As humans all of us inevitably come to a juncture in our lives where we contemplate the possibility of there being either a goal or direction that our life “needs” to take for us to feel happy, fulfilled, but most importantly, worthy. This consideration falls into two varieties: either the means justifies the ends or the ends justifies the means. This may seem confusing at first but if we look at those of us who feel that our life is about the journey, we might say that our means justifies the ends. If we feel that our life is about a goal, then most often, our ends will justify our means. Though both methods have equal merit and deserve equal consideration, the underlying common thread is a feeling of destiny connected to a vague expectation that our path through life is to somehow have a purpose, reason or an “end result.” For those of us who believe purpose or reason is self-determined, we might assume that we had some sort of previous intention before we came into this life. For those of us who believe that we were “created” by someone or something other than ourselves, we might assume that there is a role that we are required to fulfill. Again and either way, both assumptions imply a path or direction that must be traversed if we are to fulfill either of these journeys by arriving at a place of worthiness relative to our original intention.
What is The Path? Since, in this world, we have no way of “verifying” those intentions or expectations, we often find ourselves looking for milestones along the way confirming that we are truly on target resonating with and toward our original intentions. This path is generally called Dharma in the east, God’s Will in the west and The Path of Heart in the domain of metaphysics and popular spirituality. But again, regardless of what we call it, The Path is still comprised of a seemingly vague and almost elusive quality requiring deep insights and focused quiet time that can only be achieved when we are disconnected from the commotion generated by our busy physical world. We reach an awareness of “it” through meditation, prayer, communion with nature and, sometimes, even through sex. The awareness of or connection to it often comes at unexpected times and “rides” unbidden and uncontrollable currents which I will label as feelings and intuition (please note that feelings are slightly different from emotions and are discussed elsewhere). Its elusiveness can be attributed to the fact that feelings and intuition are not time bound and what we tend to call eternal. The fact that our minds are temporal only adds often to our feeling frustration in dealing with them. There are questions that we can ask ourselves that will “tune us into” this elusive frequency bringing the elements of The Path to a mentally cohesive perception. When this occurs it’s like “seeing” the invisible wind but only as if by virtue of it’s passing through a field of wheat. Through asking focused questions we mentally gather pertinent life circumstances forming our own field of wheat revealing our being on The Path or off. In doing so we might sense a feeling of calm. This will tell us that we ARE on our Path. If we sense a feeling of uncomfortableness, agitation or panic, this will tell us that we are NOT on our Path. Our feelings are the gauge we use to determine the reliability of our internal compass. Our intuition is the channel for the incoming information. We must allow ourselves to have faith in these intangible parts of ourselves since our mental logic and acuity cannot effectively operate in the timeless environment of feelings or intuition. Feelings and intuition were the principle venues of our “movement” before the forming of our minds and even before we came into this life. Let’s take a look at the questions that will bring us insight as to our position on or off The Path.
The First Question to Ask - Do you follow your inner urges or do you defer to the convenience and preferences of others? Many of us have been raised with manners that stipulate that our guests, our elders and those considered to be “infirm” should proceed ahead of us in our activities as a matter of courtesy. This is in line with the belief that we are here on this earth to serve each other. Where this might serve to make our daily comings and goings run smoothly and give us a planned choreography for how we should interact with each other, it does not give us a clear definition of how much deference we should be giving each other. As a result, those of us who have an overly humble opinion of ourselves often deprive ourselves of our own preferences when presented with our assumed deference to others. This has the effect of eclipsing our personal urges for expression and action that are based on our own preferences. Since our direction for action on The Path comes through our feelings and intuition, this short circuits our inner compass and we end up moving in directions that don’t resonate with where we need to be. We’re off The Path.
Excessive humility can be a function of low self-esteem and poor Self-Trust. The more we lack Self-Trust and the more we don’t answer our own inner urgings toward our preferences through deferring excessively to others for their convenience and toward their preferences, the further off The Path we stray. It is extremely important that we listen to and follow our inner urges that we may remain on course for what our life path was originally intended. Of course we must consider a reasonable balance between our needs and the needs and preference of others. When we reach the balance point between both, a sense of calm and accomplishment will wash over us and we will know that we are where we need to be to resonate with our own path.
The Second Question to Ask - Who do you answer to and why? As we are raised as children we are taught that our parents and elders hold authority over us. They tell us what we can do, what we can’t, how we should behave, what we should pay attention to, how we should perceive ourselves and a whole host rules and requirements. As children, we know that this is necessary to initially preserve our safety and wellbeing. But our parents are people too. And they have their own issues and insecurities. Sometimes their own insecurities are so strong that they need to extend their authority over who we are and what we do in order to give their lives meaning and purpose.
As we get older, our urge for independence and the need to “test” ourselves rise up from within us and become an issue. But when we reach that age where leaving the nest is the next necessary step in our growth and our parents attempt to hold on to their “jurisdiction” over us, we begin to chomp at the bit and strain against the reins. Something deep within us knows when it is time to move on in our own direction under our own power. How much Self-Trust we have been allowed to develop at that point will determine the need for us to choose between whether we fold under family pressure and stay or strike out on our own by leaving. When enough Self-Trust has NOT been developed either path will have troubling consequences. Those who fold will move through life resenting and blaming their parents for their inability to “succeed.” Those who escaped the nest will simply find others in the world who resemble their parents and their authority, transfer that authority to them and then blame them for their inability to succeed. Those who stay will exhibit passive aggressiveness and those who move on will exhibit open resistance. All the while and in both venues the culprit for the lack of success is the lack of Self-Trust leading to assigning failure to a scapegoat in order to avoid the exposure of our own perceived shame and self-blame for not listening to our hearts.
The key to understanding why who we answer to is such a strong indicator of whether we are following our own path or not is the fact that when we myopically give our attention to resisting or rebelling against the rules and authority laid down by others, we ignore our own urges and preferences missing the opportunity to follow a line of direction that will move on toward answering our original intentions for coming into this life. If at the bottom line we only answer to ourselves, which is certainly an indicator of strong Self-Trust, odds are we are well on the way toward living our own path. Following our own path has often been quoted as our “following the beat of a different drummer.”
The biggest encouragement toward folding under family pressure is the fear of losing the family’s love, support and acceptance. The biggest encouragement toward escaping is the potential for finding the needed love, support and acceptance outside the family. Both fall away when we have felt the needed love, support and acceptance of the family through being allowed to trust our own judgment.
The Third Question to Ask - How does what you’re doing make you feel? All of us have done things out of deference to others or because doing so would have avoided a ration of #$%& coming from someone important to us. But in acting this way and if we are honest with ourselves, we find ourselves with a sick feeling in our stomach or even a sense of panic knowing that we’re either going to end up in a situation that we will seriously regret or miss an opportunity that would put us on course for what our heart has intended for us.
The point here is that our feelings are our barometer as to whether the “callings of our heart” are being addressed or not. If they are, there usually falls a calm over us. We sleep better. We feel relaxed and purposeful during our daily activities. We feel patience for ourselves and others and a sense that we are not missing something by what were are or aren’t doing. We feel “on target.” When we stray from The Path, this feeling of calm and “rightness” is absent and replaced with fear, panic, regret, agitta, remorse, shame, sadness, and if it has been allowed to progress too far, depression.
Following our path takes courage, insight and a willingness to go and do where and what others may often find distressing to them. We must walk a fine balance between what our heart tells us to be and do for ourselves and what our compassion demands of us for others, who might be unable to see or find their own path without our assistance. This training should begin in childhood but with the constant and increasing pressure to deal with things of a survival nature, we are often, and sometimes violently, herded or limited into attending things that leave us unable to answer, or sometimes even consider, the song and path of our hearts. Asking these questions and many more variations of them will bring our focus back to listening to the conversation within the deepest parts of us reminding us of why we came here.