Find Your Own Way

Find Your Own Way

Did you truly choose this path?

The Practice:
Find your own way.

Why?

The human body has about 100 trillion cells (plus another ten quadrillion microscopic critters hitching a ride, most of them beneficial or harmless). Each one of your cells has aims – goals, in a sense – controlled by its DNA: cells conduct processes aimed at particular functions, like building bones or gobbling up harmful invaders. Cells also work together in larger and larger assemblies in pursuit of broader goals, such as the 100 billion neurons in your brain that run the nervous system, which as a whole is itself the master regulator of the body.

In effect, there are layers, hierarchies, of goals in the body – and a similar architecture of aims in the mind. For example, operating right now is the goal of moving your eyes over these words, which serves the goal of understanding them, which serves larger goals such as desires to learn new things, new skills, and to be truly happy.

In short, whether in the body or the mind, there is no life without goals. Trying to “transcend” goals is itself a goal. The only question is: Are your goals good ones? In other words, do they lead to happiness and benefits for you and others rather than suffering and harm?

To choose good goals we must balance the influences of the world and the murmurings of the heart. Some counsel from others is good; I wish I’d listened to my parents’ advice to start saving in my 20’s (rather than in my 50’s when I finally got around to it).

But often we get nudged, cowed, persuaded, bullied, seduced, enveloped, swept along, or otherwise drawn into values, priorities, gender or culture roles, perspectives on life, assumptions, addictions, career choices, marriages, spiritual practices or orientations, etc. etc. etc. that in ways large or small are not really, not deeply, right for us. And sometimes we are active participants in this process. For example, it was a combination of external hype and internal laziness that led me to try to take a shortcut in my early 30’s with my training as a psychologist, which then cost me a couple of years of effort to get back on the right path.

In effect, a thousand little threads tug at us this way and that, many of them originating from within, internalized voices and faces from the past and “shoulds” and “musts” from the present. When these threads pull you from your true course – the one that is authentic, at the intersection of your talents and joys and values, appropriate to your temperament and nature, and filled with heart – you end up feeling sidetracked, caught in a backwater, unfulfilled, unused, adrift, trapped, even alienated from your own life. Do you have any sense of this, yourself?

So it’s important to find your own way.

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How?

As a frame, know that you can follow your course while also fulfilling your responsibilities. With intention and practice, inner freedom is available while being externally engaged. You make these responsibilities part of your course, an honorable expression of it, informed by it, an opportunity for growth in your own way.

Consider how you are not living your own life as much as you could. In relationships, do you make more room for the other person’s needs than your own? What aren’t you saying? Whose shoulds or plans or taboos are you living out? (Especially the ones from childhood.) How might you be conforming, even in subtle ways, to scripts or teachings or group-think or cultural programs?

When you get those other voices out of your head, what’s left that’s true? What silence might be speaking to you?

Take a look at parts of your life, such as family or career or a particular relationship. Have you drifted from your own truth in any of these situations? What specific course corrections could you make? What would help you stick with them?

Open to guidance outside the box. Draw on (for most people) the right side of your brain for images of your current path and where it could be better to go. Listen to your heart: What in your life is truly working for you that you could strengthen, and what is calling to you to lean more toward? Step out of your normal routine for an hour or longer: go for a long drive or walk, take a workshop, spend a day with a dear friend – and look at your life from a bird’s-eye view, with a sense of possibility and freedom: Alright, no praise or blame, but where to head from here?

The shift in course could be tiny. It could be simply a matter of adjusting an attitude or spending 20 minutes a day in a new way. But extended forward over the rest of your life, and meanwhile knowing in your heart that it is true for you, will make all the difference in the world.

We make a life a minute at a time. In this minute, you can learn as much as possible toward your own true way.

As they say in Tibet, if you take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves.

Know Someone Who Could Use More Guidance in Finding Their Own Way?

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Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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