Finding your best self by learning from the world around you
"Life is a process of becoming." - Anais Nin
The work towards becoming your best self is not something that you do once you have healed from your wounds. Instead, it is part of your ‘becoming’ process. The intention to continuously learn and grow is an essential part of wellness; it is by being aligned with your sense of purpose that you gain strength and it is by tapping into your best self that your mind can crowd out the fearful thoughts of the small self, the limiting beliefs and the obsessive rumination that hold you back.
On your quest towards fulfilling your full potential, you will need mentors, teachers and coaches who help you to identify your direction and help you progress. Here are four steps that can guide you to purposefully seek knowledge and wisdom from those who can offer you the most needed guidance, so you can make the most out of your life.
Switching on your antenna
Historically, seeking a master forms the most essential part of any journey towards growth. Fortunately for us, today we live in a truly global community where at our fingertips are knowledge and wisdom from all around the world. We no longer have to find our masters by going on lengthy pilgrimage and our learning is no longer bound to geographical locations. Instead of having only one mentor, with the internet, we are able to seek out our teachers, therapists and coaches from all around the world, across all medium.
As Mark Twain says, "Do not let the limited education that you get get in the way of true learning". Or as a Chinese saying goes, "Of every three people you meet, one of them is your teacher. A wisdom seeker is one who proactively learn from whoever or whatever is presented to him on any given day".
Begin your day with the affirmation that embedded in the people, events, surprises and challenges you face each day are the very lessons that you need. Once you have allowed your mind to open and your senses to become aware, you will shift from ‘seeking’ to ‘seeing’ the many teachings that are available to you.
Finding your sense of purpose
To reach your full potential you ought to first identify a sense of purpose that is unique to you - even when it is not immediately clear. At the initial stage of seeking, the people that you are attracted to mirror your gifts, your interests, your skills, the ‘sandbox’ you want to play in and the corner of the world you wish to occupy. Your virtual mentors maybe people who have achieved success in your identified field, or those who have created work that inspire you.
Perhaps you find yourself nodding along with what they say, or that you have a similar vision to what they have achieved. Here, your focus is on the ideas and the inspirations, rather than your their personalities. You can also lift the boundaries of your learning by expanding the definition of a ‘teacher’ in your life. In his book Mastery, Robert Greene explains how books and information can serve as your mentor. Through reviewing the words, images, events and people that have an impact on you, you begin to get in touch with your innate passion.
Look into your long-term and childhood interests and how you spend your free time. Review the books you read, the music you listen to and internet browsing history and ask yourself the following questions:
- What interests you?
- When does time seem to fly by?
Lay down on a mind map anything that comes into your mind that have inspired or influenced you: it may be a person, a book, a movie, a song, an article, a seminar or even a memorable conversation.
Draw common themes between what you have put down and narrow them down to three master-themes. Try not to censor or judge this process or allow it to be limited by conventional wisdom. People’s ‘legacies’ comes in all shapes and forms. For some people it is about building a company, for others, spreading an idea. Some wish to be the best parent they can be, others want to be express themselves authentically through art. Remember that you can only strive to be the best you can be, as everyone else is taken. - Oscar Wilde.
Emulating your light
Once you have gathered some ideas about the general direction of your life’s mission, you are ready to move onto the next stage. At this stage, you also become much more selective in seeking your mentor, as you learn not just from what he says or the content he put out, but his entire ‘being-ness’. This process is deeper, more abstract and intangible.
It is ideal if you can find people who you can see personally, that way you get to observe the way they compose themselves; the way they act, speak and the way they interact with the world and people around them. Being in the presence of enlightened beings such as the Dalai Lama, is powerful because you are directly absorbing his energy. What you ultimately want to learn, is a set of beliefs, values and a model for psycho-spiritual progression.
At this stage, you are also reuniting with your own shadow self (or in this case, your light). The concept of shadow work, as first proposed by Jung, suggests that we often project qualities that we disown onto other people - whatever it is, therefore, what you see and react strongly to in others is actually a part of you. We tend to project not only our unwanted traits to others, but also our own light and virtues. When you find yourself being immensely attracted to certain attributes in others, it maybe because they own qualities that you have and are not actively manifesting.
Think about the people, characters or role models that have a strong and direct impact on you. Then more specifically, list out the qualities or virtues that you are drawn to. Examples of this may include integrity, honesty, kindness, patience and wisdom.
Place these virtues in a left-hand column on a piece of paper. Next to each virtue, reflect on and write down times in your own life where you have exhibited these qualities. Take some time to acknowledge the fact that, even dormant, these qualities are in you too. Finally, ask yourself, "If I were to fully manifest these qualities or virtues that matter to me, where would I be? What would I be doing? Who would I be surrounded by?"
Stay hungry, stay foolish
Despite the classification of these four distinctive stages, the real process of learning and growing is actually cyclical and overlapping. Thus, stage four is actually a way of bicycling back to stage one: keeping your antenna on.
We live in a society that encourages cynicism and is often quick to disregard curiosity as naivety. As we have grown to become fearful of appearing foolish, we have trained ourselves to refrain from excitement, inquisitiveness and openness. Modern education encourages critical thinking, yet with it comes the unhelpful byproducts of hyper-criticalness and cynicism.
It is of great sadness that, as we enter the postmodern era, cynicism has gone from being a tool for intellectual progression to becoming an end in itself. This can be observed from the arts to the way we socialise, where almost nothing seem to pass without a hint of sarcasm.
In reality, you do not have to put your learning journey up for public judgement. You do not have to broadcast your discoveries. All you have to do, is to preserve the part of you that is curious about all information that comes your way and see the world as presenting to you a series of exciting learning opportunities. By doing this you can connect with what the Buddhists call ‘the beginner’s mind’. It is a blissful state where you feel excited about life’s abundant possibilities. In this state of being, you feel energetic, open and connected. Along your path of becoming, don’t forget this mantra, "stay hungry, stay foolish" (title of a book by Rashmi Bansal, made famous by Steve Jobs quoting it in his commencement speech at Stanford).
Reflect on the last time you held back from excitement and curiosity due to the fear of appearing foolish. Make a list of 10 questions you would like answer for - either as a child or as an adult. It could be anything, from secrets of the Universe to how to make a perfect cake. Then make some time to solve the puzzles and enjoy the discovery process at best you can.
You do not have to be ‘there’ already, you are at your healthiest when you keep your mind open, recognise your own gifts and virtues and proactively strive towards becoming the best version of yourself.
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