This time of year presents an opportunity to step back from the daily routine long enough to look at the big picture, reconnect to what is truly important, make a few careful adjustments, and hopefully sail off on a successful course for the upcoming year. You probably have set your share of resolutions over the years with mixed results. This year, let’s try something different.
Before you get busy imagining any big changes or goals for the new year – which you may or may not follow through on, or which may or may not deliver the desired results – it always helps to gain some perspective. So here’s the challenge. I invite you to take 10 minutes and do a little imagining, not forward, but backwards, and I would like you to do this twice over.
The first exercise is to imagine you can live your entire life over again. And I want you to imagine what you would do differently. However, the twist is that this first time around we are going to imagine through the perspective of our ego. Here, take ego to simply mean that part of us that has always longed for more significance, success, safety, adulation, and control. This is the energy in us associated with lots of thoughts, and it feels like it is located in our heads.
Hmmm……When I dial up this part in me, I can imagine making different choices way back in high school. Playing more of the popular sports, so I could be more popular. From the ego’s perspective, which always wants more of the material world, I should have probably studied more business in university and gone into something like investment banking. I should have definitely been more active socially and met more people to create a larger network. I would have started more companies, because I really like the moniker of a successful entrepreneur. Given foresight, I might have invested in Microsoft and Google as start-ups, and today be a freaking billionaire with spectacular homes and gardens in really nice places. I might own a collection of fancy cars, and would probably start my own charity just to show the world I was a nice guy.
That is my quick version of mega-egoic success in our modern western culture.
Hmmm….I wonder if I would be one wit happier. I wonder if would have met and married my wife. (She was kind of shy in high school. If I really was a Big Man On Campus, I might not have noticed her.) I wonder if I would have met my dear friends. I wonder if my ego had met with so much success, just how opinionated and obnoxious I would be? Would I really believe my smarts and will were all that was needed to become the master of my own universe? Would I have ever looked for any deeper meaning in life? And how would I feel as I grow older, become more feeble, and contemplated my demise?
“I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success of money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears.”
– C.G. Jung
Now, let’s do it again. Imagine you can live your life over again, but this time let’s do it through the perspective of your spirit or soul. Choose the right word for you, but I am are talking about simply being more centered in the intuitive, calmer, wisdom energy often felt to be located around the heart. And I simply want you to imagine living your life over again, making decisions and choices from this part of you, that only longs to: give and receive love, be fully expressed, share whatever gifts you have, routinely lose yourself in beauty, peace, joy, and feel intimately connected to others and the entirety of the unfathomable mystery of life.
Whoa. Imagining living my life over from this perspective is a very different exercise. In high school, I would have definitely slowed down to connect with more of the people around me, not just the cool people. In university, I doubt I would have studied engineering or business. I really wasn’t interested in that per se. I would probably be far more drawn to philosophy, medicine, environmental science, political science, religious studies, or psychology. Career wise, I would definitely want to be doing something each day that I enjoyed. And it would be really important to be doing something that actually helped others or contributed in some way to make this world a little saner, happier, or healthier place. I might have started travelling earlier to experience more cultures and maybe learn more foreign languages. I would definitely marry the same woman – that still is my best/luckiest move. I would have taken more time early on to understand my values and learn more about growing as a human being and making changes that give my life more joy and meaning. I would hang out with more happy and wise people, and hopefully learn more about overcoming my limiting assumptions, thoughts and behaviors. And I would have definitely wanted to connected with the great spiritual teachings and a few of my current teachers, a decade before I did.
Hmmm….I wonder how my life would be different in this scenario? Generally, this second scenario is far closer to how I have been attempting to live over the past few decades. So I am not really seeing any big differences. I guess I might have hoped to be a little more open, patient and loving, a little earlier along the road. And perhaps I would have less baggage to work through in terms of old habits of worrying about life and attempting to control things, imagining I knew better than the intelligence of life.
However, maybe if I had not chased a few wild geese (ideas about what would make me happy, secure, significant, etc.) I would never have found out the fleeting nature of the type of happiness they deliver. I may never have begun to look elsewhere, inwardly. Also, if I had not met my share of very difficult people, lost loved ones, or had my share of dreams die – I wouldn’t be much of an authentic, real person. I might not be able to relate to or connect with so many others who are still chasing their dreams – still looking for what is important and lasting in life.
Maybe, my whole journey was necessary to teach me what really was important and deeply true in my life. In the end, I really don’t know what might be best for me, let alone you. However, I have come to like living in this place of not knowing. I find myself far more alive, happy, open and trusting of life.
Let’s get away
from all the clever
humans who put
words in our mouth.
Let’s only say what
our hearts desire.
Take Aways And Next Steps
I am not writing to preach any particular way of living life, or suggest one perspective is good and the other bad. In my life, it seems like the first half was heavily influenced by a lot of head-based decision making. I used to believe that this was the only way you could go out in the world and make something of your life. I do not believe that anymore. I have simply found that the more intuitive, loving, impersonal (less selfish) energy of the heart provides more than enough fire in your belly to accomplish whatever is needed. And the head, a very useful tool in its own right, is much better riding along in the backseat of the journey. You can call on it when needed, but it should not be in the driver’s seat.
My goal in sharing this exercise is to simply help you look back and reflect, so you can be a little more conscious of how you choose to live this next day, week, or year – in a way that is authentic, rewarding, and honors what is most important to you. And hopefully delivers an abundance of enduring happiness. Whatever way you choose to live your life, the good news is that you effectively get a chance for a “do over” each and every new day. So choose wisely.
The bad news is, it really is not easy to change decades of old ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. So my suggestion is pick one area of potential change that is genuinely important to you. (If you do not have a 4 out of 5 level of emotional commitment yet, chances are you are not going to follow through.) Set one tangible goal that may stretch you, but is doable and worth all the effort. And get started.
Don’t forget to design in your own support system. The connections you have with others who are committed to support you are really important factors in keeping you on track, reminding you why you are doing this, moving past the stuck places, making it more fun, and greatly increasing your chances of success.
Happy reflecting, and here is wishing you much love for the year ahead.
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* Images courtesy of Stuart Miles and Njaj at Freedigitalphotos.net.