Accessing Your Inner Guidance—Part One
We know that the body has a natural bias toward health and energy. It’s designed to last for 100 years with proper care and maintenance. When something goes wrong with any part of our body, we experience it in the form of pain or discomfort of some kind.
We know that when our body is not functioning smoothly and painlessly, something is wrong, and we take action to correct it. We go to a doctor; we take pills; we undergo physical therapy, massage or chiropractic. We know that if we ignore pain or discomfort for any period of time, it could lead to something more serious.
Every disease or ailment, whether it be cancer, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure or something else, has a series of warning signs. In every case, when we experience an abnormality, we tend to move quickly to do something to get back to normal. Our physical feelings tell us when we’re well, and they also tell us when we’re unwell, and we tend to obey them if we want to live a long, healthy life.
In the same sense, nature also gives us a way to tell what’s right for us and what’s wrong for us in life. Just as nature gives us physical pain to guide us to doing or not doing things in the physical realm, nature gives us emotional pain to guide us toward doing or not doing things in the emotional or mental realm. The wonderful thing is that you’re constructed so that if you simply listen carefully to yourself-to your mind, your body and your emotions-and follow the guidance you’re given, you can dramatically enhance the quality of your life.
Just as the natural physical state is health and vitality, the natural emotional state is peace and happiness. Whenever you experience a deviation from peace and happiness, it’s an indication that something is amiss. Something is wrong with what you’re thinking, doing or saying. You’re an incredibly complex organism, and your feelings of ease and unease, happiness and unhappiness, can be triggered by a myriad of factors. But the bottom line is that your feeling of inner happiness is the best indicator you could ever have to tell you what you should be doing more of and what you should be doing less of.
Unhappiness is to your life as pain is to your body. It’s sent as a messenger to tell you that what you’re doing is wrong for you.
There are many reasons why people don’t listen more closely to their feelings and, especially, why many people are reluctant to use their own happiness as the standard by which to judge the events in their lives. I’ve studied this subject for many years, and I think that there are three major myths about happiness that each of us believes to some degree.
The first myth about happiness is that it is not legitimate or correct for you to put your happiness ahead of everyone else’s. Throughout my life, I’ve met people who have said that it is more important to make other people happy than it is to make yourself happy. Of course, that is nonsense.
Human beings are happiness-driven organisms. Everything we do in life is oriented toward maintaining and increasing our level of happiness. We are psychologically constructed so that it’s impossible for us to be any other way without making ourselves mentally and emotionally ill. The fact is that you can’t give away to anyone else what you don’t have for yourself. Just as you can’t give money to the poor if you don’t have any, you can’t make someone else happy if you yourself are miserable.
The very best way to assure the happiness of others is to be happy yourself and then to share your happiness with them. Suffering and self-sacrifice merely depress and discourage other people. If you want to make others happy, start by living the kind of life and doing the kind of things that make you happy.
The second myth, which is closely tied to the first myth, is the admonition that we’re here to serve others rather than ourselves. Many poems and essays repeat that theme. They say that we’ve justified our life on this earth if we’ve made some other person happy on the way through. But as I’ve said before, making others happy goes hand in hand with making ourselves happy. It’s through service to others that we achieve a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Only when we lose ourselves in doing something that we feel benefits someone other than ourselves do we experience transcendence, do we feel ourselves rising above the tedium of day-to-day activity. To paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson, everybody makes his living by serving someone. And the key is to serve with joy and happiness.
The third myth about happiness is that someone else’s definition of happiness is valid for you. Often, we feel a little uneasy if we’re not happy doing something that someone else thinks should make us happy. Many people allow their parents to influence their choices of career and find themselves miserable as a result. They want to please their parents, they want to make them happy, but they’re unable to experience any joy doing what they’re doing.
Happiness in life is like a smorgasbord. If 100 people went to a smorgasbord and each put food on his plate in the quantity and mix that each felt would be most pleasing to him, every plate would be different. Even a husband and wife would go up to the smorgasbord and come back with plates that looked completely different. Happiness is the same way. It’s composed of a great variety of ingredients, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Each person requires a particular combination of those ingredients to feel the very best about himself or herself.
And your mix is changing continually. If you went to the same smorgasbord every day for a year, you probably would come back with a different plateful of food each time. Each day-sometimes each hour-only you can tell what it takes to make you happy. Therefore, the only way to judge whether a job, a relationship, an investment, or any decision, is right for you is to get in touch with your feelings and listen to your heart.
The Path of Least Resistance
In the play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, there’s a scene where someone asks Cyrano why he, as an incredible individualist, should refuse to compromise his ideals or principles for anyone. He replies with these classic words: “I long ago made the decision that in every area of life, I will choose the path of least resistance in this, that I will please at least myself in all things.” That is one of the great lines in literature. To have the courage to please at least yourself in all things. Do what feels right for you, at the very minimum, and if it makes others happy as well, that’s terrific. If it doesn’t, you’ll know that you have done the very best you could under the circumstances.
You’re true to yourself only when you follow your inner light, when you listen to what Ralph Waldo Emerson called the “still, small voice within.” You’re being the very best person you can be only when you have the courage and the fortitude to allow your definition of happiness, whatever it may be, to be the guiding light of every part of your life. Whenever you feel stressed, anxious, worried or uneasy about any part of your life, it’s nature’s way of telling you that something is wrong. It’s a message that there’s something that you need to address or deal with. There’s something that you need to do more or less of. There’s something that you need to get into or out of. Very often, you’ll suffer from what has been called “divine discontent.” You’ll feel fidgety and uneasy for a reason or reasons that are unclear to you. You’ll be dissatisfied with the status quo. Sometimes, you’ll be unable to sleep. Sometimes, you’ll be angry or irritable. Very often, you’ll get upset with things that have nothing to do with the real issue. You’ll have a deep inner sense that something isn’t as it should be, and you’ll often feel like a fish on a hook, wriggling and squirming emotionally to get free.
And that is a good thing. Divine discontent always comes before a positive life change. If you were perfectly satisfied, you would never take any action to improve or change your circumstances. Only when you’re dissatisfied for some reason do you have the inner motivation to engage in the outer behaviors that lead you onward and upward.
Stay Tuned! My next blog post “Accessing Your Inner Guidance–Part Two” will be posted this week.
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