Someone once said, "Life is a mystery and death is forever." If you see this is true, then you may also see that expressing love, pursuing truth, and experiencing beauty are timeless keys to making ordinary life internally meaningful. We often act as if we believe the cliché that the person who dies with the most toys wins, but the truth is that the person who lives with the most meaning dies the most complete and fulfilled. In this book, you will learn how to build self-worth, create intimacy, define conscious purposes, feed internal needs, and fulfill internal potentials. These are the universal prerequisites to making any human life profoundly satisfying and internally meaningful.
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EXPRESSING Love PURSUING Truth EXPERIENCING BeautyTimeless Steps to the Ultimate Satisfaction—A Meaningful Life
By PAUL HATHERLEY
Balboa PressCopyright © 2011 Dr. Paul Hatherley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneExpressing Love
Love is a complicated human need and experience. There are few things in everyday life that cause more intense feelings of longing, insecurity, and desire than our hunger to be loved. At the same time, there are also few experiences that cause more confusion, disillusion, or even bitterness. Ask anyone about his/her experience with love and you will hear a story about excitement, hope, pain, longing, fear, insecurity, fulfillment, and very often, disappointment.
Normally, people assume that love is something they are supposed to feel, or want to receive from another person. Rarely are we consciously aware that love is something we need to experience and express. If we do think about expressing love it is usually in terms of what we can offer externally (money, food or services), rather than something we need to give internally (energy, interest and understanding).
The first step toward becoming competent to express love is to think about and explore ordinary events from past and present until we understand the experience of love. With normal training, love is often seen as a mysterious reaction. For instance, when we react to someone by feeling a vague and mysterious chemistry, desire, lust, etc., we sometimes characterize this reaction by saying, "I have fallen in love!"
On the other hand, less mysterious is when we react to a gratifying object or experience and describe our reaction by saying, "l just love my car, house, steak, movie, etc." Often, we define love as the feeling of attachment we experience toward a person or object that has pleased us, or we anticipate might please or fulfill us. Love at first sight is an experience that happens when at a glance we anticipate an object or person will be especially gratifying. So when a person is really hot looking, or appears to be introspective, kindly, or even dangerous (depending on our preferences), we can react instantly and mysteriously by falling in love.
I know the first time I saw a little two engine private jet taking off from the airstrip so fast, sleek, maneuverable, and elegant that in one transcendent moment of ecstatic rapture, I was hopelessly and forever in love! Unfortunately, I could only express my love by an increase in salivation and a painful longing in my "heart". It was all very touching! While slightly silly, this example is not far from how simplistically we often define the complex experience of love.
Love as a Response to Being Alive
Has there ever been a time when for one unguarded and startlingly clear moment you stood outside yourself and observed you really are alive, and terrifyingly enough, really are going to die? I have had these moments. The first was on the shores of Lake Michigan at a family picnic with grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. I was about seven, and was sitting alone on the shore as the sun went down. I was mesmerized by the gentle lapping of the small waves, and by the fading light reflecting off the sand making it appear flecked with thousands of tiny grains of glittering gold.
In that moment, I was acutely aware of being alive and alone, and it became terrifyingly clear that I too would go through a lifespan and die. This experience was the first of many where my awareness of being alive was so palpable that it frightened me. At times, I have tried to hang onto this awareness but have discovered that it too passes, like every other experience. The lesson is that life is in constant motion and we can cling to nothing, and if we try to stop the flow with judgments, opinions or beliefs, we make it impossible to experience the mystery and wonder of just being alive.
We can easily miss life by never allowing ourselves to engage the mystery and feel the fear an acute awareness of being alive has the power to create. Protecting ourselves from seeing reality and feeling fear only leads to reacting to life as if we are immortal. One consequence of feeling immortal is that we act as if we have an infinite amount of time, so we never feel a sense of urgency, and nothing really matters. While we all know intellectually we are mortal, we often form our daily priorities as if we are never going to die.
Acting as if our time is unlimited is just one of countless ways we routinely avoid reality and choose fantasy. This choice is so common that it is a normal response to being alive. One problem with choosing fantasy over reality is that we kill curiosity, and make love impossible. On the other hand, if we choose to acknowledge that we really are alive, and also the proud possessors of a lifespan that is never guaranteed beyond the current breath, we have sound reasons to respond to life determined to love every moment.
To make love our primary response to everyday life, we must first define the experience, and then identify the precise purposes, priorities, and actions necessary to express love. If you remember, we first defined love in the Foreword:
Love—is a caring response to being alive—not a reaction to the excitement stimulated by lust, greed, or desire. Love requires total commitment and complete surrender—it is never half-hearted or divided. Each day, love demands we give our whole-hearted energy and attention with a desire to learn, change and even suffer for the innocent purpose of becoming competent to understand and nurture everything we love.
How to put this definition into practice in ordinary life? A good place to start is by identifying priorities. In normal life it is common for security, success, entertainment and approval to be our primary priorities. The energy for these priorities is created and maintained by believing they will make us happy. However, if we observe everyday life, we quickly see that security is not possible for a mortal being, success does not feed internal needs, approval can never build self-worth, and entertainment may work fine as a way to pass time, but it does not provide satisfaction or meaning.
On the other hand, if we become whole-hearted about mastering self-awareness, life-awareness and other-awareness, we build bridges of understanding that connect us to life and other people. At the same time that we develop consciousness and caring, we also master the ability to nurture. A loving response to life can be defined as a whole-hearted commitment to develop awareness, and master nurturing.
Self-Awareness vs. Self-Absorption
In normal life almost everyone is self-absorbed, while very few people develop self-awareness. How can we tell the difference? Actually, it is quite easy. Self-awareness creates the understanding necessary to define, feed, and fulfill both internal and external needs and potentials. By contrast, self-absorption is a natural consequence of obsessing about our image, advantage, or security with an attitude that reveals a keen disinterest in understanding reality, our internal needs and potentials, ordinary life, and other people.
One reason that spiritual concepts and new-age fantasies are so popular is they encourage us to feel or believe we are on the cutting edge of consciousness, when in fact we may only be self-absorbed and disconnected from the experience of life. On the other hand, we can measure self-awareness by noting to what degree we have, or have not mastered our internal and external needs and potentials.
This insight reveals that a high degree of self-awareness will create a high degree of competence to feed needs and fulfill potentials. Another way to measure self-awareness is by observing the degree of lasting satisfaction and genuine meaning we routinely create in everyday life.
How does someone build self-awareness? Very simply, every day we observe ordinary experiences, note our responses, and acknowledge the consequences. Please note that following this process requires we observe facts rather than rely on beliefs and feelings. Perhaps, not quite as easy as it sounds!
It is impossible to love either yourself or life when you know little or nothing about either one! This is an important insight because most people believe they can love themselves, life, children, mates, friends, etc. even though they rarely or never pay attention to internal experiences, and as a result, understand little or nothing about their own or anyone else's motivations, purposes, needs, wants, choices and behaviors.
Without self-awareness, we spend our lives reacting to survival needs, procreating, and entertaining ourselves until one day, we just fall off the cliff into the eternal black abyss. We call this process, a normal life! Essentially, except for the entertainment, any discerning person would find it difficult to distinguish between a normal human life and the life of any other species of mammal on the planet.
What then is the first step for anyone who wants to develop self-awareness? Step one is to learn how to observe, think about, and explore our everyday experiences, thoughts, and conversations. One place to begin is to listen—to ourselves. Surprisingly, most people do not pay attention to what they say, and consequently fail to notice when they have a significant point to communicate versus just babbling along until somehow, they hope, a point magically identifies itself.
In addition to listening to what we say, we also need to observe our thoughts. Together, what we think about and verbalize reveals our priorities, what we care about, and the degree we understand our internal selves vs. being clueless.
What do you see is true in your thoughts and conversations? Do you think and talk about love, truth, and beauty; or internal needs, purposes, priorities, and motivations so you become not only self-aware, but also life-aware? During this process, do you see where you are contradictory vs congruent? Have you learned how to make a conversation satisfying and meaningful for both yourself and another person?
As you ask and answer these questions, awareness of your internal life will increase. In identifying priorities, you can identify your purposes and what you care about. This helps to establish a base line you can grow from. Once you see what you care about, you can discover whether or not your purposes and priorities create satisfaction and meaning, or if they lead to internal emptiness devoid of real fulfillment. With this knowledge, you have the power to make changes or stay the course. Either way, you are more self-aware.
Another important increase in self-awareness happens when we observe areas of contradiction. Contradictions are created when our behaviors conflict with our intentions, desires contradict needs, beliefs contradict facts, and all the times when we are really neurotic and our beliefs and feelings contradict each other, and reality!
Seeing our contradictions adds an important piece to the puzzle of self-awareness. Normally, we can see internal conflict and hypocrisy in other people with laser like 20/20 vision, but are hopelessly myopic in seeing ourselves. Healing this discrepancy by observing ourselves accurately makes real internal growth both appealing and possible.
Another insight important to self-awareness is to discern the difference between thinking about an issue until we create understanding, and obsessing in mental circles. In normal life, we assume that obsessing in circles counts as thinking. People often say, "I have been thinking about x for days, but I just don't know what to do ... feel, choose, etc.
The point is that if what you call thinking is based on exploring a topic using observation and reason, then your understanding will increase. On the other hand, if what you call thinking relies on concepts, feelings or beliefs that circle in your brain but forever fail to identify the critical facts, or discover precisely what you need, then this qualifies as obsessing. The normal concept of thinking is a frustrating circular process where we obsess over conflicting feelings and beliefs, argue needs against wants, or pit one desire against another and never understand a single thing.
What is your process? Do you pay attention to your thoughts and conversation and then explore the significant issues until you understand—in detail—your own or someone else's motivations, priorities, and needs? Or do you obsess about events and fail to make progress in your understanding and internal competence?
It matters less how you respond to these two questions than that you answer them innocently and honestly. It will take effort and energy to answer each question not just once, but over time, so you gather layer upon layer of insight and gradually increase your self-awareness. A loving response to being alive requires questions that lead to understanding.
Reacting vs. Responding
There are many avenues to developing self-awareness, and observing our thoughts and conversations is a good place to begin. Continuing on the same path, we can observe that every event in daily life elicits either a reaction or a response, and there are always consequences. I define reactions as being unconscious choices. By contrast, I characterize responses as conscious choices made with some degree of self-awareness and a genuine desire to understand what is needed.
Both processes are easy to observe. For instance, if in fact you fail to eat all day it is likely that by dinner you will be famished, and may react by overeating (assuming you do not suffer from anorexia, etc.). If you do this day after day, the consequence may well be that your health is diminished, your energy is unstable, and you may gain a lot of weight. On the other hand, if you observe the facts, understand the issues, and care about the consequences, then you will respond by consciously choosing to make yourself eat at regular intervals throughout the day.
This example is simple, but the processes are the same for every event of daily life, simple or complex, minor or major. For instance, if you are criticized, praised, accepted or rejected by someone you love, what do you do? Most people unconsciously react, and never learn how to consciously respond with a desire to explore and understand. This is one way we create neurotic patterns that never change.
The major difference between reacting and responding is that when we react to events our purpose is to control, which means we want to protect against feeling pain and maximize pleasant feelings. When we react it is not our purpose to learn from both positive and negative experiences so we can expand our understanding. When we respond, our purpose changes from wanting control to wanting to understand, which means we consciously want to learn from every event, painful or not.
Shifting away from wanting control and toward a desire to understand is the single most significant step in developing self-awareness. Without this shift, we may try to grow but we will always be handicapped—because we do not want understanding. So how does this play out in daily life?
Imagine someone criticizes you, or you are permanently rejected by someone you love, would you unconsciously react, or respond with a conscious purpose? If you react, then it is likely you will be angry and hurt, and will either justify yourself or blame the other person. If you respond, then you will want to understand your loved one's motivation for criticizing or rejecting you. You will also make every effort to define your role in creating the situation.
When you respond to painful events, your purpose is to learn about yourself, life, and the other person; as well as expand your understanding of precisely what is needed to make any human relationship satisfying and meaningful. Does this mean you don't grieve if you lose someone you love? Absolutely not, because when you love someone you commit all your caring, without protecting yourself, and when you lose a person you love, you inevitably experience pain.
Excerpted from EXPRESSING Love PURSUING Truth EXPERIENCING Beauty by PAUL HATHERLEY Copyright © 2011 by Dr. Paul Hatherley. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 Introduction to Love, Truth & Beauty....................1
Part 2 Integrating the Experience Of Love, Truth & Beauty....................61
Exploring Life, Self, & Other People....................63
Developing a "Conscious" Identity....................81
Building Emotional Bonds....................97
Identity & Meaning....................109