Here on the West Coast, we drive the I-5 in our own state and occasionally into or across other states. Three things make our trips successful: having a starting point, a destination and navigating between the two.
Likewise, life is a journey — from birth to death — but most of us get lost along the way because we never learned how to navigate. These days we can use a GPS in the car, but what do we use to navigate in life?
I've learned that asking five questions helps me find my way.
What's going on? — This lets me identify what I want, what others may want, and what the conflicts are. For instance, I may want my wife to change. Why? Well, something she's doing is bugging me. I'd be happier if she changed. Really? This helps me identify a fundamental problem in our relationship: I expect my wife to make me happy. But we're not together to make each other happy. We're together to help each other grow and share the happiness that comes from that. Lesson learned already.
What am I feeling? — I start with my body. I've got enough miles on it that there are usually a few aches and pains to notice. How about my thoughts? Are they scattered, incoherent, fragmented? What about my emotions? Can I name what I'm feeling right now? Irritation. Anger. Frustration. Fear. Self-judgment? Finally, what about my soul? What's going on, deep inside? Contentment, sorrow, anticipation?
I call this next question the most transformative question in the world:
If I wasn't already doing this, would I choose to do it? — You might ask this about your job, your marriage, or the movie you're watching — and the answer can be scary. "No, I wouldn't choose to marry you right now." Really? Ouch. But, if that's the way you feel, it's your starting point and that's the first ingredient for successful traveling, facing facts. You can't navigate to a different destination without that starting point.
Your answer will be immediate, an instant gut check, yes or no. "Yes, I would choose this; no I wouldn't choose that." Don't analyze. Just ask and answer honestly.
What do I really want? — This gets you in touch with your true intention, usually buried under some surface agitation. For instance, you may be struggling financially. You think you want more money. But money has no value in itself. We use it to pay bills and buy things, to create experiences.
So, what experiences do you want to have? At first glance you might answer, "No more bills I can't pay!" Or, "Watching movies on a huge screen with surround sound." Or, "Napping in a sun-kissed gondola in Venice." Look deeper. Those experiences all involve... feelings!
When you ask, "What do I really want?" the true answer will always involve positive feelings. For instance, "I want to get rid of this anxiety about debt, so that I'm not so stressed out all the time, so that I feel ... free."
What kind of person would I have to be, to be having that experience effortlessly? — Well, you'd be a person who already felt free. Nelson Mandela lived in a prison cell for 27 years and went on to become the first elected President of South Africa. He said, "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."
Where is the journey from your "here and now" taking you?
You have your starting point; it's real. You have an imagination/intention about your destination; it's not real yet. And now you have a life compass, these five questions, to navigate by. Life is a highway. When we learn how to navigate from birth to death, it truly becomes the "high" way.
Will Wilkinson is an author/presenter/coach in Ashland. This article and others are on his website www.imagifi.com.
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