It’s interesting to think of the things you can do or obtain that lead to more good things. Not all of our favorite things in life are fruitful in this way. Take something like financial stability, for example: attaining a certain financial security, paying off a house, or getting a huge $40,000/year promotion. Do other good things naturally follow? Not really. Your close relationships will still have conflict, you won’t suddenly feel peace, you will still encounter painful roadblocks in life, and quite frankly, you might now have new levels of anxiety, anger and envy you didn’t expect.

Compare that to an entirely different action. Let’s say you start volunteering at a homeless shelter once a week. It’s not a dead-end activity, but one that actually does all kinds of other things in you and for others. It might shift your focus in life, teach you about your selfishness, or create new life-long relationships. Any of these things bears all kinds of fruit for the rest of your life. What if it teaches you at a deep level about your impatience, and you embark on a journey of trying to slow down and be less controlling of your life. Holy cow, if that stuff sticks with you, the trajectory of your entire life is radically different!

This may be oversimplifying, but imagine every possible pathway forward in your life falls into 1 of 2 possible categories: (1) fruitful, and (2) dead-end.

Just play along for a second. Think about something coming up in your life, something you’re excited about, or something in other peoples’ lives that gives you envy. Really think: which category does it fall in? How certain are you? Did you find yourself having to do some rationalizing?

And then maybe, just for fun, imagine something else that could fill the place of that thing. Something that absolutely, without a doubt, would create change at the heart level (build compassion, create generosity, etc) and make you deal with yourself, the needs of this world, and the way you use your time and money?

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