5 steps to leave complacency behind and embark on a more fulfilling life
I don’t wanna start
To take this trip across my Heart
I would just stay here
if you weren't living in my ear
Whispering little cues
aiming me into You.
I love these lyrics by folk singer Stuart Davis. They’ve got a timeless, universal ring to them.
While most of us love to travel and many of us secretly yearn to just drop everything and hit the road, there is a sense of trepidation too, especially when it comes to venturing into the unknown.
Travel, exploration and the sense of adventure are deeply embedded in the psyche. We yearn to embark on the proverbial hero's quest, yet we're torn between a life of adventure and passion and one of comfort and safety.
A quick a look at the staggering number of blog posts and podcasts on finding passionate work or lifestyle design reveals this deep archetypal yearning. The rise in the number of Everest climbers to the number of deaths from wingsuit flying is also very telling.
We’re all seeking, whether we realize it or not.
Of course not all of us can drop everything and travel the world eating, praying and loving. This should not mean we can’t answer the call to live a deeply fulfilling life--to take that trip across the Heart.
How can we answer the call and still honor our responsibilities?
Another line from Stuart Davis' song goes:
Mirages rule this land,
so don’t stop the caravan...Tired voices make demands, don’t stop, no--don’t stop the caravan.
On the journey of life, it's easy to get duped by the mirage of material forms and be swayed by the demands of acquaintances and society.
Here is a 5-step process that I use that may help bring clarity and lead to more fulfillment.
1. Contemplate and write down the intention for your life.
Intention in Sanskrit is sankalpa. It is the confluence of the Heart’s deepest longing with individual desire. Normally we have a lot of thoughts and desires swirling around, some our own, others we pick up from outside--from well-minded family members and friends to marketing and content rich blogs!
Between thoughts, in the space of the Heart, we can access a deeper longing. My meditation teacher once taught us that intention is the essence of thoughts.
So, we can pay attention to that desire to travel the world or start that business as it arises after listening, say, to a Tim Ferriss podcast. This is individual desire.
Then, sitting still, follow the breath to its source within. Where does the breath merge inside? There is a pause there before the breath turns and goes back out, merging with the 'world'.
Without struggle, practice going to this place. Get to know the potent stillness in the pause--the essence of thoughts. This method is just one of many doorways to the Heart and one of my favourites. Here, if you are open, your Heart's longing will bubble forth.
It's better not to expect an answer or some sort of epiphany. Come to it more like an explorer, with a sense of wonder as insights, no matter how small unfold from within.
Resting in stillness, if an essential, resonant insight emerges, write it down.
So, to formulate an intention, enter into essence through the space between breaths or through any means you enjoy. Then ask, "What is my heart's deepest longing?" Write down what comes up beginning with the word "may". It could look like this:
Heart's longing: Wisdom
Intention: May my life unfold and culminate in the pursuit of Wisdom.
2. Trust, that your intention, if genuine, will guide your life choices.
At times I’ve created clear intentions in the womb-like embrace of a retreat. Yet later, they faded from my conscious mind. Interestingly, finding those journals many years later, I noticed that what I had intended had indeed manifested.
This is not to say that you should just set and forget intentions, particularly the big one: the intention for your life. This is the meta-intention, the one from which smaller intentions manifest. Rather, continue to contemplate and refine your intention while trusting that it will unfold on the Heart's schedule, supported by the Heart's power.
3. Expand the pause to everyday moments.
Whether or not we are seeking clarity for a new intention, if we look for pauses between the activities of our day, we can tap into the wisdom of the Heart. This could be as simple as not rushing off to dinner after work, but taking a moment to pause and sit briefly on a bench in front of the office. Or it could be more subtle like feeling the pause as your body sways to one side on the train before it sways back to the other. I love photographing wildlife so I enjoy the pause as my breath stills spontaneously for the perfect shot.
4. Choose getaways that reflect your life's intentions.
My teacher's teacher often spoke of the value going on retreat. For me, my life's intention naturally leads me to retreat. Your intention may lead you to a different type of vacation, one that closely aligns with your intention rather than one the travel industry markets to you.
Whatever you choose, there is always value in going on a spiritual or introspective retreat at least once a year--even if it is just to pause from routine and continue to clarify your meta-intention.
5. Cultivate an attitude of service.
Studies consistently show that volunteering or offering selflessly leads to happiness and a more fulfilling life. Seekers would often ask my teacher's teacher, how can I be happy? Often, his response, rather than recommend meditation was: go do something nice for someone else.
Approaching the world through a lens of service allows us to shed a bit of self-consciousnesses and self-concern which translates into more fulfillment.
In his book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant cites both an American and an Australian study that show the ideal number of hours to give to increase happiness, while avoiding burnout. Grant writes, “Research shows that if people start volunteering two hours a week, their happiness, satisfaction, and self-esteem go up a year later.” This phenomenon has become known as the 100-hour rule of volunteering (100 hours per year--roughly two hours a week).
Offering in this way, even if our life's intention keeps us close to home, we can create authentic fulfillment through offering service--especially if this service stems from our meta-intention.
However your life unfolds, rest in the knowledge that the choices you make will be more authentically your own when guided by your meta-intention. And though the journey may not always be what you had in 'mind’, with tired voices making demands, deep down you know you’re in alignment with your truth. Soon, you’ll be able to discern between those experiences that align and those that just feel off, that no longer serve you. Eventually, you’ll accrue enough intention-based choices to nudge the ship of your life in a more fulfilling direction.
I have been exploring the world teaching yoga and meditation for nearly 20 years. Originally from New York, I am currently based in Singapore. Connect with me at spandananda.com