A grounded way to reach self-actualization and to create a happy life

Life is difficult, complicated and beyond anyones total control. (J.K. Rowling, Harvard commencement speech)

 

Introduction

Too often people ask me how I manage it to be so happy and confident and where my smile comes from. So let me tell you…

Many people come to a point in their life where it is not only important to them to have fulfilled their physiological needs, their needs for safety, their needs for love and esteem but where also the process of self-actualization and self-fulfillment becomes important. If you are starving, if you don’t have a home or if you have no family and no friends this might be not important to you yet. Other things need to be aligned first. But if you have a job, if you have a home and if you are not hungry it might become a very important process in your life.

Even if all your basic needs are fulfilled, you might still not be living a very happy life. Bookstores, the internet and self-help groups are giving you millions of tips on how to change your attitude to life. Just think positive. Don’t take life too seriously. Enjoy the little things in life and so on… This is all true and very important. But self-actualization means far more than to just change your attitude to life. You don’t just want to walk around and wear a smile in every situation – you want to fulfill purpose, you want to give your life meaning. But how can you know what you want? How can you know what makes you feel fulfilled and happy?

If you ask the Dalai Lama what is the meaning of life he will tell you without hesitation “The meaning of life is to be happy.” But a second later he will tell you that this is not the important question. The important question is “What makes you happy?”. There is a reason why the answer to this question is different for every person on this planet: There is an unknown variable in the question. The unknown variable is “you”.

So how to know what to look for? And why are so many people who have this “perfect” life still unhappy, struggling for more, looking for fulfillment which seem to never come?Because they don’t know themselves. And before you can know what makes you happy, you need to know yourself. Make sense?

Also happiness is often misunderstood. Real happiness, real joy doesn’t come from outside. It would be better described as “inner peace” but that doesn’t sound sketchy enough to make you read this article, thats why we stick to happiness here…

The most important ingredients in an happy and joyful life is love, love in its many forms. Self-love, friendship, romantic love, compassion, acceptance and so on. Oh, what a cliche… But no matter how many times you’ve heard people saying this – it is a profound truth. Before you can truly love others, before you can really love what you do and ultimately love your life, you need to love yourself. And before you can love yourself, you need to know yourself. Make sense again? Before self-actualization comes self-realization.

This is what we are talking about here: Finding to yourself, knowing yourself, shaping yourself to a person you can truly love.

Forget everything you might have heard from all those new age gurus who tell you that finding yourself – or however you call it – is an easy thing. It is a process to realign yourself with the world, it makes space for a whole new universe of possibilities for you, it will let you know what is important to you – and it will ultimately tell you what you are here for. And part of it is a hard and painful process. You have to loose skin. You have to bleed. And you have to open yourself. But at least you have to do this only metaphorically, no surgery needed.

A lot of spiritual teachings focus on making you reach a state of constant happiness through detaching from your feelings, through detaching from your thoughts and ultimately through detaching from your body. One must think that is unnecessary to mention that this only leads to confusion. But sadly  I’ve met many people out there who tried exactly this: Just be present, be happy every day and call it enlightenment. Thats how you sell books and DVDs and whatever… But thats not how you help people grow. I don’t gain a penny by writing this, that gives me the freedom to write the truth. Maybe an uncomfortable truth.

This article is about grounding, about “entruement” if you want to call it by a name. It is about facing reality with all its challenges. Growth comes with experience, not by denying reality.

It is just ideas, concepts, maybe not true to you, maybe fundamentally true. This might be a hard read, especially considering my English. Try to read in-between the lines, try to read without to judge now. You can judge later. Try to read with an open mind and see if some of the ideas resonate with you. Lets go for a roller coaster ride…

Reconnecting with your past, with your „story“

This life is not easy and rainbow farting unicorns don’t exist – rock bottom is the solid foundation to build your life on. Many people don’t want to hear this. They try to skip the unpleasant part of the journey and jump right to the part where they find temporary relief from their past sorrows and their fear of the future.

The first unpleasant part is to face your past. You need to prepare yourself before you can go on this journey. You need to get grounded before you can grow. Having developed proper roots is as important as having wings. Part of a spiritual journey is crossing the river of pain for not drowning in it. There are no bridges when it comes to this.

You can’t ignore that you have a history, which has not only shaped you in a positive way to be the character you are, but which has also left some wounds. And you can’t ignore all your fears of the future by pretending that there is nothing in life that could ever scare you.

If you only face your past to dwell in your pain and happiness again, if you only do this to feel regret and pride again for what you have lost or accomplished, it is not helpful at all. It might make you feel stronger for a while, but that’s just because it hardens your ego, it hardens your „story“.

If you would do so, the process might let you believe that you now have not only managed to survive your challenging experiences. Moreover you were also able to face them again – How cool is that? What a tough person you are… But that’s not how such an experience is meant to be. Facing your story is only the very first step. And your story is only a very small part of who you are.

I never told you this would be an easy ride. But what you gain through this journey is worth whatever pain you might face on the way. I promise.

How to face your past?

There are some tools that might help you to take a step backwards, to look at your past and therefore get a better understanding of yourself, a better understanding of how and why you behave like you do, in a more objective way. Those tools are very different from each other and you have to find one that you can work with. The idea is that you not just look back and judge your past and your life, the idea is that you get as objective and neutral as possible when you face what happened. Don’t make a drama, but also don’t take stuff too lightly.

For some people it might be enough to observe themselves carefully and see where their weak points are and where they come from. For others meditation is a helpful tool to make the mind quiet and listen to themselves. For others, it is talking to friends or psychotherapy. For others, it is a trip to Peru, where they attend to an Ayahuasca session. Writing is always a good way to face your past and let go, it doesn’t need to be a book or the script for a movie: Just write for yourself.

You need to find what fits you. Some people would never do drugs, others think meditation is for freaks and the next one is too ashamed or too proud to ask a psychotherapist or a friend for help on their journey.

Never be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be ignorant, you haven’t done anything completely alone in your life. Think about it for a minute.

If you’ve used the paved roads – the roads we all pay taxes for – to complete your task… If you have used the words of our language – the language we developed together in the past – to write a book on your own… If you have eaten food – food you didn’t produced by your own … You haven’t done anything completely alone, there were always people who helped you.

People helped you to get born and they will bury you one day. We do everything together on this planet, so again: Never be too afraid or too proud to ask for help. Psychology is a very powerful tool that can help you with major changes in your life, even if you consider yourself as “healthy”.

For me it was meditation and a lot of self-reflection that helped me to face my past, to understand and integrate it in a meaningful way in my life and to get a better idea of who I am. Also, I had many friends who either assisted me or who got assisted from me over the last years – sometimes by only listening to each other, sometimes by reflecting the other person. Reading books and stories from other people also helped me to make some steps – Sometimes in the wrong direction, but they kept me going. Writing was also an essential tool for me. When I first started to write after a long meditation retread I almost couldn’t stop anymore. Word after word my whole life appeared in front of me, even stuff I could not remember before came up, together with a lot of tears. Pretty impressive.

Don’t mistake meditation, or the state you enter when you meditate, as your goal. Don’t think that you can get „enlightened“ by sitting with your incest sticks and watching your body while it is breathing. This would be a bit too easy after all, right? There is no shortcut to happiness if you want to stay with both feet on the ground while you going to expand your potential.

All those people who use meditation, yoga, religion, psychology, philosophy, psychoactive drugs or whatever kind of spiritual practice as a way of life instead of a tool are somehow lost. People who get lost in spiritual practices, religion or into drugs have all one thing in common: They mistake their practice as a goal instead of a tool to reach their true goals. Instead of finding themselves, their practice does become a part of their identity and takes over their lives.

Face your past in the right way

Why does it make sense to face your past again? It makes sense because meanwhile you have developed new tools to deal with what happened. You have grown. You know that also the bad experiences in your life were a good lesson for you; sometimes the worst experiences were the ones where you have learned the most from. Meanwhile, you might have found a way to accept the fact that even the most terrible experience you’ve gone through is a part of this life.

But far more important than to be able to rationalize your past is to let go of emotions, no matter how irrational this process appears sometimes. You might cry again over and over about what happened and that’s ok. But as mentioned before, face them to let go of them. Don’t drown yourself in your sorrow, learn how to swim in troubled water.

If there is a memory where you are not ready yet to go through the process of…

  1. Feeling an emotion for what happened
  2. Using this emotion to think about what happened
  3. Integrate what happened in your life and learn from it
  4. Let go of what happened by accepting it
  5. Maybe forgive yourself or the persons involved in what happened when you are ready for that

than you will have to face this memory with all its never expressed emotions later in your life again. This is not only a burden on your heart, it also changes the way you behave and it steals your freedom.

If you don’t find any reason to cry over something that happened in your past you are not digging deep enough. You might have built up layers and layers of protection, of armor, so you don’t remember and feel the pain anymore. But those layers don’t only protect you – they will stay in between you and life: The more you close your heart, the less you are able to enjoy the bright side of life, the less you are able to love and the less people will accept and love you.

A lot of your past is hidden very deep in your subconscious and it is not always easy to reach there on your own. You can not remember why you like a specific color the most. But there is a reason in your past that made you like that color. This is of course not about colors, I am just trying to make a point. This is about situations that you either try to avoid very hard or where you put in a lot of energy to make them happen – and you don’t know why you act like this.

If you are afraid to speak in front of people – there is a reason. If you are obsessed with winning every argument – there is a reason. It might be already hard to admit to yourself that you really act in this kind of way. And it is even harder to go back in your past and find the reason for that and resolve it. But hey, that’s life. I never told you it is easy. I just told you it is awesome. So go and dig until your fingers bleed, it is worth the treasure you will uncover.

Accepting your past

What I suggest is, that you integrate your past into your life by acknowledging everything that ever happened in your life. It might be easier for you if you stop beating up yourself about decisions you’ve made in the past who turned out to be bad decisions later.

Realize that you only know that those decisions were bad decisions when you look back at them later. It’s always easy to judge a decision after you know the outcome. Realize that any action you took was what you thought would be appropriate in the moment you did something. Maybe you didn’t knew it better, maybe you were not strong enough to make a better decision back then.

You think you already knew it better back then? If you really think you did something and you already knew it was freaking bad when you did it, and you did it anyway, and you regret it now, and you find no excuse for it no matter how long you are searching for one – you have to deal with that.

You have to accept it. Not in your next life – which maybe is only a myth. Not when you face god – who maybe is only a metaphor for your own being. You have to face it right here and now. And you have to accept it as a necessary part of the process of waking up.

All you have ever done, brought you to the point in your life where you are now, sitting here, still alive. If there would be only one thing different in the history of your life you would be maybe dead by now – or at least sitting somewhere else, maybe watching some cartoons on TV instead of trying to learn something about yourself and about life.

Only after that, only when you have faced, felt, accepted and integrated everything that ever happened in your life you are ready for this next step. The step of loosing some of your labels and creating a blank page to write on.

Don’t lose yourself – open up yourself

The next step is maybe the most confusing part in the process of finding yourself so let me tell you first about the most common mistakes people make when they try to find themselves.

What people often try is that they ignore their past for the sake of living in the now. They tell themselves that what happened in the past is already history and that they cannot change it anymore. This is basically true. But that’s no reason to ignore your past, it is just a reason to accept it. And this is quite a difference. Let’s have a look again why you definitely need to deal with your past first before you start messing around with your story…

If you don’t deal with your past before you go on this part of the journey you will find yourself floating around in a self created fairy tale, living some spiritual concept without being grounded anymore. And this can be fatal. Reality is not easy to defy and your past will catch up with you again, sooner or later. Make sure to not float around too high then, you might fall very deep… A big motivation for me to write this article is that I saw too many people falling too deep. Some never got up again. Others are still flying around in their fairy tale, too far away to ever come back again healthy.

So once again, make sure you are ready for liftoff before you go on.

How your identity was created

The idea is, that you realize, that everything that you remember makes up „your story“, your „identity“ and that this story is limiting you to expand your full potential. Even if this is a positive story – which it is not for most of the people – it would limit you: There is always something better, there is always more, your story represents only a tiny fraction of your possibilities. But let’s first have a look back to what happened at the very beginning of your story, on the day they gave you a name…

We need to go back a little bit in your own history to grasp what happened when you have built up your identity, your „self“. It started when your parents gave you a name. You already had a gender at this point I guess. Your name and your gender were your entry ticket to society.

Soon you received some more labels: After school you have got an occupation, so maybe you started to call yourself an engineer at some point in your life. A good engineer, maybe. You began to learn a bit about history so you knew what it means to have the label „American“ or „German“. Maybe you were a little bit proud about this. Being an „American“, how cool is that? You started to collect  more and more labels without thinking too much about it.

Soon you had a huge collection, you labeled even your character. Maybe you choose the label „calm“ or „all loving“ or „easy to upset“ or a lot of different labels mixed together. Whatever you choose, or whatever kind of labels people gave you: Those ideas, those concepts made up your your identity, your „self“.

But while you thought that they add something to your life they did limit you. If you want to know in which way they limited you just have a close look at those labels. They limit you to exactly what is written on them.

While you were proud to receive the next label – maybe „post graduate“ – you overlooked that they were only there to give you some feeling of stability. Stability in a ever changing world, in a world of impermanence, where all sort of stability is ultimately a lie: The world is always changing, you are always changing.

Those labels are only one part of your identity. They are part of your story. The story you begin to tell when people ask you: „Who are you, what are you doing?“ The rest of this story is the memories of your life, the memories of all you have ever done and of all that ever happened to you.

Letting go of labels

What is pretty interesting is how distorted your memory of a situation usually is. Ask ten witnesses of an accident what happened and you will get ten different stories. Ask them ten years later and you will get another ten stories.

You know this. But still you totally believe in your story. It makes up your identity so nobody is allowed to mess with your story, also you are not allowed.

Let me help to explain this with a quote.

Carl Sagan said “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozled has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

There is only one thing that is harder to overcome than being tricked by other people for long enough: Being tricked by yourself for long enough.

When it is already hard to acknowledge that somebody else fooled you, how hard must it be to acknowledge that you fooled yourself? The charlatan in this case is not to find outside: It is your ego – you tricked yourself.

That is one of two reasons why it is so hard to create your „identity“ consciously and to find to yourself. You can’t accept that all you ever thought that is „you“ is a story full of distorted memories, written by yourself. You still have to accept this story as part of yourself. But you need to realize how big the chances are that this story is not accurate and you need to realize that this story is limiting you.

Your story, that you keep telling yourself and people all the time, is forcing you to re-experience the same experiences again and again – until you are ready to give up some of the labels.

If you have gone through some bad relationships and you call yourself „unable to love“, how do you think you will be able to love again as long as you keep telling yourself this story? If your last business idea didn’t work out well, what do you think will happen with your next business as long as you keep telling yourself „I am bad in building a business“?

The second reason why it is hard to create your identity consciously is that you think that you lose yourself when you lose a part of your „identity“. The opposite is true. You loose a role you played for a long time and you make space to have a look at other possibilities.

Is the idea to stop clinging so hard to your story confusing you? Befriend your confusion as part of the process and as a sign that something is changing. You won’t find yourself without losing a part of yourself first, without being open to new possibilities. Actually, this is not only confusing; as everything new this is also a little scary. But without taking a risk – or what you feel is a risk – you won’t gain anything in life. You also know that already – you just need to remember it more often in your daily life and integrate your knowledge into reality.

Creating space for a new story and going beyond story telling

As soon as you get conscious about those circumstances, it is your choice how much of your story you still believe. Most people have been conditioned very deeply, mostly by themselves, to believe in their story.

But as soon as you are getting aware of the process of creating your identity by will, your mind-made past story gets a little less important and you start to create room for new possibilities, you create space for new content.

You may create enough space to realize that there are not only more „stories“ to create, but that there is somebody who creates those stories. Who is this? Who can observe this process, get aware of it and ultimately change it?

It is the conscious behind your thoughts: This is your being.

 You are not only your labels. You create your labels. You can write and change the script, you don’t need to play a role anymore. You are the creator, not the actor.

If you made it so far, you already made your first steps of (re-)creating yourself in the way you want. You start to get flexible, which is a damn good thing in a world that is ever-changing. You start to realize that you are as impermanent as your surroundings. You start to realize that you, and only you, can create the life you want. You know that living a happy life by choice and still being grounded is a possibility and you are working on it.

Congratulations, you are awesome and we need more people like you 🙂

If you hear the next time somebody saying that people can’t change, that they can’t choose their path in life, and that happiness depends on circumstances which people cannot influence, you might smile to yourself and prove them wrong by changing yourself to what you call better, to what is closer to your true nature and to what makes you happy – whatever this might be.

Epilogue

I would not write about all this if I haven’t experienced it as a truth, that you can do whatever you want, as soon as you start believing in yourself and working on yourself. In the last years I have changed from an unmotivated and passive self to a self that is living the life I was dreaming about.

Now I change my job as other people change underwear, I do whatever I am up to and I am successful in whatever I am doing. I’ve changed to a confident character who loves life, who loves what he is doing, who loves people and who loves himself. And the most important thing: I am happy!

The reason why I am writing this is because I want to motivate you to also go for your dreams, to get rid of old patterns of behavior which hold you back from living life to the fullest and to catch you wherever you are and bring you back to the present moment.

In the end, here and now is the only place where you can change anything, so go for it!

And while trying to change, do develop and to unfold yourself, don’t forget to live! Take it easy with yourself, to work on yourself in this way is not always easy and there will be not only one setback. There will be many. This is how we learn. Fall nine times. Get up ten times. Setbacks will ensure you in your ability to survive.

Congratulations if you are still with me. I know that this is a hard read in a very compressed form. And there is much more to explore…

Self development is a hot topic and many people are writing about this at the moment, many of them without being grounded at all. I got motivated by people I’ve talked to in the last weeks to write a book about self-development but that’s still a long way to go. Anyway, I thought it would be helpful for other people to make first notes about what I’ve learned in the last years and to share it with you.

I would be happy to hear your thoughts about those ideas and concepts. So please leave a comment here, write me on Facebook or mail to postmaster@nomadic-spirit.com and please feel free to use the share button so other people can join us on our journey.

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