Over the past year, I've done what could probably be called a tremendous amount of “soul-searching.” This involved a ton of reading on various subjects, several major shifts in my career and the seeking out of a professional to help throughout. There have been stark realizations that were difficult to handle, but also many positive breakthroughs in terms of learning exactly where I needed and—most importantly—where I wanted to be in life. Here are five nuggets of wisdom that I’ve learned and kept close along the way.
Play the "long game"
This concept comes from a wonderful book written in 1985 called “Search: A Guide for Those Who Dare to ask of Life Everything Good and Beautiful.” The book was written by James Kavanaugh, famous for self-extracting himself from a church where he was a minister in the 1960s for a life of poetry and beauty on his own terms. The idea of playing the “long game” is one of his key philosophies. It simply means to imagine yourself five years from now and realize that it will be no different than it is now if you don’t take the responsibility of meeting your own needs. He writes, “Sometimes, I wish life were like a deck of cards that had to be reshuffled every few years.” I’m learning that this reshuffling can be a good thing, especially if you aren’t happy with your current place in life.
Blind loyalty is not smart
I spent the majority of the past few years with the proverbial wool pulled over my eyes, unable to recognize the truth that was right in front of me. Without going into too much detail, I essentially got played by a person I considered a friend and business partner. And it had everything to do with an unnecessary obligation I felt to be loyal. While everyone around me realized the situation, I remained stoic and undeterred by the red flags—of which there were many. In hindsight, the entirety of our relationship, both friendship and business, was strange, yet I was the one who willfully stuck it out. In his book, “Therapy for the Sane,” Lou Marinoff writes, “Loyalty can be a very commendable quality, but, like love, it is often blind.” I’ve learned to be much more discerning about what I stand behind and will take a hard look to make sure it’s worthy.
“The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon”
A year ago, I would’ve told you that I was a firm atheist with no spiritual or religious beliefs or affiliations. My atheism used to be militant: I would debate the concept of creationism versus evolution with a mental Rolodex of facts and debunking techniques. The reality is that I was a pretty miserable guy back then. After reading some very nontraditional books on spirituality, I’ve realized that what I’ve been fighting has nothing to do with, as the quote says, “the moon.” I was essentially involved with a lot of fingers, as silly as that sounds. So, now my focus is strictly on the “moon”—whatever that may be. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc. are all fingers pointing to a moon. It helps to remember that sometimes.
Compassion for yourself first and foremost
As a part of my "moon quest" (doesn’t that sound so much more interesting than “spiritual path?”), the one nugget of wisdom that I’m having the hardest time overcoming is the selfishness. It is OK to be selfish. I’m having much difficulty understanding this concept because my natural inclination is to take care of everyone else first and then focus on me if there is time. As I study mindfulness, sentences like this keep popping up in almost every book on meditation, mindfulness and insight: “When you have learned compassion for yourself, compassion for others is automatic.” This involves a complete reversal in the way I operate.
I’ve always thought of my disinterest in sports, politics and money as something shameful that I needed to overcome. At this point in my life, it occurs to me that maybe I had the right idea all along. It is possible to participate in the world but not be involved or attached in it. There are no obligations to care about that which you do not desire to care about. This is different from “detachment” in the sense that you are still a participant. However, the key is to not have any stake in the outcome. It’s actually a more enjoyable and interesting way to observe the world—everything is entertainment. The end result is an air of compassionate benevolence.