Many people who come to me for mentoring support are certain of one thing – that they are facing a problem which is unique to them. To their relief, they discover that the situation they find themselves in – the challenges that they are facing – the decisions that they have to make – and the options that are open to them are shared by many of their fellow travelers. One of their first lessons is that ‘they are not alone’.
Life has a way of unfolding in segments or chapters. You turn the page and encounter an entirely new direction – or at least the possibility of a new direction. Maybe you turn that page because you’ve gotten tired of reading the old chapter. Maybe something happened that forced you to turn it – the loss of a job, the death of a loved one or a personal health issue. But you turn the page. Or at least you begin to understand that you must.
But life is more complicated than that. Your choice is not to open one chapter but to choose from a number of them. And that’s when moving forward can become so difficult.
In some ways, you like the old chapter. It’s a source of comfort. You know the characters and the ground rules. It’s easy reading because it covers ground that you know well. But then there is this itch in a place that’s hard to reach. Some part of you doesn’t like the complacency and wonders if there is more out there – more that you can do with your life. And then the battle commences – a battle between complacency and the worry that you will spend your life and not have experiences that will add to it.
Now, if that is not complicated enough, concerns about your life can be divided roughly into two broad groups. The first is your becoming the best you that you can become. In the East, this is the realm of Buddhism. In the West, religion attempts to fill that need. And then there is the value of you as a member of society. Confucius, for instance, focused heavily on that question. In the West, I suppose that capitalism is the great determinant. But the point is that your life is following two paths and the question of new directions involves both.
Years of mentoring has taught me that, when new directions are contemplated, it is the first that should be focused on initially. Buddhism focuses on deepening self-understanding. The underlying wisdom is that, the better you understand yourself, the more likely you are to make solid decisions about what to do with your life.
The risk of starting with paragraph two – focusing on activities which determine your value to society – is that you end up doing mostly minor variations of what you have done in the past. Without the illumination of self-discovery, lives can be spent working out the vision of other people – our parents, teachers or an author that we were attracted to when we were young. Without deeper self-realization, lives can be spent inauthentically. The rising urge to find a new direction opens the possibility of living a more authentic life.
Someone dancing inside us
has learned only a few steps:
the “Do-Your-Work” in 4/4 time,
the “What-Do-You-Expect” Waltz.
He hasn’t noticed yet the woman
standing away from the lamp.
the one with black eyes
who knows the rumba.
and strange steps in jumpy rhythms
from the mountains of Bulgaria.
If they dance together,
something unexpected will happen;
if they don’t, the next world
will be a lot like this one.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD