In the previous post, we looked at what success is. Success, as we learned is not defined externally. It is an internal state of well-being – an absence of lack or the absence of restlessness for more. Importantly, we looked at the Stoic meaning of Eudaimonia, which equates success with a life of inner virtues.
In this post, we look at what these inner attributes are and how we can go about discovering them. To begin, we must recognize that we are all unique. The biggest challenge is to accept we are unique. Many of us have had suppressed childhoods, where we had to conform to our parents or we were let loose and did pretty much what we wanted based on the latest fashion or trend. Unfortunately, schooling didn’t help us discover ourselves. University was a colossal failure. We came out more confused and not knowing what we must do in our life. Our modern systems are designed precisely to stifle individual uniqueness and popularize mass sameness. Conformity is usually praised. This makes it very difficult for us to accept our uniqueness with grace and humility. Often, people rebel – and this just enforces an identity of defense and attack against external elements and does little to bring us back to ourselves.
Acceptance of who we are, in a gracious, humble way is the best way to begin. At this juncture, fear or uncertainty might arise. What will happen to my identity if I begin to accept my secret longings, my thoughts, my opinions, or even my sexuality? Here, one must be kind to oneself and understand that acceptance means coming to terms with what we are in aloneness. We needn’t involve our friends, family, our partner, or our parents. This is a journey one must undertake alone. Acceptance takes time. We need to be prepared to give ourselves time. Be prepared for a pandora’s box of confusion to burst open within us. This is good, as it indicates a dismantling of the old, safe, and yet borrowed identities. Do this in the safe space of your soul.
Once we get past acceptance, we can begin to ask What is this inner unique self-made up of? The answer to this usually doesn’t come about as a flash of intuition in most people. In order to understand this, we need to expose ourselves to a wide range of experiences. This includes – people, events, interests. This doesn’t mean we need to adopt the Eat, Pray, Love approach of running away to Bali or quitting your relationship. No. Within the confines of your current life, take the time to meet different people, enroll for different classes, use the internet to watch things you don’t usually watch.
As we expose ourselves to a myriad of things, we encounter things that agree with us and things that don’t. This duality of like – dislike forms the core of our characters. Yogi’s, philosophers, and modern meditation gurus dismiss this. They say you are beyond your likes and dislikes. This is true – but we aren’t there yet. In order to ride a bicycle, we need those side wheels to start with. We can never begin to learn how to ride by saying You don’t need the side training wheels. You are beyond that.
Often, the things we hate the most, reveal inordinate things about ourselves. For instance, let’s say we become friends with a group of people who enjoy spending their Friday evenings going out, drinking, and mindlessly socializing. Perhaps this evokes in us a sense of “NO. This is not right for me”. Without judging anybody else, we quietly understand that wasting one’s time and money on drinking and smoking on Friday evenings is not something that brings contentment and joy. These strong proclivities form the foundation of our innermost character – our values. These are often a product of our upbringing, but also something deeper.
These strong likes and dislikes hide behind it something deeper. Why does something evoke a strong emotional reaction? Another example: let’s say one of our friends lies to us. This makes us angry. We examine this anger and realize that in some way we feel ‘wronged’ by such behavior. Here, we need to transcend the anger, by understanding who we are in relation to the action of our friend. How do we diminish because of this lie? What part of us is disrespected? Do we become smaller? No. this allows us to stand firmly on who we are – an honest person. We stand on our values. This brings perspective to the situation and anger slowly ebbs away. Nevertheless, this situation has taught us something about our character – I am somebody who values honesty.
The Stoic philosopher, Seneca sums this attitude up succinctly:
“But the wise person can lose nothing. Such a person has everything stored up for themselves, leaving nothing to Fortune, their own goods are held firm, bound in virtue, which requires nothing from chance, and therefore can’t be either increased or diminished.”Holiday, Ryan; Hanselman, Stephen. The Daily Stoic (p. 295). Profile. Kindle Edition.
Other people’s behavior does not diminish us. We need to train our minds and need to be thankful for such experiences because they reinforce our values.
Very quickly, we begin to discover these innermost, non-negotiable values through the exposure to life. Understand that this is not a one-time activity. This is a constant process of learning and experimenting with oneself. These values – honestly, integrity, freedom of expression, joy in discovery, learning, openness, truthfulness and so on – become our inner moral compass. This is critical to navigating life and puts us on a path of inner well-being.
How does this inner compass work? Let us say you are interviewing for a position in a company. You spend time with your prospective boss and he says something like Well we know how to sell. We can sell our stuff even to monkeys, let alone humans. Instantly this evokes a pang within your chest and stomach. This visceral emotive reaction is your mind’s way of telling you – this is not your tribe. This is not what you stand for. It evokes repulsiveness. Most of us, ignore this and get carried away by the sweet talk, our eagerness for a job, or the desperation for income. Whatever may be the case, we take up the job – only to discover soon that the work atmosphere is simply not quite right.
But can inner values be negative? What if we find out we value dishonesty? This simply cannot be the case since these attributes do not bring us peace, joy, and contentment. And since each human being on this earth is looking for peace, joy, and contentment, ‘negative values’ are never something that we truly seek. They are usually a contorted idea of what we want in relation to society, and never those things that truly beings us centredness. These inner values form our inner compass of peace, joy, solidarity, and serenity.
The inner compass needs to be constantly attended to. And you need to do this by the constant reflection of who you are. From this understanding comes choices that are aligned with our values. What we do, whom we marry, who we spend time with, what sort of things we buy – all this stems from a clear understanding of who we are.
Knowing this, how do we act? What can we do to ensure that our actions bring about ‘success’ in the outer dimension? We explore this in the next post.