Many years ago, after a conversation with my friend Ram Dass, I wrote these words: All of my life I wanted to be somebody. Now I finally am somebody – but it isn’t me. I strove to become that somebody whom everyone admired for all of his ego strengths, past accomplishments, accumulation of wealth, and houseful of merit badges . . . yet I ultimately came to realize that it wasn’t me. The components of the ego were well established, but I had miles to go before I could truly say, ‘I’m living out my dharma. I am on purpose, and my life means something.’
Shifting from ambition to meaning
There’s a wonderful Turkish proverb that succinctly relates a message underlying The Shift. It says: ‘No matter how far you have gone on a wrong road, turn back.’ It doesn’t matter how long we’ve allowed ourselves to travel the road of our false self. We know when it isn’t leading us to a sense of purpose and significance, and we can admit we’re on the wrong path. The awareness that our life lacks Meaning is more than enough evidence that it’s time to make a U-turn.
Here are three of the most important things to watch out for as we shift to the path of a meaningful and purposeful life:
1. The shift from entitlement to humility
This is a monumental shift away from ego’s habitual thought pattern, which says that we’re entitled regardless of the impact on others or the planet. The fact is, we’re entitled to nothing. President John F. Kennedy’s famous call to ‘ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,’ is a stirring reminder to collectively shift away from a sense of entitlement and in the direction of humility. Making the shift to humility doesn’t mean that we put ourselves down or are weak, but it does mean that we think of serving others before ourselves.
2. The shift from control to trust
If we’re honest with ourselves, every one of us can agree that we’re acquainted with the ego part that controls and manages our lives, and eagerly attempts to do the same for others. Be they family, friends, co-workers, or even strangers, ego routinely accepts the job of edging God out and taking on the role of being the master manipulator. As we move in a different direction, we realize the pointlessness of attempting to control any individual or any situation. We recognize this need to practise interference as the power trip of our false self.
Trust in yourself
This means hearing your soul speak in whatever way it does. Intuition is generally a reliable voice, in whatever form it expresses itself individually. Mahatma Gandhi explained his sense of it: ‘What is Truth? A difficult question; but I have solved it for myself by saying that it is what the ‘voice within’ tells you.’
Trust in others
This means non-interference as much as possible. Everyone has the universe located in him or her; trusting others frees you from feeling obligated to interfere. In the words of Lao-tzu in the Tao Te Ching (see p11):
Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
Everything (and everyone) under heaven is a sacred vessel and cannot be controlled.
Trying to control leads to ruin. Trying to grasp, we lose.
Trust in the Source of Being
This means trusting the mystery of creation. The universal Source of all creation, invisible though it may be, guides you just as it guided your development in the womb. When you trust in Divine intelligence, you co-operate and invite the shift to Meaning.
3. The shift from attachment to letting go
Perhaps the greatest lessons of my life have revolved around the slogan of the recovery moment: ‘Let go and let God’ – a notion that involves relinquishing ego’s attachment to, or fear of, something. The single most pronounced attachment for most of us during the morning of our lives is the attachment to being right! There’s nothing ego loves more than to be right, which makes it an important and satisfying attachment to practise letting go of. But letting go of an attachment to being right is a fairly simple exercise.
The choice to let go and let God, in a quest to eliminate our attachment to being right, is simplified with these few words: You’re right about that. But keep in mind that kindness and sincerity are necessary here, as opposed to sarcasm or insincerity. Those four words will gradually open the entry point to a road that leads through letting go and letting God, to experiencing more significance in life.
As we move in the direction of our authentic self, all of these shifts become natural ways of being. New attitudes feel good, and we notice how egoistic demands that we allowed to dominate our existence are no longer comfortable. Meaning has preeminence over ego’s Ambition.
I’m closing with Sir Laurens van der Post’s words describing the African Bushmen’s tale of two kinds of hunger and its relation to meaning and purpose in our lives:
The Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert talk about two ‘hungers.’
There is the Great Hunger and there is the Little Hunger.
The Little Hunger wants food for the belly;
but the Great Hunger,
the greatest hunger of all, is the hunger for meaning . . .
There’s ultimately only one thing that makes
human beings deeply and profoundly bitter,
and that is to have thrust upon them
a life without meaning. . . .
There is nothing wrong with searching for happiness. . . .
But of far more comfort to the soul . . .
is something greater than happiness
or unhappiness, and that is meaning.
Because meaning transfigures all. . . .
Once what you are doing has for you meaning,
it is irrelevant whether you’re happy
or unhappy. You are content – you are not alone in your Spirit – you belong.
Sir Laurens van der Post, from
‘Hasten Slowly,’ a film by Mickey Lemle.