Did you ever get on a train going somewhere, only to find that you're headed in the wrong direction?
The same thing happens in life. We set goals and make plans – and sometimes discover that we're on "the wrong train."
Bi-vinat ha-lave literally means "understanding the heart." The heart is the seat of emotions. We say: "My heart is heavy, my heart is lifted, my heart is broken," etc. To understand your heart is to understand your true inner self.
Many people go through life making assumptions about who they are. They never take time to "meet" themselves. Don't be afraid of discovering that the "real you" may be different than the "current you."
Often a crisis hits at midlife when people ask: "What's my life about? Is this all worth it?" We've heard stories of people who suddenly change direction, quitting their job and getting divorced. You know, like the successful doctor who decides he never wanted to go into medicine in the first place – so he drops it and becomes an artist.
Knowing yourself is the essence of being alive. If you don't know yourself, you are not living. If you don't know what makes you tick, you're a robot, a puppet, a zombie.
So don't wait for a crisis. Life is too short to take wrong trains.
Think of someone you'd be fascinated to meet, someone you'd really like to find out what makes him tick.
Now realize the most fascinating person you could ever meet is... yourself.
Sit down, say hello, and introduce yourself to yourself. Become familiar with yourself as if you'd just met a long-lost cousin. Interview yourself. Ask questions about your life and the direction you're going. Search out your dreams – both the ones you're fulfilling and the ones you've pushed to the back of your mind.
Get down to basics. You want to be rich. You want to be famous. You want to be good. You want to accomplish. You want meaning. You want to be creative. But why do you want all this? What's driving you? What you really want out of life?
The process of self-discovery involves asking a series of questions, always probing deeper until the underlying truth emerges. Ask yourself 10 questions that you would ask an intimate friend. Then wait for answers. Don't worry, no one is going to poke fun at you.
- What is the purpose of life?
- What is my goal in life?
- Why did I choose this career?
- How do I spend my spare time?
- What is my motivation for doing what I do?
- What really makes me happy?
- Am I as happy as I want to be?
- Is it more important to be rich or to be happy?
- What are my future plans? Why?
- What are my secret dreams and ambitions?
Don't be surprised if the answers aren't immediate. This process can take many months. Stick with it and find out what makes you tick. The answers are hiding in there. After all, you have a fascinating partner.
Finally, the most important question to ask is:
"What am I living for?"
It sounds like a simple question, but many are embarrassed to ask it. A voice inside us says, "Nah, why ask such a basic question?" We're resistant because we know this requires a lot of difficult soul-searching. And when you thoroughly know yourself, then you have changed. You've changed your relationship with yourself and the world.
Confidence in Decision-Making
People often avoid making decisions out of fear of making a mistake.
Actually, the failure to make decisions is one of life's biggest mistakes.
Imagine the beggar who receives a letter saying that he's inherited a million dollars. If he doesn't read the letter, is he rich ... or not?
Similarly, God gave us the free will to make choices in life and achieve greatness. But if we're not aware of our free will, then we don't really have it. And then we wind up blaming others when things go wrong – even though we know the decision is really up to us.
If you're not using your potential, it wears away at your confidence. Do you know what your potential is? Have you tried to use it? You have to tackle life. You haven't given up yet, have you? Let's get on with the game, with the business of really living, of not just "going through the motions."
Know the difference between "making decisions" and just floating, falling into place. Did you choose to go to college? Or perhaps you had nothing to do with the decision. Was it something you just did because you graduated high school and everybody else was doing it? Did you think it through and actually make a decision?
Imagine this private conversation of a college student:
Why am I going to college?
To get a degree.
Because I want to get into a good graduate school.
So I'll get a good job.
So I can pay back my college loans!
Through the process of questioning, he reveals a logical fault in his motivation. Really, the primary reason for going to college should be to acquire wisdom, knowledge and information. In other words, to get an education!
Now try the process yourself, using this example:
Why do I want to get married?
Don't accept pat answers. Keep asking "Why, why why?" Be frank. It's yourself. Ask any question you like. Be patient and persistent. Eventually you'll get an answer.
When you thoroughly analyze an issue, then you can make wise decisions with confidence.
Identify where you lack confidence. What makes you nervous? What situations inhibit you from being yourself? Why can't you make decisions? Is it that you don't know how to make decisions? Or that you doubt your decisions after they're made? Or you just don't feel like making decisions?
Enjoy making decisions. Deal with the world you live in. That's loving the dynamics of life.
Isolate Your Blocks
Anytime you find it difficult to achieve a goal, figure out what's holding you back.
Everyone has problems. Being aware of these problems is the key to getting in touch with yourself. Because as long as you don't face problems, they fester and bug you from behind.
Write your "blocks" on a piece of paper. That's a good step in the right direction. By isolating specific obstacles, you turn them into concrete challenges that require solutions.
- Am I lazy? Why?
- Am I disorganized? Why?
- Do I get angry? When?
- Why do ever I get defensive? About what?
- What makes me jealous?
- What makes me arrogant?
- Do I have trouble making decisions? Why?
- Do I lack self-discipline?
- Do I lack self-confidence?
- Why don't I take more initiative?
Negative character traits are the roots of our problems. Make a list of your negative traits, and identify when they affect you the most. Then analyze what triggers these reactions in you. Finally, formulate an effective counter-approach.
Working through this takes time. But do you have anything better to be doing right now?
Read Your Emotions
Get in touch with your emotional state. Take a reading of how you feel. Happy? Angry? Tense? Sad? Emotions are a measuring stick for what's going on below the surface. It's like taking your temperature. If you're sick, you need to be aware so you can fix the problem.
Find out why you're upset. Who or what is pressuring you? Is it an internal or an external problem? Identify it.
Let's say you are irritated. Why?
Because the boss chewed me out.
So why am I irritated?
Because I resent him.
So what? Why does that bother me?
Because I feel I am no good.
I'm no good? He's nuts!
Get out of yourself and track it down. If you don't, it's just irritation. And the next thing you know, you'll go home and yell at your kids.
Once you've identified what causes negative feelings, adjust yourself to minimize the impact. Either avoid these situations, or prepare yourself to handle them when they arise.
Further, root out negative motivations that corrupt your behavior. Let's say that you give charity. Why? One motivation is to help humanity. Another is the pleasure of being constructive. A third is the desire to do the right thing. These are all positive motivations. A negative motivation for giving charity is: "I want people to admire me." That's corruptive.
The next time you give charity, do so anonymously. Eliminate the wrong reasons. They are destructive.
The same goes with the positive emotions. Be aware of how your emotional state affects decisions. For example, don't buy a new stereo when you're in a euphoric mood. Wait. Think it over. You are susceptible.
Pinpoint what makes you happy. You can have more joy on a daily basis by formulating some practical applications. You got up in the morning, it's a gorgeous day and you feel great. You're energized. Now take that feeling and teach yourself how to get up on the right side – every day!
Another example: You did a good job and got the boss's compliment. Now focus: Do you need the boss to tell you did a good job? No! Create your own pleasure out of doing a good job.
Get In Touch With Your Two Sides
Everyone has an urge for greatness. We want self respect, power, fame. We want to accomplish, to be strong, to do the right thing, to even save the world.
Yet at the same time, we have a counter-urge to run away from responsibility, to get into bed and crawl under the covers.
Someone may say, "Life is beautiful," but he doesn't feel it. His emotions hold him back and he walks around going, "Ugh, life is a burden."
Recognize the volcano of conflict within you: What you truly "want," versus what you "feel" like. This is the conflict between body and soul.
Once you appreciate the dichotomy, you can identify at any moment whether your body or soul is talking. This makes it possible to live with sanity and choose the right thing.
The next step is to make peace between your two sides. The easiest way is to squash your drive to be great. But life is not about taking the easy way out. Just because you feel uncomfortable about an idea doesn't mean it's wrong for you. It's hard to break habits, and growth can be frightening.
For example, would you rather be happy or rich? Okay, you'd rather be happy. Now imagine this exchange:
"Come on, I'll teach you how to be happy. All it requires is effort and change."
"Oh, I'd love to, but I can't right now. It's impossible. I've got a flight to catch."
"Really? I'll pay you $10,000 a week to work on happiness."
"Sure! Where do I sign up?"
"Oh, but I thought you can't right now..."
We conceal our problems with rationalization: "I'll wreck my mind thinking about what life is about! Nobody really knows what life is about. It's not going to work. Nothing can be done about it anyway. I don't really care. It's not worth the time!"
The Sages say that a person only makes a mistake when overcome by a moment of insanity. So realize that you are fighting "insanity." It is not logical. You've got to be on guard. Because if you get off track, you'll pay for it down the road.
So ... do you want to change? What have you got against it? Feel the antipathy of the body. We are so darn lazy. The body just wants to sleep. "Aaaah ... I don't want to change. I'm happy enough. I'm comfortable in my niche of misery." Are you rich enough? No! So are you happy enough?
You see the importance of tracking that down? You have to identify the animal you are fighting. "The dread of change."
If you're alert, you see the enemy. You can fight it. You may lose a struggle with the body, but at least you have your confidence. "I know what I am doing."
Coax the Body
Get in touch with your spiritual core. Know what is driving you. Don't let free will be a subconscious thing. You want greatness. But the body says that's too much effort.
To try to convince the body, try to identify the tangible benefit. "Why is it necessary? What will it do for me?" You have to bring it home to emotional realization. "What do I lose?" What do I gain?" Only then will the idea have power. And you'll get out there and do it.
Here's the secret formula: Identify with your intellect, and coax your heart along. For example, if you're emotionally convinced of the benefit of getting into shape, then even when you break out in a cold sweat and your heart is doing palpitations, you will keep going. Because you have decided, "I want this," you know it is important.
To avoid negative backlash, your emotions have to feel comfortable with the changes you make. Learn to relax and reassure the body. Cajole the body and say, "It won't be so bad. Remember the last time you made an effort, how great you felt!" Be encouraging and reward yourself for success.
Don't say it doesn't work. You haven't made the effort. Don't give up on your intuition and perception. Just realize you haven't yet brought it home to actualization.
Consider how the basic human drives affect you: security, self-respect, honor, passions, social pressure, and possessions. Pay particularly close attention to how you accept responsibility. Let's say that you made a mistake. You want to apologize in a full and forthright manner. Yet you feel like forgetting the whole thing, hiding, running away and saying "it's not my fault."
This is the volcano. We want to be tough, dedicated and powerful – yet we feel like being marshmallows. Choosing the path of the soul doesn't come naturally. It takes a lot of time and hard work.
Know What You Know
Don't think that just because you understand something, you are living with it. It is possible to believe one way, and yet act another. It happens to us all the time. You can believe it's important to eat healthy food, yet gorge yourself on French fries and chocolate cake.
Our actions are determined by our level of clarity. If we understand an idea on just a superficial level, then we'll have difficulty sticking to it when the going gets tough.
Next time you go to a funeral, watch carefully. When they remove the body from the chapel, the mourners start to cry. Are they crying because they want to body to stay there?! No. All of a sudden there is a realization of death, that he won't be coming back. At the cemetery, they lower the casket into the ground and the mourners cry again. It's the emotional realization that death is final now.
Until you align your feelings with reality, you are in dreamland. Growth begins in the mind, but your heart has to buy into everything your mind discovers. Only then will you integrate these ideas into day-to-day life.
A lot of people believe in God. There are very few people who live with God. Does that make sense? You have to assimilate something that you've accepted as true. It has to become part of you.
You've got to know yourself cold, just like you know your hand has five fingers. How do you know you are on the right path? How do you know you're not making a mistake right now?
To develop this clarity, articulate the important principles that guide your life. For example, in Judaism we say that love is an obligation. Is this reasonable? Work the issue through with yourself:
"Ridiculous. You can't obligate me to love."
"But if I have children, will I love them?"
"Of course I'm going to love my kids!"
"How do I know? I don't know what kind of kids I'm going to have. Maybe they'll be brats and I won't love them."
"I will. I'm obligated to love my children."
Do you see the contradiction? On an intuitive level, you know that love is an obligation. But the concept is not so clear that you can articulate it.
Take your time. Sort out the basic aspects of living. Ask yourself important questions about life's global and spiritual issues.
- What is the meaning of existence?
- What's good about living?
- How do I feel about humanity?
- What is the afterlife?
- How do I understand good versus evil?
- Do I have free will? How do I activate it?
- What makes me sad? Is it okay to be sad?
- How do I feel about God?
- Am I proud to be a Jew?
- How do I understand the Holocaust?
Some of these topics may be unpleasant to think about. If so, why is it unpleasant? Track it down.
Don't just use slogans to parrot things that you heard. Know why you are doing what you are doing. Otherwise, it's just society talking. You may have adopted part of society without analyzing its validity. Check it out.
Work through all the issues until you have "five-finger clarity." A human being who knows what he wants will get there. By hook or by crook. It's like a homing mechanism on a missile. If you program it right, you will get there.
Why Is "Knowing Yourself" a Way to Wisdom?
- You can know truth if you look honestly into yourself.
- Emotions are powerful forces of greatness. Know them. Harness them.
- Identify your problems. It's the beginning of solving them.
- If you don't get it straight now, you're bound to make some bad mistakes.
- Don't be afraid of finding out who you really are.
- Use your free will as a conscious tool for better living.
- If you're angry or upset, track it down. What's the root?
- If you're acting illogically, at least acknowledge that to yourself!
- The key to sanity is letting truth into the body.
- You can't afford to wait too long to get to know yourself. Because you are the most fascinating person you'll ever meet.