Do you have a meaningful life, a high purpose to get you out of bed every morning, filled with energy to pursue it? When was the last time you experienced mindfulness, or felt true happiness without searching for its reason? If you imagine your life as a painting you are creating, do you think you would be proud seeing it at the end? These questions are philosophical, but they make us think about life and its meaning. If there is such a thing as “happiness without thoughts”, how could we have missed that so far in our lives?
Imagine you wake up in a dream finding yourself in a city. The city is vast and filled with attractive scenes, spectacles and people. As in any dream, you don’t really remember how you ended up there, where you should go, or what you are supposed to do. You look around searching for clues in places and in people’s faces passing you by, but find none. It is as everyone ended up there exactly the way you did, without memory, without destination, and without a map.
Time passes, the scenes, the spectacles, and the people are grabbing your curiosity and attention. The city is alive, mysterious, and magnetized with life energy. It draws you in to engage with its adventures, and start moving with its flow. Now, your earlier questions seem to be fading away from your mind. The questions of how you ended up there, and what you are supposed to do, have given their places to the dream world and its hypnotizing spectacles, unfolding before your eyes.
What if this dream world were real? We can find elements in this dream that sound familiar and relevant to our real life experience. Like in the dream, our world has many spectacles and challenges to engage and entangle with. Like in the dream, our real life and its experiences seem to be unfolding on us day after day, leaving little or no time to reflect on what we are supposed to do here. We seem to be living in a half-awake dream, we all share.
Meaning and Short-Terms Goals
As human beings, we generally like to see some value or meaning in things we do. But when it comes to our life as a whole, we seem to shy away from that. We prefer short term goals, such as finishing school, getting a job, finding a partner, forming a family, or becoming financially stable. We manage to find value in these goals, but have we found higher value or meaning of our life as a whole? If not, what is the reason?
Life is challenging and filled with past traumas, ordeals, and setbacks, for some of us starting in early age. Yet, we expect to not only overcome these challenges, but also pursue our goals and ideals. This is not fair. Dealing with our past traumas and emotional burdens alone can claim most of our life energy. This leaves us just enough energy to focus on our short term goals. Searching for a meaningful life seems like too much to ask. But, do we really want to continue to live like this forever? After all life is a gift, an opportunity to grow and evolve. We cannot let that passing by us so quietly and day after day. We should change things, but how?
There is good news. Everything you and I need to heal our past emotional burdens, and live a meaningful life is already within us. That is not a secret somebody can hide from us. We don’t need to travel across the world, nor read dozens of philosophical books to find it. All we need is an open heart and mind, and to have courage to look inside.
The path to a meaningful life involves two challenging and adventures “hero’s journeys”. Hero’s journey is a transformative process, formalized as Monomyth (a universal myth) by Joseph Campbell. This transformative process is behind most of our personal developments in life. The post Hero’s Journey of Self Discovery has useful information related to this fascinating concept.
First hero’s journey is to achieve “mindfulness”. Here, we define mindfulness as a state of awareness of our presence, thoughts, and feelings, while accepting and embracing them in the moment and without shame or judgment. Some of us might have already experienced mindfulness during meditative practices, e.g. Transcendental Meditation (TM), Yoga, or simply being in Nature. However, this state of mindfulness is usually transient and hard to maintain during our daily life experiences. So, to achieve a sustainable mindfulness, we need a deeper understanding of the impulses behind our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Second hero’s journey in our path to a meaningful life involves going beyond mindfulness. The goal of this journey is to connect to our “deepest sense of being”, i.e., our higher “Self” (with capital S). Higher Self is something that can be best understood through direct experience. But in simple terms, we can describe it as our inner most essence, i.e., our soul. This essence manifests itself in us through positive virtues such as courage, compassion, caring, curiosity, connectedness, etc. The good news is that higher Self is not a concept, we have to learn to believe. It is an “essence” we can actually experience and embody. Once embodied, Self brings clarity, healing energy, and a sense of direction to our lives. When we embody Self, everything we do in life has a meaning and serves a purpose. Both of these journeys are challenging and need our full intention.
How Do We Experience Life?
Reaching a stable mindfulness requires our openness and inner intellect. Because, we are effectively trying to understand the impulses and the causality behind all of our actions, feelings, and thoughts. It is like trying to solve a puzzle, while being the central part of it. So, we have to be practical in this self-discovery process to avoid being lost in it.
The process starts with a formal description of our life experiences, by categorizing how they actually manifest and unfold on us. Once we have this practical description, we look for any underlying drivers behind each and every experience or manifestation. This requires introspection, contemplation, and inner intellect. The result is an awareness of why we do things in certain way. We also understand what events and circumstances can affect us negatively in life. Without such awareness, approaching full mindfulness is not possible.
If we go around and ask hundreds of people to describe life and how they experience it, we would likely end up with three types of experience or manifestation. Those are life manifested by “possessions”, “identifications”, and “expressions”. Life manifested through “possessions” has to do with everything “we assume ownership of”, e.g. home, wealth, career, family, and personal belonging, etc. Life manifested through “identifications” refers to things “we associate with”. These could be our belief system, appearance, culture, lifestyle, etc. Lastly, life manifested through “expressions” refers to “emotional or behavioral states we embody” to express ourselves. Examples are emotions like despair, happiness, love, joy, forgiveness, etc. We tend to describe life, and who we are, in terms of “what we have”, “what we identify with” and “how we express ourselves”.
As indicated, mindfulness is a state of awareness and acceptance of our presence, thoughts, and feelings without any shame or judgment. To achieve mindfulness, we need develop an awareness of the underlying drivers behind each of the manifestations of life. Such awareness helps us to see the causality behind our feelings, thoughts, and actions, and to be aware of events or circumstances that could trigger them. In a way, we become a higher observer of ourselves, and fully aware of our strengths and weaknesses. The process of finding these underlying drivers and their impulses is quite practical and can be fun and interesting. We can do that using Ontological Analysis, and its rational arguments.
A simple example is useful here to explain what we mean by an underlying driver. Imagine John who thinks of himself as being lazy, and sees his laziness as the main reason for him not achieving much in life, compared to his peers. He has become self-conscious about his laziness and feels shame for not being strong enough to address it. He has also become sensitive to sarcastic remarks, people make about his laziness. Here, “laziness” is a manifestation of life through “expression” of a behavior.
Using ontological analysis, we can find that the underlying driver behind John’s laziness is not his personality, but rather the lack of “a meaningful goal” or “a clear direction” in his life. This is a valuable insight for John, because now he no longer needs to be self-conscious, or feel ashamed, and rather to start soul-searching to find his higher purpose in life. With John’s awareness, “laziness” is no longer an inherent aspect of his personality, but rather an insight to act on, and one step forward toward John’s mindfulness.
A Step Beyond Mindfulness
Ontological analysis and its rational arguments can help us see ourselves more objectively, when analyzing our feelings, actions, and thoughts. We can develop new insights about underlying drivers behind different manifestations in our life, and use them to reach a more sustainable state of mindfulness. Meditation practices are also great tools in this process, and can play a complementary role in supporting our mindfulness. In the state of mindfulness, we are calm and collected, and not as affected by negative impulses in our daily lives. We are also less affected by others, or what they think about us, and are able to better anticipate and manage our actions, thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness helps us bring higher order and control to our daily life to make its process more predictable and manageable. We don’t need to be spiritual in order to be mindful.
Unfortunately, mindfulness does not help us heal our past emotional burdens, or find a genuine and lasting inner peace, i.e., a state of happiness without thoughts. Neither, it can help us overcome unexpected ordeals and setbacks in life, e.g. due to a health issue, loss of a loved one, etc. That is why for some of us, achieving mindfulness is only a stepping stone to go deeper and discover our true Self, and a meaningful life. But, how do we move beyond mindfulness?
The Pearl Inside Us
What is our Self? Sometimes in order to find “what something is”, it is best to turn the question around and ask “what that thing is not”. Our Self is definitely “not” who we “think” we are, or any of our life manifestations. Then, what and where is it? Let us use a metaphor here.
Imagine that we live in a house that is filled with our belongings, which we have accumulated through many years. Unfortunately the space is cluttered, with old letters, pictures, and books, piled up on top of each other. Now, imagine that someone comes around and claims that there is a valuable “pearl” hidden somewhere in this house, and if we manage to discover it, our life could forever change for better. What shall we do? We can obviously dismiss the claim and forget about what we have heard. But, we can also consider the claim, believe in the existence of the pearl, and decide to search for it.
To discover the pearl, we have a couple of choices. One is to start searching for it through the clutters in the house, by shuffling them around, because we still relate to our stuff and do not want to throw them away. We have no choice but to try to look for the pearl within the clutters. So, our chances to locate the pearl in our lifetime, under piles of our stuff would be slim to none.
The other choice is to realize that the only way we are guaranteed to find the pearl is by getting rid of all the clutters in the house. Of course this comes with the price of losing our stuff, what they meant to us, and our emotional attachments to them. But if we did that, and once the clutters are gone, there will be nothing left to obstruct our view. The valuable pearl will be there for us in plain sight, waiting to be found.
Connecting to Our Higher Self
You may already have noticed the metaphors in the pearl in our house story. The stuff is a metaphor for how we perceive life, i.e., manifested as our “possessions”, “identifications”, and “expressions”. The valuable pearl is a metaphor for our higher Self, our soul, and a meaningful life. Mindfulness can be thought of a way to organize our stuff in our house, and have less clutters, but that by itself cannot help us find the pearl buried underneath our stuff. We all have this pearl inside us. But the only way to find and connect with it, is by looking beyond how we defined our lives. We need to move beyond who we “think” we are, metaphorically speaking, our stuff inside our house . Our higher Self presents itself to us, only when we are ready to rise above all of our attachments, and how they defined us so far in life.
To find the valuable pearl of our story, we need to venture beyond mindfulness into the inner world within us. This inner world is not an abstract concept that is out-of-reach. It is real, spiritual and reachable to all of us. But accessing it requires resources beyond our emotional and analytical intelligence. We also need to rely on our intuition, imagination, and spiritual insight. Our connection to this inner world, and our higher Self can be established at different levels, e.g. through practice of Internal Family Systems (IFS) Self-Leadership, and Psychoshamanism. All we need in this path is our open heart and mind and our pledge to the process. The connection to our Self reveals the true meaning of life to us, something that is worth way beyond all challenges and efforts in our path to know it.
“Like a tired wanderer who had sought nothing in the world apart from her, shall I come closer to my soul. I shall learn that my soul finally lies behind everything, and if I cross the world, I am ultimately doing this to find my soul.”
C.G. Jung, The Red Book (2009)