The wrong way up

I recently consulted a young man who was confused about his direction in life. He comes from a good family, has a good education, a beautiful wife and a good job in the family business. I asked him to describe his confusion.

“I feel that my life has been the wrong way up for quite a while. And it doesn’t make sense, because I have a lot to be grateful for. I’ve done all the right things and I play by the rules. People look up to me and I am a role model to many in my community. But I can’t help feeling that it’s not a good fit for me. Something is missing, but I can’t put my finger on it. What is that I have to change?”

“Are you confused because you are not paying attention to the most important part of you? Your inner voice?” I asked. He looked surprised. “What do you mean?” he replied. “Are you looking for answers on the outside when you should be searching for answers on the inside?”

He admitted that he was looking for a simple answer that would fit the “perfect pieces” of his life into a more satisfying picture that he and “others could admire.” Ideally, he hoped, “without making any big changes.”

I introduced him to the Dharma model and its four principles. I explained how the principle of Purity represents a clear state of mind; a vision and sense of direction in life; based on thoughtfully defined personal values. I asked him to think about how much his life was the result of well-defined values or how much of it was the outcome of luck and circumstance.

We took a closer look at his values and found that they prioritised possessions, appearances and reputation. “That’s not unusual, but have you thought about satisfying your inner spirit, the deeper you?” I said. “How do I do that?” he asked.
“A good place to start is by acknowledging that possessions and status don’t satisfy the soul. Having more may be nice, but it’s never enough. Is it?” He nodded in agreement.

“The next step is to take a close look at yourself, your needs, your nature and what gives meaning to your life. Are you doing the things that are authentic to you? What is it that you value more than possessions? Is it love? A good cause? Making a difference in someone’s life? How and for what do you want to be remembered?”

“That’s a lot to think about,” he said. “I asked questions like this when I was much younger, but I haven’t had time to think like this for quite a while. Where do I begin?”

“Defining your values takes time and reflection. It takes alone-time with yourself, away from the mental churn of everyday experience. You have to quiet the mind to hear your soul. One way is to spend time in nature. Not at a five-star hotel, but in a rustic room with a view, a desk and a pad of paper. Or walking out in the hills, on a secluded beach, or deep in the wood. Maybe with prayer beads. Maybe with a mantra. But ideally in silence. You might want to consider walking the Camino, the ancient 800km pilgrim’s way in the north of Spain. My daughter walked it alone when she was at a crossroads in her life. A good friend Susie is walking it now.” I showed him a picture of Susie out on the Camino trail.

“There are many things to discover about yourself when you make such a journey. You’ll find new parts of you and also reconnect to old and forgotten parts, both of which will help you reframe your values and how you look at your life. In the end, you’ll find that values are more about the quality of your being, than the amount of your having. And with that point of view, the perfect pieces of the life as they are now, may align in new ways to create the satisfying picture you are looking for.”


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  1. Lesley-Anne Garrison

    I really like this example. I have been spending too much money on clothes that I do not need. So much so that I take them for granted.
    I have been using this to fulfil a need but am never satisfied.
    We have had a very bad time lately with the deaths of 2 close family members.
    I have been searching for happiness so this I think gives me a clue as to where I should look maybe.

    • Michael Geary

      Condolences on the loss of your family members Lesley-Anne. It’s understandable that you’ve directed your feelings of loss and need for solace into the purchase of clothing. While it gives momentary satisfaction (and distraction), it cannot, as you’ve experienced, satisfy those deeper needs. We can find happiness, to the extent that is humanly possible, by looking within ourselves to find a meaningful purpose we can give ourselves to. All wisdom traditions teach this essential truth. While it is not always clear where this search will take us, these traditions offer reassurance that the search, if we are patient, will bring us inner peace and satisfaction. Again, my thoughts are with you at this difficult time. Do contact me if I can be of assistance. Kind regards, Michael


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