One’s own dharma, though imperfect, is better than the dharma of another well discharged.
One of the greatest obstacles that stops us from being in harmony with ourselves and release our true potential is the attempt to fit in a predetermined mould that society has taught us to believe is ‘the’ set of beliefs, attitudes, tastes and behaviours we need to adopt in order to belong.
There is still a vast amount of people who ignore or corrupt their own beauty by attempting to abide by the social rulebook and subconsciously reproduce the trends and behaviours society promotes – and today, the main window through which this is happening is the media.
Some of those behaviours may be far remote from common sense, insane even to quote the words of the soft-spoken Eckart Tolle, yet those conditionings have gone deep inside and they appear to be ‘the way things are and have always been.’ Unless we are faced with serious failures, we seldom question their validity.
You really realise the impact of sociocultural propaganda when you live in country where it rules unchallenged. I was both sad and amused when I started to work with Vietnamese youth, back in 2000, to see the uniformity of their aspirations: an overwhelming majority of businessman, technicians and bankers with a small minority more inclined toward social service or medicine. Isn’t it obvious, after all, that all society needs are businessmen, technicians, bankers – and a few doctors to pick up the pieces?
To believe that we need to fit in a mould to be part of the world is what it is – a belief, a myth. Why? One: we are all different, unique, and there is no logical ground for trying to distort our own individuality to fit in; two: society and the world need difference, variety and creativity; three: there are million of people out there who went out of the mould and, not only survived, but live healthy, useful, happy, integrated and sometimes highly successful lives.
It took me many years to accept that I didn’t have to be like everyone else. Although I did not want it, I could not imagine that to be part could be anything else than being an engineer. I knew I didn’t want it because that dream obviously belonged to my father, but I did not know what I wanted. I didn’t even know there were options.
It took time, discomfort and a fair amount of courage to challenge the official version of what it means to be a good human being. It took me through the domains of rebellion, doubt, guilt and loneliness as I left the well-travelled road and ventured into new, unchartered territories of life.
We live in a world today where options are more visible. At the same time as we are ‘globalising’ them, we have come to realise that there are many viable ways of living life. Each has its pros and cons and it appears none is really not better or worse – just different from the only one we knew and thought was possible: ours
Apart from being a limiting, superficial and therefore unsatisfying way of considering our existence, imitation and adhesion to the popular voice generates falsehood, ambition and insecurity, the building blocks of ego, conflict and suffering.
- Falsehood corrupts authenticity by getting us buying into the idea that we need to adjust to what we think people expect of us or that what we look like – our appearance and achievements – is more important than what we internally feel – our inner state of being.
- Ambition grows when we buy into the belief that security, happiness, respect or love are things to be gained from the outside.
- Insecurity creeps in when we realise we have become dependent on external supports – possessions, job, social status or relationships – for our sense of identity, happiness and stability because, yes, we can lose them at any time.
Ambition, falsehood and insecurity are weak forces and unreliable motivators. They can make for a superficial life but do not involve the deeper dimensions of our being where our true powers and talents lie. We adopt them because everyone else does it but do not feel fulfilled because it keeps us disconnected from the inner being.
Too few people know that all the things ambition, falsehood and insecurity seek to achieve can also be attained by inner peace, inner power and authenticity: working from the inside out. This approach calls on our talents, values and potential, empowers personal effectiveness and leads to an authentic experience of contentment.
There are three important landmarks on the path to inside out personal growth:
- The first one: (i) recognising and honouring your own intelligence, intuition and wisdom – the fact that you ‘think’ for yourself and that you can do that independently of what others or society think; (ii) recognising and honouring your values and the qualities that live within your heart – the fact that you know very well how you want to feel and be; and (iii) recognising and honouring your talents, dreams, personal power and creativity – the fact that you have the capability to influence reality and bring your values to life.
- The second: making those things the priorities that determine your daily choices and become the creative force of your existence. Your real self will come to the surface and your dream will manifest when you pay attention to be ‘internally consistent’ i.e. to align your actions with the true aspirations of your heart. If you value peace, ‘do’ peace; if friendliness, respect, honesty, justice and truthfulness are important to you, do not start by asking others to behave them but work to cultivate those attitudes in your relations with friends, subordinates, bosses, spouse, children, strangers and even to people you dislike.
This is of course easier said than done! We may know what we stand for, but to be committed to organise our life around our values requires a focused, persistent and, somehow, disciplined approach. Both the influence society exerts on us and the conditionings we have inherited from our past are powerful and subtle forces that support the status quo. It takes time to change habits; it requires courage, tolerance, care, obstinacy and a substantial amount of something we would call ‘effort’ if this so called ‘effort’ was not actually the primary source of our contentment.
I was surprised when I decided to liberate myself from the rule of lazy thinking and started to behave on the basis of principles rather than pleasure-seeking habits: it was a joyful experience. I had thought it would be hard but I felt empowered and experienced a new, deeper and more complete sense of satisfaction independent of external conditions. The ‘effort’ itself turned out to be its own reward.
- The third condition required on the path to authentic personal effectiveness, freedom and happiness is to be able to live an active, meaningful, passionate, engaged and committed life and yet walk in peace, free from tension and feelings of self-importance; free from attachment to the result of our actions and from the need for praise. There is nothing that corrupts values and kills a dream like the desire for praise. But be aware, it is not ‘I’ who is seeking praise: it is my ego.