Why Are You Here?
Starting Our Journey into the Self
There are times when life feels like a relentless parade of difficulties. They keep coming at you out of nowhere—the unappreciative boss, the jerk co-worker, the loud neighbor. Economic roller coasters and exhausting politics. Your unsatisfactory relationship with your significant other. The obnoxious family member, the ungrateful children, the relentless aging process. And that’s when things are normal.
On the really bad days, we feel tired. We are sick of feeling alone and not having real friends. We are sick of feeling exhausted and drained of energy. We are sick of not knowing the best thing to do next. Everything may look great on the outside (or on social media), but there are times we all feel like total failures. And we spend way too much energy trying to keep others from realizing that.
Then again, incredibly enough, you’ve had flashes in the past when it all felt great! Everything was going your way for a while. Those were the good days, when life was full of promise. Good news flowed in choreographed sequence to a climax. Maybe your efforts finally paid off, and you got that degree you had been dreaming of, or maybe you moved into a fantastic new home. Perhaps you had a significant breakthrough in your career or found out that the person you liked so much liked you back.
In moments like that, your potential and creativity are at their peak. The energy in your body is abundant—contagious enthusiasm pours out of you! Those good periods in life make everything worth it.
Have you ever wondered why you have your ups and downs? What sparks the parades of bad circumstances or the sequences of good results? Maybe your life is meant to forever be a roller coaster…or maybe there’s a pattern. If you cannot stop the bad times when they come, were you truly in control when the good ones came along? What are you doing here? What is happening to you? On the journey into the self, this is our first stop.
Emotional Responses as a Guiding System
Imagine a scrambled Rubik’s Cube, that popular puzzle toy with six faces of various colors. Imagine for a moment that all the blue pieces spread throughout the cube—all nine of them—suddenly became conscious and self-aware, just like you and me. They woke up one day and found themselves alive in a universe full of other pieces that looked like them. Except that most of their neighboring pieces were of a different color.
Often, as the blue pieces go on living their lives, a hand of destiny comes along and rotates parts of the cube. It shifts the blue pieces’ landscape. Familiar pieces around them are gone; new ones take their places. The circumstances of the blue pieces’ lives have changed. These unknown forces moving the cube are explained away by some of the blue pieces—perhaps it’s desire, luck, coincidence, or destiny, they suggest. Some of the wiser blue pieces are known and respected for their wisdom. They call these constant changes “natural law,” “luck,” or “the way life is.” Often, the end result of these random movements confirms those beliefs, and other times, their life chaos doesn’t make any sense at all.
As it goes through life, sometimes, a side of a blue piece lands next to another blue piece. And that feels good, subconsciously good. It feels like, I would like it if that side of me stays that way. It is a feeling of well-being. It may not be expressed with words or even fully be noticed.
More often, though, a side of the blue piece lands next to a piece of a different color. And that feels unsatisfying and subconsciously unfulfilling. It feels like, I should keep moving.
How each blue piece feels at any given moment may seem random to an observer as their feelings don’t explain what is going on…that is, until the observer realizes the connection between all of the different-colored pieces. Then she discovers what life—i.e., the hand of destiny—is trying to do. It is working to bring all the blue pieces together. It is trying to solve the entire puzzle across all six faces. Solving the complete puzzle is the ultimate purpose, and landing next to another blue piece is a step closer to fulfilling that purpose.
When you are closing in on your purpose as a human being, life feels good. When you stray, it feels all wrong. Like each separate piece in a Rubik’s Cube, you are an element of something bigger—you are an individual fragment of a greater whole. Like each finger in a hand, there is a harmony to your individual and collective movements. And there is a single overarching purpose that connects your life and the lives of people around you. That includes people whose activities and ideas are totally different from yours. They are part of the puzzle, too, perhaps on the opposite side of the cube. Their ultimate success in fulfilling their underlying purpose means that you will succeed as well. The entire puzzle will be solved.
If you were able to observe what the cosmos is doing, you would come to realize what fulfills you (what makes you feel connected to a deeper purpose) and what makes you feel empty (disconnected from it). This purpose is already unfolding around you. From this connection (or disconnection), you draw meaning.
This purpose of the cosmos is reflected in the activity of nature all around you. You and everything else in nature are the outcome of that activity, the outcome of life and its purpose. The continuation of that activity in yourself is the natural path of this purpose.
All that said, what something is doing something is different from why it is doing it.
A group of people may be busy for weeks building a bridge across a river. That is what they are doing. They want their families to be able to cross safely from one side of the river to the other. That is why they are building a bridge. So, what are life and the cosmos doing right now? The same thing they have been doing for millions of years, ever since the beginning.
The universe, in its current stage, is evolving, growing, and expanding. The purpose behind life’s activity is evolution and growth. In addition to whatever individual goals you may have, the underlying purpose of your existence is to grow. Not merely to survive and persevere, no, but to evolve and grow. Experiencing growth enlivens every cell in your body.
Your overarching purpose is to grow, and your emotions are a guiding system to that aim.
When you are growing, it feels good. Keep going! When you are stagnant, it feels wrong. Change!
Take a moment to reflect on the periods of your life when everything felt stuck. You’ll find that these periods have something in common: you were not growing. You were stagnant. In some cases, you may have even been regressing. Now, reflect on those occasions when life felt good. During the good times, you were growing and expanding in one or more aspects of your life. In some cases, the growth manifested in the achievement of a goal, in success. When you look beyond the changing circumstances and the lucky or unlucky breaks, you’ll find that growth, stagnation, or decay is the final why at the end of the story.
Growth or stagnation fuels your state of mind. Each triggers aspects of your self-image related to your success or failure. We’ll discuss later in detail how this happens. For now, we’ll say that features of your subconscious influence your perception of reality. They create specific states of mind and impact how you engage in activities.
Growth includes at least three phases:
Growth in any of these phases will give you a measure of pleasure.
Physical growth includes the development and nurturing of your body. It includes what contributes to it, like your health, possessions, and finances.
Emotional growth includes your relationships, psychological health, and spiritual development. Intellectual growth includes the knowledge and skills you acquire. These three areas combine to give you a spectrum of activities, a field of play for the game of life.
Growth versus Success and Failure
Growth is different from success: success is the manifestation of growth, and failure is an opportunity for both. Winning and losing are not automatically rewarding or depressing activities.
For instance, imagine you are in your mid-fifties. You are already retired due to a combination of financial success but (unfortunately) poor health. You decide to walk to a nearby park every afternoon to play chess for an hour. Sure, you love chess. But this is about more than chess—it’s your reason to walk for twenty minutes to the park and then back home, as your doctor suggested. The relative skill level of chess players in the area is remarkably low, and you demolish everyone who plays with you at the park. No one manages to keep it an interesting game past the tenth move. By the end of the second week, you are bored with this playing-chess-at-the-park business, so you decide to find a different way to satisfy your walking goals. In this scenario, winning all the time proved unsatisfying. There was no growth. The feeling of boredom was a cue that change was needed despite all the wins.
On the other hand, imagine you are in your mid-twenties. You become fascinated with chess after reading an online article about Bobby Fischer, and you join a local club and begin playing chess every weekend. The players at the club are quite good. At first, you get soundly beaten every time you play, but you are getting better and better with each passing weekend. Everybody at the club notices your progress. You even managed a draw against a very strong player last week! The instructors and your fellow players are beginning to commend you. Out of the blue, the club director invites you to represent the club at a friendly tournament for novices. Your strong third-place finish surprises even you. Everybody congratulates you. The pride and satisfaction you feel inside your chest for a few weeks is hard to describe. Your hard work paid off, and you have a promising future in chess.
In this second scenario, it would be inaccurate to say that losing all the time was motivating—it was the rewarding sensation of growth that fueled you. You haven’t experienced much success yet, but you have certainly enjoyed great growth.
It doesn’t matter where you started in life: rich or poor, woman or man, white or black. It matters whether you are growing or not. It doesn’t matter what you accomplished or failed to accomplish earlier in your life. It matters that you are growing—now.
Stagnation is the beginning of death. It is the signal that invites the symptoms of dying and misfortune into your life. The symptoms of stagnation are a warning sign that growth is needed.
Identifying Areas of Growth
Emotions are your guidance system. They point you in the direction of fulfilling your individual purpose, and your individual purpose harmonizes you with the rest of life that is unfolding around you. Your individual purpose reveals your uniqueness. It elevates you. It maximizes your value to others. That’s the best place where you could live, and your emotions guide you there: happy or depressed means either keep going or change. Think of the moments in your life when you were the happiest and most effective. Recall when things were easy and smooth. Remember when energy and enthusiasm oozed out of each pore in your body. That’s when you were growing in the right direction.
In the Rubik’s Cube analogy, a blue piece feels right next to other blue pieces. It doesn’t feel that great next to other-colored pieces. Its natural reaction is a desire to move when it doesn’t feel right. Where to move is a different matter.
With blue pieces, change was locational; change meant to move.
With humans, change is internal; change means to grow.
When your guiding system tells you that things aren’t right, the solution is not always to leave. (Although sometimes relocation may be part of the outcome.) The solution is always to grow. Personal, internal growth can happen anywhere.
In future chapters, we’ll talk about how true and permanent change is at first internal. We’ll identify key concepts that will help you discover which aspects of yourself need mastery. These concepts will assist your development and will help you achieve your next stage of growth. These will be exciting stops on our journey into the self.
Pursue growth, and happiness will follow. That’s because happiness is not the purpose of life, but the reward for doing life right. You deserve happiness, of course. You just need growth to find it.
Off the Page, into Your Life—Spotting Growth
During the next two days, have the intention to notice growth around you. Before the start of your day, take two or three minutes to hold the desire in your mind to spot some of the growth that is taking place right now. When you do this, instances of growth will enter into your conscious awareness. Any type of growth is fair game: in nature, children, co-workers, family, or friends. When you notice it, apply your conscious attention to it. Try to observe as many details about it as possible.
If it is practical to do so, you can ask someone about a skill you find useful. For instance, you might say, “Hey, Brian, when did you learn how to create web pages?” And then have a conversation with him about how he acquired the skill as opposed to how he uses it.
That you think this particular skill is useful will guarantee that your interest is sincere. When that’s the case, you are more likely to have an enjoyable interaction with Brian. You’ll find that without a hidden agenda like trying to sell stuff or butter someone up, people will engage in conversations about periods of growth in their lives. There are always exceptions, of course. But you are likely to see that most of your friends brighten when describing a time they were learning or advancing toward a goal. Your conversation with them about a period of growth will be one of the most pleasant moments of their day.
You can also try this on dates when you want to get to know someone:
● Find out what skills the person has, then choose the one that you find to be the most useful or noteworthy.
● Don’t ask them how they use the skill in their day-to-day life—ask them how they developed it. Ask questions about that period of their lives. There will be a story there filled with growth.
Recounting their story is likely to energize the person, and the ensuing positive state of mind could be associated with the date and with you. You are demonstrating an interest in this person’s identity, and that will go a long way, assuming that you are sincere in your desire to get to know this person for who he or she truly is.
If you practice spotting growth for a couple of days, you are likely to find out how contagious growth is. You’ll feel inspired to go out there and get some for yourself!