What do you really want? The question that became the gateway to my lived religion

This article is the result a very personal meditation. Heterosexual males high in personality trait openness will probably benefit most from it.

Self-help advice 101 looks like this:

  1. First, you set a goal. You make it clear, achievable, measurable.
  2. Then, you define a strategy, a pathway to your goal, broken down into actionable steps, phases or milestones. You estimate risks, prioritize, plan and schedule.
  3. Then, you apply the art of self-discipline to make sure you follow through. You know, things like defining rewards, punishments and accountability systems, preventing pitfalls, getting back on track quickly, increasing your willpower and using it wisely, building habits, being mindful and so on.

There is a problem with this model, namely the very first step: “Set a goal.” What does that even mean? How do you “pick” a goal? Among what landscape of goals are you picking? How do you know that what you picked is worthwhile, that it is what you really want?

What if, instead, defining a worthwhile goal is actually the hard part? What if that, alone, is an endeavor that will take you your whole life? What if the most worthwhile goal is something so complex that you will never be done refining it?

To explore this issue, follow me in a meditation.

I tell you to pick a goal. Stupidly, it doesn’t matter.

You say: “I want 10'000'000.- in my bank account by the time I retire.”

Cash — often the first approximation of a desirable goal (Credit: Pepi Stojanovski)

Sounds neat. Let’s dig a little deeper. Why do you want that?

“I want to have the financial freedom to do whatever I want.”

Okay. What would that be? What is “whatever I want?”

“Hmm.” You stop for a moment. Images come up. “I would travel and relax and get to know people.”

Now I stop you to make some observations. First, consider how most people would have stopped right after the first step. The nice car, the fat bank account, that would have been their ultimate goal, defining decades of their lives. By asking “why” you know that, at least for you, the 10'000'000.- aren’t the actual goal, they are a means to an end. And, who knows, maybe having 10'000'000.- in your bank account by the time you retire isn’t necessary to achieve your more accurate goal of “traveling and relaxing and getting to know people”. Maybe it is even counter-productive and there are ways to travel more and earlier if you don’t focus too much on the money aspect.

But this is just the very beginning. Your slightly more accurate goal is still quite vague and not thought through. It’s just an image that came up from who-knows where. It’s worth examining it further. How do you know that you would actually enjoy maximizing the time of your life spent traveling, relaxing and getting to know people? Is it a good idea to discover that by the time you retire? Where do those images of beaches and suntans and bikinis and yachts and parties come from? What desire underlies those?

Our unconscious desires make the success of clips like this.

Suddenly you feel a little awkward. This is becoming kind of personal (a good sign). Fantasies of status and sexual access come up. Very motivating forces indeed, but unconscious ones until now.

Notice how we are slowly entering an imagistic realm. It’s not exactly conceptual goals that come up. Rather, you see images, hints of desirable situations.

Let’s dig deeper. Allow yourself to fantasize. What is it that you want?

You see yourself entering a room. People notice you. Men admire you. Women are attracted to you. You are the man. Your reality starts organizing itself in concentric circles around you. Closest are your best friends, the most interesting people you know. The most attractive, intelligent and proud women approach you to spend time with you, and your friends. You are having a good time. Would you give up 10'000'000.- or even beaches and travels to have that for the rest of your life, wherever you are? I’d bet.

Being the alpha man, the center of the party is deeply motivating

But being perceived as cool is not enough. You want people respect you and follow you for who you are. You are the good kind of attractive, that is, by virtue of your character. Your ability to deeply benefit the people around you. Synergies happen, lives are enriched. What happens around you is interesting, fun and beneficial to everyone involved.

Perhaps an unexpected example, Caesar from Planet of the Apes is one of the best, non-cynical representations of positive masculinity and the wise king in recent years

But let’s not stop here. Allow the fantasy to carry you. How could it be even better?

This positive, attractive energy you are emanating grows. There is an aliveness, a vibrancy, a flow, a sexual energy in the room. Everyone feels it and resonates with it. It is liberating. It’s an encompassing feeling of abundance. People start acting out what they feel. Everyone becomes more giving, more intimate, more sensual. Inevitably, something like a celebratory orgy erupts. Everyone has the time of their lives. And you are somehow in the center, the source of this mounting collective orgasm :)

You wouldn’t be the first one to cherish this fantasy. A 1000 years old sculpture at the Khajuraho temples. Credit: Ross Burton/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Allow yourself to inhabit this fantasy, to feel it. Ask yourself: how could this be even better?

Suddenly the fantasy takes a strange shape. It’s not just people having sex. The objects, the air in the room, the room itself are somehow improved by the event, participating in it. As this energy spreads outside, the trees bloom, the birds jubilate, the sky vibrates, the planets align. Everything is coming together, aligning towards a center, pulsating in a radial flow. Reality itself is transformed, blessed, redeemed. The center of it all has stopped to be you. It is in you, it is in everyone, it is a fractal of goodness, a grand vision of cosmic flourishing. And something deep inside you tells you: there is nothing better you could possibly aim for.

The window pattern of the Chartres cathedral is, like other mandalas, a representation of this deepest meaning, of the ultimate goal, of aligned and redeemed reality; what Carl Jung would call an imagistic representation of the archetype of wholeness, the Self

Let’s review what we went through. We started with an idea that motivates you. We successively asked: how could this be even better? Soon we entered a kind of pre-rational domain, a domain of “motivating images”, more precisely of imagistic representations of that which is unconsciously motivating (archetypes). As we kept going deeper, the images became more motivating, but also more symbolic and universal. What we were left with in the end was a properly religious image, an image of the redemption of the world, something akin to a vision of heaven or nirvana. If this meditation has been compelling to you, congratulations, you have discovered your personal, lived religion. Have a good life.


I’d like to thank Jordan Peterson for inspiring this meditation.

Hi, I’m Nick Redmark, your Meaning-Centered Life Coach. Want more meaning in your life? Get it now on nickredmark.com and subscribe to the Nick Redmark Newsletter to get more of it in the future!