"'Fletcher Lynd Seagull, do you want to fly?'
'YES, I WANT TO FLY!'
'Fletcher Lynd Seagull, do you want to fly so much that you will forgive the Flock, and learn, and go back to them one day and work to help them know?'
There was no lying to this magnificent skillful being, no matter how proud or how hurt a bird was Fletcher Seagull.
'I do,' he said softly.
'Then, Fletch,' that bright creature said to him, and the voice was very kind, 'Let's begin with Level Flight...'"
— Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Freud said we're driven by our desire for pleasure. Nietzsche said the will to power is what really makes us go. Frankel said life is all about finding a sense of meaning. Which one was right?
Some of the different ideas I've heard about life include:
"The purpose of life is to learn."
"Life is inherently empty and meaningless."
"The goal is to retire as early as possible."
"Die before you die, and know there is no death."
"The golden rule is that he who has the gold makes the rules."
"To work out karma from past lives."
"To build security."
"To make an impact."
"We have no free will, everything is pre-destined."
"To find out who we really are."
I say, life is whatever YOU say it is. So, let's be curious...
Is life merely survival of the fittest—to reproduce and have healthy offspring?
Is it measured by how many breaths we take—or by how many times we have our breath taken away?
Is it measured by how much we accumulate, or by how much we give?
Is it measured by how much we are loved—or by how much we're able to love (even when the love isn't returned?)
Is the purpose of life to set goals for the future, and pursue them with tenacity and determination?
Is the goal of life to surrender worldly ambitions, to stop thinking of the past and future, and to live in the eternal Now?
On the one hand, if the only goal of life is to accumulate enough money so that we don't outlive our money supply, I believe there will come a day—even if we succeed in that goal—that we'll feel something was missing.
On the other hand, if we only pursue spiritual enlightenment and are no longer concerned with worldly desires, we can also cut ourselves off from the full spectrum of what life has to offer.
The way I see it, life is like a painting. You are the artist. There is a unique rendering that each of us creates through our life experiences. This picture—the foreground—consists of colors, textures, and patterns of your life experiences. The background—the canvas— is the underlying consciousness that you are. This can be sensed through the felt sense, or your embodied subtle emotional state.
It is possible to live in a world of chaos and suffering (foreground) while maintaining equanimity and bliss on the inside (background). Likewise, it's possible to live a life of fortune and fame (foreground) while being quite miserable on the inside (background). For many people, the foreground of life is drama, trauma, and problems. In the background are pervasive feelings of loneliness, frustration, anxiety, and depression.
Pursuing and achieving goals, accumulating things, are all foreground activities. Peace of mind, self-acceptance, connection with a greater consciousness, and a feeling of universal support, are all part of the background. The foreground is the painting. The background is the canvas. Both are necessary.
Tony Robbins says that everything we pursue in life is really an attempt to experience a feeling, and underneath those feelings are basic human needs:
To me, all of these are essentially foreground needs. Spiritual teachers like Ekhart Tolle talk about the bliss of getting out of psychological time, and entering into the Now—presence. This is a background phenomenon.
If we could live in an ashram or monastery, and not need income, being on a purely spiritual path would make complete sense. The mystics through the ages are right—enlightenment is the highest goal, and the highest freedom possible. In that state, there is no need for certainty, comfort, significance, love and connection, growth, or contribution—because in the enlightened state one realizes they already are all of those things and more, and there is never anything lacking.
However, for most of us, we live in the world of day-to-day life. We have jobs. We have to make our finances work. We enjoy having friends and relationships. If enlightenment is the highest possibility for the background, and creating a beautiful life in the day-to-day world is the highest possibility for the foreground, then why not improve both foreground AND background? In other words, to be in the world but not of it—to be a Buddha in the marketplace. It doesn't have to be an either/or game. I believe we can have both.
Spiritual awakening is not an idea, it is an unmistakable and direct experience of "Self". It is a realization that comes spontaneously, in which we de-identifying from the labels that normally define us. Spiritual awakening grants us access to the direct experience of the underlying consciousness that animates all things. This is possible to the extent that we're able to get out of the stream of habitual thinking. In the foreground/background analogy, spiritual awakening results in an uncluttered background—a clean canvas on which we can paint our life experiences. Conscious breathing, meditation, awareness of the felt sense, and quiet time in nature are all helpful for this.
But what about the foreground? The painting you create is unique to you, through your personality, and according to your own longings and desires. The foreground can be whatever you want it to be. The Magic Mirror Technique works on both foreground and background. You can learn this through private coaching with me, or at an Adversity 2 Awakening retreat.
The bottom line is this: It's important to know, WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT? And...WHY?
When we were children, as our bodies were growing rapidly, our brains were also wiring together and forming connections like crazy. During the critical years of development, our caregivers introjected many ideas—or seeds—into our young minds. These seeds germinate into a wide range of beliefs; some of which give us confidence in our ability to learn and creatively solve problems. Other seeds grow into weeds that take root and cause us to doubt ourselves, to be skeptical of our abilities, or to question whether we even belong here at all.
For most of us, by the age of 15 or 16, we have grown as tall as we will ever be. The brain continues to grow into the mid 20's, or possibly even into the 30's, but continues to have plasticity (able to change) throughout life.
If we don't have a growth mindset, the beginning of our decline can start very early. However, for those who have a growth mindset, even though the body may have reached its physical limits, the mind and spirit are only getting started. At some point, we begin to paint our own life picture.
Now here's the paradox—a childhood filled with trauma and adversity can destroy us, or empower us to become a brilliant artist. People who create amazing things rarely come from easy lives.
To be a life-artist and unlock growth throughout an entire lifetime, I believe it's best to start with the basics—or level flight. Rather than getting wrapped up in complicated and far-flung ideas, 21 Days to Solo starts with the obvious and immediate, which includes: