Humans 101

Guiding Principles for a More Meaningful Life

It may feel like the world is crumbling, but that just means it’s time to look inward

Photo: David Wall/Getty Images

Now more than ever, we need to find our strength, courage, and fulfillment from within. Real contentment is not — and never has been — a result of other people, places, and things. It’s within us, and there are practical ways to experience it. It all starts by being curious — wanting to know your inner world, what makes you tick, what makes you conscious.

Being conscious means to be awake, to be aware of one’s inner and outer worlds. When we aren’t paying attention to our inner world, we miss what we need, we don’t grow, and a richer, fulfilled life slips through our fingers.

When we pay attention and are more conscious, we can have a happier life. Here are some principles that can help:

1. Have a regular inner practice

There may be nothing more important than having a practice that connects you to your higher self. Meditation allows us to experience our essence, the universal life energy within us. When we do this, we understand we aren’t our thoughts, ideas, or beliefs: We are consciousness. We become the observer of our thoughts and the questioner of our beliefs.

We don’t grow when we’re not paying attention. Meditation is practical. If you learn correctly and stick with it, the results can be life-changing.

2. Strive for balance

I was born with a fiery temperament, which has been a blessing and a curse. It’s been instrumental in my business career, driving me to achieve and perform. But I’ve gotten into numerous jams by reacting too quickly, judging, criticizing, and arguing, particularly when I’m under stress.

I’ve learned I can “dial up” the part of me that’s more sensitive, caring, considerate, and people-focused — opposite and complementary qualities to my task-driven, fiery energy. When we integrate opposites, we can be both powerful and compassionate, bold and kind, purposeful and caring, strong-willed and patient, and demanding and collaborative.

This principle of balance is well expressed in the Chinese philosophy of Taoism. Yin and Yang represent two halves of our being that form wholeness. Both Yin and Yang are interdependent and flow into each other. Imbalance exists when there is an excess or lack of either one.

Being in balance enables us to access our full power, which lies in the depth of our being where the fusion takes place. Here, we are naturally more self-aware and can flex and adapt situationally.

3. Use and trust your intuition

The left brain, the analytic and methodical side, is one group of traits, whereas the right brain—creative, artistic—is another. Thinking and planning are more “left-brain” qualities, and intuition and spontaneity are more “right-brain” qualities.

According to Jungian psychology, our brains also have two primary decision-making functions — thinking and feeling. When we make decisions, we tend to use one function first, backed up by the other. If we think and analyze, we are tapping into our more left-brain energy. When we feel and use our intuition, we are using our right-brain power.

One way to be more conscious is to lean into your intuition if you don’t use it enough. Highly developed intuition is a “secret weapon,” says Judith Orloff, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and author: “It gives you all kinds of information you wouldn’t normally have. This isn’t the brain analyzing; this is nonlinear knowledge. It’s a second kind of intelligence. You want to use both.”

Here’s how you can tap into your own innate intuition:

Trust your gut

We’ve all heard this, and it’s true: We need to pay attention to our gut. There are neurotransmitters in there. When we pay attention to our body, we notice if we feel at rest or uneasy. Stress often manifests as tightness in the chest, stomach, or throat. If you feel these when making a decision, heed the message.

Pay attention to moments of inspiration

Intuition often appears in flashes. You may get a jolt, a thought, an idea—almost like a download. “Oh! I just realized that I know someone who can help with…” Notice those. If you can’t act them right away, write them down.

Make time for reflection

Build time into your day for a few minutes of silence. Disengage from all your electronic devices. One way to reflect is to close your eyes and notice any sensations in your body. Then continue with 10 deep breaths, followed with gentle slow breathing. Open yourself to receiving, observe your breath, and notice. Another way to reflect is to write down what you are most present to, which helps get you in touch with what you feel.

Observe your feelings

Pay attention to the different levels of energy you have. Notice how you react when you think of someone you have to call. Do you feel excited and energetic about the call or not? If not, your intuition is telling you something. Find out what that is all about. Chances are there is something unresolved.

4. Have a curious mindset

When we become more curious, we become more conscious. We realize we don’t know everything — we’re thirsty to learn. We’re willing to suspend judging and believing the way we see the world is the only truth. We’re intrigued and appreciate the mysteries of life.

Before you judge someone or something, ask yourself, “What don’t I know about this?” A closed mind can’t be fully conscious. An open mind can be more conscious.

5. Face and speak the truth

To be more conscious, we can’t live a double life or a life full of half-lies. We can’t have one foot out of a relationship or be partially committed to our work. We can’t have unresolved issues with people because we are afraid to speak the truth. We have to clean up what needs cleaning.

When we face our own shadow, we are on the way to being more conscious. Once we identify where we aren’t congruent, the real work begins, and most of the time, it involves telling the truth to someone. When we do that, we set ourselves free. Our consciousness will rise, and we will feel whole and more at peace.

Some years ago, I was in a relationship that had become fractured, rationalizing it as “good enough,” avoiding the truth that I wanted it to end, and quietly suffering. Eventually, I found the courage to speak up, and the weight of silence disappeared. A new, more harmonious life began, and the doors of being more conscious opened wider.

6. Choose your company wisely

Be discriminate about who you associate with because their energy and belief systems will influence you. We absorb messages from everything around us. Surround yourself with more conscious people, and the impact can be empowering. Spending time with people who are unconscious and generate negativity will gradually infect you.

I’ve had to walk away from people and environments that no longer served me, learning it was okay to disappoint someone else in service of taking care of myself.

7. Listen to and take care of your body

The more I’ve practiced being more conscious, the more I have paid attention to taking care of my health and body. For example, I had to regularly clear my throat for many years. I had plenty of colds and nasal congestion and believed it all was normal until I decided to stop eating dairy. The throat-clearing disappeared within weeks, and so did the colds and the congestion — I had an undiagnosed dairy allergy. Before this, I ignored my body, not realizing it was telling me something was out of balance.

Our bodies hold valuable information, and when we pay attention, we can pick up the messages. Being in balance emotionally, mentally, and spiritually promotes a healthy body. Disease comes from not being in balance.

In You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay writes about the mind-body illness connection and how we can heal ourselves through releasing negative emotions like resentment, criticism, and guilt. If you know someone filled with negative emotions, notice if they appear healthy, happy, and balanced. It’s likely they do not.

8. Question your own beliefs

Our life results from our behavior, choices, natural hard wiring, and the actions we have taken. Our belief system and what we think both underpin and drive what we do. If you change your thoughts and change your beliefs, you change your life.

The ability to question your beliefs takes self-awareness, willingness, and courage. It means you know you aren’t your beliefs because you are observing them, witnessing them. When you stand outside of something, you can change it.

We can change our thoughts from “I’ll never be able to do this” to “I haven’t been able to do this yet.”

9. Practice gratitude

When we are grateful, we tap into the part of our brain most responsible for happiness. It’s the same part of the brain activated when we meditate.

No matter what challenge you face, reminding yourself of what you are thankful for is a powerful way to disengage from negative thinking and connect to the greater good. Before you go to sleep and when you wake are two ideal times to do this.

10. Be courageous

It takes courage to be more conscious and walk the middle path, a Zen Buddhist principle. We are often alone in this pursuit and criticized by others who don’t understand or who disagree with what we are doing.

The messages we receive from the world around us don’t advise us to be more conscious. Whether watching a sports event on TV or looking at magazines in a shop, we are encouraged to drink more beer, eat more burgers, and climb the corporate ladder. You have to be willing to go against popular opinion and be ready to be misunderstood because the path you’re on is invisible to anyone else—it’s your path for a reason.

As I’ve continued to use these principles, my life has gradually blossomed, and I’ve grown in ways I never imagined — I’m more creative, empathetic, fulfilled, and happier in my relationships. I worry less, laugh more, sleep better, and rarely get agitated. When I find myself going off the rails, I catch myself sooner, and I can recover faster.

The learning continues, unpeeling new layers of psychic debris, making mistakes, wandering off track, and smiling at my moments of unconsciousness, which happen regularly.

The experience of living life with my arms wide open and going for what I know to be true for me has been worth single every effort. And with the current limitations on access to many people, places, and things, this consciousness means even more to me.

I hope your arms are wide open, too, and you find real happiness and meaning within.

10 years as a monk, 49 years meditating, 30 years in the shark-infested waters of corporate America | Connect with me on Linked In-

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