Have you ever just sat down with yourself and uttered the words: “What is my life”?
Self-improvement starts with Self-reflection/awareness
Self-reflection is an act of introspection/meditation, which aids an individual to become aware of their values, priorities, expectations, desires, fears, intentions etc., and therefore analyzing the crux of their character.
Usually the question is rhetorical when you reflect on the current circumstances of your life. But have you actually sat down and talked about yourself, with no one but yourself? If you have done this for the first time, you can reminisce that it took a while to become aware of the deep recesses of your being. To get to the depth of your being, it not only takes time, but it requires you to ask yourself the hard questions. The questions that make you really think about what kind of person you are and why you do the things you do. If you go deep enough, it’ll sting to uncover some truths about yourself (granted you’re not a saint – and if you were a saint, you wouldn’t be reading this). But that sting is the window to self-improvement, not self-loathing. It is not uncommon for people to avoid this confrontation with the “sting(s)”, because that would mean coming face to face with a struggle/challenge. That struggle would require acknowledgement of the struggle, pain associated with the acknowledgement, and eventually problem solving with a rational mindset by putting your ego to the side.
THIS IS A LOT HARDER THAN IT SEEMS AND REQUIRES FAILING
Certain actions such as: meditation/sitting in silence, reading books written by enlightened beings, company of enlightened individuals, self-less service to society, spending quiet time every morning/in nature, etc. helps an individual reflect more often and more efficiently, and sometimes results unknowingly.
In order to make better sense of your life, it is important to understand the following concepts and how they play a part in your everyday life. Analyzing the following concepts from your perspective can directly help you become aware of your thoughts, your aspirations, your actions, your relationships, and indirectly, these are reflective of your character.
Our personality or character is the essence of the cumulative effect of our thoughts and reactions to the stimuli of life.
Personality is further shaped by our desires, expectations, and fears. So let’s break these down:
Desire - Desire is the want, longing, craving of something or the response to the lack of something. Desire is essentially a search for satisfaction through physical means. Desires are formed according to one’s environment; they are created by, and therefore limited by our sense perceptions. Simplified, desires can be felt, tasted, heard, smelled, and seen. When we have met the needs for survival (food, water, shelter), humans are the only species that do not stop there. We have something called intellect, which differentiates us from animals, however it also produces ego. Ego is widely known as the consciousness of the false self (I, me, and mine) which when believed with conviction that it is our real self, we carry on fulfilling materialistic desires for our gratification of the “I”.
Desire begets desire. Desire isn’t the root cause of misery and unhappiness in the world. Unfulfilled desire is. The more we create these desires, the more we believe we need them, and then desire turns into: If I don’t have it, I can’t be happy or I need this to be happy. Desire is used as a means of finding satisfaction. Usually humans want things that are transient in nature, and therefore are transient in satisfaction.
As humans, we really want to feel an importance beyond ourselves, and therefore we use desire as a vehicle to achieve this. Unfortunately, desire is bounded by our five senses. So if you wanted to experience something beyond yourself, you would have to transcend your five senses. We won’t get into the logistics of this, but from a rational standpoint, we are choosing a vehicle that won’t help us reach our destination.
But here’s an example to clear this: Why do people smoke weed or drink alcohol? The intoxication helps an individual feel beyond themselves, something they can’t be in their normal state of consciousness. However, this is through external means and can create a state of dependency for “the feeling”, but just through similar vehicles.
If you want to know desire, study the addict. Cannot live without the drug. Does anything for the drug. Gets a little and then wants more. Can never be satisfied. Lives life for the temporary high and chases the next. It isn’t desire. It is unfulfilled desire that is the root cause of misery.
There are two ways of dealing with unfulfilled desire:
1) Realizing that connecting to the divine within you is the ultimate
2) Exhaust and live out those desires because your curiosities/desires will
remain with you... and then hopefully come to the realization of 1.
We can separate desire into two categories. Spiritual desire: Desire to connect within for the goal of eternal contentment and divine enlightenment. Desire for God. Desire for selflessness. Desire for truth. Desire for Self-improvement for the benefit of you and others. Internal living. Permanent.
Materialistic desire: Desires that are obstructing the spiritual desires. Materialistic desire. Desire for the benefit of “me, mine, myself, I”. Desire for status, fame, power. Desire for money, sex, and material “success”. External living. Temporary.
The objective of life should not be to become desire-free or chase/fulfill your desires (endless cycle by the way – you will never win).
For a seeker of truth, it is to transcend the ego, to make spiritual desire, the highest and only desire for the being. Yeah, I know... “But... but...I still want a BMW”. You can have your BMW. But please do not the mistake of thinking this BMW will get you anything more than a vehicle to get you from point A to point B.
Praise? Status? Ego-boost? Yes.
Happiness? Contentment? Peace? No.
So, analyze your desires. Most of us are somewhere in-between in terms of having spiritual desires and materialistic desires, as this becomes dualistic living. Both of these desires are completely opposite to each other. One focuses on giving your false self up, and the other encourages expanding your false self.
Expectations – an expectation is a thought/idea/belief that something you desire will come to fruition. Another way to think about it is a result of a condition that you have attached yourself to. Here are some examples: Didn’t get the A+ you thought you were going to get? Curse the teacher. Mom forgot to pack your lunch? Get mad at Mom. Thought your husband was going to get you flowers for Valentine’s Day? You better believe no one is getting any loving that night.
When we expect something from someone or something, we aren’t entirely in control of the situation. We aren’t totally in control of our contentment. Our happiness is based upon the condition being fulfilled, and if it isn’t, we are unhappy/frustrated/annoyed/irritated. When we react to everyday life situations, we are either “happy” or sad based on the carefully constructed expectations we’ve placed in our life. To be neutral/content, regardless of the outcome, would not only be very difficult, it would require an individual to be detached. Detached to the extent that no external condition could affect the individual’s inner contentment. I’m not saying “live in a forest” detached.
Through social ideologies, we’ve constructed some pretty interesting expectations. Get educated and get a job in your 20’s. Get married before 30. Get kids before 40. Get enlightened in your 50’s. Retire with a nice pension in your 60’s. Die in your 70’s or 80’s in your sleep, without any medical complications.
Sounds nice eh? Unfortunately, these expectations are seldom fulfilled, and even if they are, don’t guarantee any happiness in return. At some age you’ll realize, society owes you nothing for conforming to it.
I just met a patient yesterday who complains of chest pain. I do my medical assessment and then ask him, sir, are you stressed? He hesitates, but responds yes. His pain started about a month ago, and he separated his wife a month ago. He then bursts out “SHE NEVER COOKED, AND I MADE THE MONEY”. There we go. The expectation you set on your wife to cook. Everything was good until she didn’t. When she didn’t, you separated her. And now you suffer from an existential crisis and the anxiety has resulted in physical pain.
It’s very hard to transcend above these conditions, however if we do that, we will not be taken aback by the ebbs and flows of life.
So analyze your expectations. Look at yourself. How many expectations do you have? Your short-term goals? Your long-term goals? What do you expect from others? How many attachments do you have? What are you detached from?
The key is not the expectation. The key to success lies in the reaction of the result.
Fears – Fear is an emotion created when someone perceives something dangerous, likely to cause pain or threaten existence. Fear is finding fault with the future or the result of an expectation. If only we could keep in mind how uncertain our future is, then we would never try to predict what could go wrong. There is a productive fear as well. You know that little voice telling you something (ex. not to sneak out without telling your parents), and you ignoring it? That fear is constructive. Examples of fear: Fear of loneliness, fear of rejection, fear of inadequacy, fear of society’s view of you (appearance/status), fear of judgment, fear of pain, fear of public speaking, fear of past events (ex. PTSD), fear of objects/animals, fear of loss, fear of death etc.
Notice how fear also correlates with things that we can’t take 100% responsibility for. We cannot address it in the future, however sometimes you can do things in the present to optimize your chances for the future. Conversely, no matter how much you do, there’s no way you can prevent the inevitable result, so why bother with anxiety or fear? Fear prevents spiritual progression. I’m not talking about your fear for spiders. That’s whatever. I’m talking about fear that creates anxiety, over-thinking, and impedes/debilitates your ability to move forward.
I have a friend who feels judged if he talks openly to a girl. He considers it against his religion to engage in a normal conversation because outwardly, he wants society to see him as a pious man. Now he is debilitated with the fear to even look at girls. Where did this originate? Fear of judgment.
Analyze your fears. There is just so much uncertainty in the future. You may die of a heart attack tomorrow. A drunk driver may hit you. You may be robbed. Your mother might pass away earlier than expected. If we can take it day by day, do as much as we can in the present moment, come to terms with our past, and embrace the uncertainties of tomorrow, then we can optimize our results in terms of self-development.
Personality is further characterized by our priorities, intentions, and values, which we will take a look at in another article.
We believe the endless quest in the utter gladness of new realizations is the sign and symptom of a Sikh.