themselves -- have found an island of peace that others envy -- in their last days."
Her gentle look softened my mental pictures of death scenes and I nodded. I had heard of a great aunt who had reached a place of grace, who's haggard and wrinkled face had transformed into a set of beautiful, gentle features that made her almost unrecognizable. Whose harsh voice had mellowed into a golden tone that matched the smile that kept etching itself onto her mouth.
I wondered what my great aunt's life would have been like if she had been like that in the middle of her life, instead of at the end.
"The same can be said of you," the Wise Woman said. "Who are you really and what would your life be like if you transformed like that?"
"And that," she said, "really is what your next question was all about ...
Would knowing who I was meant to become change my life?
"Again, the answer is yes, but usually it is a process that happens slowly over time. And the changes are taking you towards a life you will love, even it they take you out of your comfort zone." She smiled again at my slight grimace.
"Most people feel a bit awkward at first with the changes, simply because life is doing all the work and rearranging your life the way it is supposed to be, instead of how your brain or culture or family expect it should look. When change is out of our hands, we get a bit frightened. Like a car moving forward that does not immediately respond to our hands on the wheel, we feel out of control. But the more we have been driving in the wrong direction means the more we need the changes life will make on our behalf. And the more off course, the bigger the changes."
I nodded, not sure what to say to that. What I really wanted to ask was how off course was I?
The Wise Woman read my thoughts and replied, "A good clue is how depressed you are with your life, or put a different way, how much is your life depressing you? How long have you felt bored with life, lost, or left behind? How far away are you from feeling totally alive and grateful for your life and all the things you have and get to do with it? When was the last time you awoke and were excited and happy about the day ahead?"
I had to admit, I was comforted by her words while also dismayed by how far off course I felt. I could not remember the last time I had felt fully alive and grateful for the sunshine and the smell of the earth. The last time I had felt on course was when I was a kid.
So, I had to ask myself ...
And did I want that change?
"I still do not know the answer to that question." My voice was not as strong as I wanted it to be, but it reflected how I felt. I took another breath and tried to be more positive.
"I understand that life changes can be scary if they are big or if they are small -- even when you do the changing. And that our lives are set up to keep us in a groove -- that habits are meant to keep us safe and make life easier." I got that off my chest, but did not know what to say next.
"Yes. So change is something that has inertia to fight it totally sweeping you off your feet and feeling lost. But when you have built a life on a bad foundation, on a false idea of who you are and what is possible for you -- you might need a big push to tear it down and build a new one. The question is, do you want help to change it slowly brick by brick? Do you want to go on like the leaning Tower of Pisa, anticipating at any moment that it will collapse under its own weight?
"Help? Wait a minute ... what do you mean collapse under its own weight?" I asked.
"A midlife crisis is when a life starts to crumble around the one living it. People who are headed at a fast speed toward a life crises, popularly know as 'losing it', are living in a life that is like the Tower of Pisa. Others are like tenants in an old palazzo in Venice, slowly sinking under their own weight but not bothering to do anything about it. Sometimes they are oblivious, sometimes they just have a sinking feeling but do not know what to do with it. But all of them are seeing their life collapse in some form."
Seeing my interest, she went on, "You probably can name a few people you have known of who have done that?" I nodded my head, encouraging her to go on. "You probably have also seen people who seem to go numb or dead inside, like in Under the Tuscan Sun. An emotional bus hits them and knocks their life askew, and they have a hard time putting it back together, like Humpty Dumpty."
I nodded again, thinking about a few people, their names forgotten but not the way they seemed to fall by the wayside of life.
"They are the cautionary tales, and the memory of them can help you on your quest for change. What is so unique and wonderful about discovering yourself is that help is provided by the universe. It does all the heavy lifting, you just have to move out of the way," she said.
"How does that work?" I asked, curious as well as a bit skeptical.
"After you set the right intention, the universe offers helping hands to guide you to the right way to make the changes," she replied.
At my growing skeptical look, she continued, "It brings you into contact with the right people, suddenly the information you need is right in front of you on the book on the counter or the web page you just found. The right connections to the people and places you need keep popping up -- and your job is to notice them and follow up on them." Her voice had a tinge of laughter bubbling up in it, no doubt from the look on my face.
"Look, its simple, really. All the magic is in what your subconscious is doing. It filters the 2 million bits of information coming at you down into a few thousand pieces of information, based on what you have told it to pay attention to."
"How did I do that?" I asked.
"You trained it by listening first to what others told you over and over again was important in life, and by watching them. They reinforced the most important things with strong emotions -- either they had them or they got you to have them," she said.
At my look of skepticism, she asked me, "Didn't you wonder what all those spankings were for?"
I had to laugh and admit, "I never really thought about it. You mean, they were not just mad or trying to make a point, they were actually training my subconscious?" After I thought about it, it did not seem that far fetched of an idea.
"Exactly! Your subconscious pays attention to strong emotions, especially yours. So it remembers things strongly associated with pain and pleasure, fear and doubt. It also pays close attention to anything having to do with survival -- whether actual physical survival or social standing which has a major impact on your well being."
Her words took a minute to sink in. And then I started to think back over the events of my childhood, the times I remember being spanked or given a time out. The time I was laughed at in grade school and sent to sit in the corner, the horrible second grade class where I felt out of place and was made to look stupid by the teacher who hated me and made my life a misery. I had barely passed and had struggled with reading levels for several years until I found a kindred spirit in my 5th grade teacher who thought volcanoes were as neat as I did, and gave me gold stars for my science experiments.
"Everyone has people like that in their lives -- people who unknowingly or knowingly teach us what is important and how to survive and find our place in the world. It is just that many of them want to keep us in our place, and more often than not -- it is not the place where we belong. Their expectations shape us more than they or we realize, and we can carry these ideas and beliefs hidden deep inside of us far into adulthood."
I nodded my head at that. I still hesitated when it came to reading out loud, and I rarely picked up a book these days. And I never, absolutely never, let anyone hear me singing.
I laughed suddenly, for no apparent reason, other than my life suddenly seemed to make a bit more sense to me.
"So the question for you now," the Wise Woman said, "is are you ready and open to a little risk? Is your life so dull, or flat, or depressing or off course, that you are willing to look for something better?"
I took a moment to think about that. I felt it was an important question for me. Was my life really that bad? Or was it just not bad enough to make change worthwhile?
Was I willing to risk what I had for something better?
"To answer that, you need to weigh what you would be trading in. If you are exchanging a rock for a diamond, or a candle for a magic lamp -- the decision for most people is clear. Trading in something of lesser or diminishing value for something more valuable or priceless is pretty easy. What is harder to judge is what value your current life is and where it will lead you -- against the worth of a life you may not even be able to imagine."
I nodded. It was the lack of being able to imagine my new life that had me stopped in my tracks.
"That is what stops countless numbers of people -- not being able to envision what they really want, even in very simple terms that the subconscious can use to point you there. That," she continued, "and the fear of making a bad decision. Which was you next question, I think ..."
Or would the answer leave me worse off?
This was a big thing for me, a fear I had picked up in childhood about making bad mistakes. I had heard plenty growing up about where others had screwed up.
So I had to ask, "Would it?"
"I don't think so. Self knowledge is never a harm to anyone, but when people know but do not act on that knowledge, they can become bitter souls who spread their bitterness around to others, never letting them forget how great they could have been, if only .... Many times, they do not even have to tell you that in words, their bitterness speaks for them."
I nodded, remembering a few people who had been horrible to be around. One had made me wonder how she did not just dissolve the floor beneath her and disappear from sight. Another had made me feel like dementors had just entered the room. All had seemed to be unconsciously sucking all the joy and happiness out of life.
"Those would be the ones," she confirmed. "You have to have your radar up and going all the time and avoid these people -- unless you want to become like them. They work like gravity wells, trapping people and feeding off of missed opportunities and false hopes. But your subconscious can help you with that -- in fact it already was working to warn you with those insights. The problem is, too few people pay attention and act on them -- but those gut feelings are worth their weight in gold."
Her words were sinking deeper and deeper into me, and I could start to feel them having an effect on me. The world not only seemed a bit brighter, but made more sense.
"So, are you ready for the answer to you last question?" she asked.
"Yes. What was it again?" I asked.
Or send me off chasing a dream to could never catch?
"My answer before was maybe. Some people have enough energy to find answers, but not enough courage to turn them into reality. The only thing I can say is that first you have to have the dream, then you can know whether it is worth changing your life for, if the deal is a good one for you. And many times, the dream is only the starting point -- it is the journey you go on, the people you meet, the things you do and the life experiences you have along the way that are the real treasure. When your raw, open heart is touched by these things, magic happens. Your life opens up in ways you could not imagine. But fear often stops dreamers from venturing beyond their doorstep or comfort zone., They want to control life instead of being surprised by it."
I smiled. I knew what she was talking about. In order for life to surprise you, you couldn't know what was going to happen next. And that was the scary part for me. I liked feeling in control and knowing what to expect, and what was expected of me. Did I want to give that all up?
Her gentle laugh caught my attention.
"We all come to that thought at some point, and here is yours. The good news is you can take it slowly, learn a little here and there and get comfortable with the ideas before you start the ball rolling. Just make sure that you are ready when it is time to take off."
Eight Small Steps
"To help you get started, I have seven steps you can use to begin to discover yourself. I use them to help guide those who have lost their way or forgotten who they really are. Even if you have never have found an answer before, these seven steps may help."
"Every step helps you discover something important and meaningful about who you are, what makes makes life magical and meaningful, and why you are here. Take a look and see what you think."
And with that, she showed me her seven steps.
1. Start A Journey of Self Discovery
2. Find My Life Path
3. Find My Bliss
4. Discover My Life Theme
5. Discover My Calling
6. Find My Purpose
8. Make My Dreams Come True
Her voice came back to me over her shoulder .....
"Are you ready to start?"