The journey within
“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” — Robert Collier (1885-1950)
In my youth I was seduced by a plethora of you-can-be-anything books (see Think and Grow and Rich by Napoleon Hill and Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony (Tony) Robbins). I’m sure the writers were well-meaning, but I don’t recall a single book that implored me to look within beyond the usual blithe exhortation, “You’re so amazing”.
But without wishing to negate my past life, it was all a pile of crap. Crap in the sense that the journey — moving from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ — was premised on having more than the previous generation.
I recognise of course that where our attention goes so our effort flows and had I been influenced to pursue a more spiritual line of enquiry, including my original Christian faith, then I’ve no doubt I would have arrived at this point much sooner.
To be clear, this point — accepting a life of contemplation — is no more and no less a recognition and acceptance of the here and now, or as Simon Small says, “Contemplative prayer is the art of paying attention to what is”.
In your case, I would say that even if faith, religion or spirituality is not your thing, to fully accept everything and to live at peace with who you are is much more profound than trying to live out a life where the apogee is happiness. The reason I say this is not because there is anything wrong with wanting to be happy — far from it — but rather our projection of happiness is by and large premised on recreating experiences where we’re anything but connected to our true Self. Or to put it less obliquely, for the last 100+ years we’ve been told or lived to expect that to be happy we need material security. But ultimately it’s a lie: whilst we’re forever tied to the mind, in chasing the next high, we’ll never be truly happy. At best, we’ll live in the past, always trying to recreate the felt sense that gave rise to the feeling of happiness.
To be truly happy we have to be prepared to let go, unlearn and go on a journey of discovery. As Thomas Merton says in New Seeds of Contemplation (p. 31):
“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self”.
I recognise all of this self-inquiry talk is a long way removed from what I’ve previously written and spoken about, but for me I’ve known for a long time that something wasn’t right. For a start, being in love with nature, becoming vegan and constantly railing against the industrial paradigm has made me question more than a few get-rich-quick books: it’s taken me on a journey to my core where I’ve needed and at times forced myself to question not just my identity or self-worth but my entire being. (“What’s the point of this life?”)
Let me be clear. I’m not trying to convert anyone to anything — e.g. non-duality, contemplation or mindfulness — but if I’m able to shine a light on a new way of living that brings inner peace and an acknowledgement of interbeing then for me that will be enough.
Like many people though I’m still trying to find a place where my work and life coalesce, and although I’m able to make sense of things to a greater extent than I did five years ago when I left law, I still find myself torn between living true to a contemplative life and existing in the real world. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t enjoy certain aspects of what I do but, rather, so much of the talk seems alien when set against the real issues of our day, which can be summed up in living a life according to the Twin Trail (see the work of Tim ‘Mac’ Macartney and Charles Eisenstein).
Think about your own business or enterprise. How does it serve your inner development? And I don’t mean are you pursuing a line of enquiry that posits the normal mantra of ‘get better’. No I mean the sort of questioning that asks, Who am I?, What does living mindfully mean?, What does living a life of higher purpose look like?, and so on.
In addition, what effect are you or your business having on the outside world? Even those businesses in the professional service space may feel no or very little connection with the natural environment let alone if what they’re doing is making a net positive/negative impact on the world; but they ought to be concerned. For a start, even something as basic as the electricity or water consumed or the way people travel to and from work should make them question whether they can continue to take their existence (not profit) for granted. What I’m getting at isn’t just another faux marketing programme where a business hitches its wagon to the sustainability movement in the hope of leveraging off of some novel USP. What I’m getting at is for all businesses to rethink their whole business model premised as it is on a linear model as opposed to embracing the circular economy — see the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
In moving away from my roots I’m well aware I could be supplanting one modus operandi for another — the mind always like something to work with and on — but in living a life of contemplation, I’ve put in place enough checks and balances to know when my high-and-mighty self is intervening in the conversation. Of course, nothing’s foolproof but I feel much more relaxed now than I was when first seized by the need to let go of my past conditioning. If nothing else, I know that who I am in the workplace and outside is much more a reflexion of the real Julian than the false self that was apt to spew forth one aphorism after another but of course all wrongly premised.
At this stage, I did think to explain my next steps but I don’t honestly know what they will be beyond acknowledging that I’m much more at peace with my life than I have been for a very long time. No longer do I feel compelled to compete, to define my offering or to live my life through the success lens.
But what about you?
Do you feel something’s missing?
If that’s the case then far from me to tell you what you to do — I firmly believe that we all come to things in our own time and at our own pace — but you may feel that you need to go beyond reading another book or watching another TED talk and actually speak to someone. If that’s the case, then please feel free to reach out and connect via whatever medium you feel most comfortable with. It’s not that I feel I’ve got the answers (or any) but I might just be able to shine a light on a new way of seeing your life and the world sufficient to open a chink of light to something new and exciting.
As to blogging, speaking and writing, I know it will manifest when I’m ready but for now I’m making no promises to me or anyone else.