How to Create a Personally Rewarding Life
Perhaps there was a time when we thought that a beginner’s mind was possible. Drawing on our thinking skills, we could empty our mind. Shed the chains of bad habit. Get ahead of the rails we ride. Listen up. And approach new ideas without preconceptions.
But soon enough we discover the great mass of intelligence that keeps us humming can’t easily be set aside. We know too much about biology, history and language. As such, we’re already in deep, real deep.
On the other hand, we want to create an expansive life. We want it to matter that we lived and we want to live life to the full. As such, we recognize the need for substance and the call on conscience. We realize that any lack of intellectual, emotional and moral resource is quickly filled in by weakness, corruption and indifference. In fact, we can see bad behavior practically everywhere.
Of course, real substance, real depth and the refinement of feeling that underpins conscience are hard-won.
Our hopes and ideals must fight against ingrained patterns of being, media-endorsed superficiality and a thoroughly untrustworthy ego-protection program.
The misunderstood ego function is a construct firmly housed in our cultural embeddedness. And this big ego is just a piece of our inheritance. And though it lives large, it also wants confirmation, admiration and protection. Invisible but pervasive and coercive, it provides all of us with a superficial, bogus sense of what constitutes self-worth and respectability. As such, it obscures the real demands of autonomy and what it takes — in real time and real effort — to acquire such substance.
Under its spell and in the hands of the ego-protection program, we can’t see how much work that we need to do in order to live a meaningful and contributory life. It is a protective, defensive and antagonistic piece of our mindset. Though it may boast and bluster and spend an enormous amount of time imagining itself as the biggest winner, it’s often inhibited, timid, afraid of embarrassment or of being rejected or insulted. Worse, the ego-protection program makes it easy for far too many of us to mentally excuse ourselves from developing the substance born of wisdom and kindness. Or from developing the backbone born of fair play and self-control.
All of us can see how others give themselves credit for virtues they don’t have. They act as if their possessions, education, relationships, languages, opinions, recreational pursuits, rank or status are a sign of personal authority and that material wealth indicates spiritual riches. Few of us, however, can see where we lack substance. And few of us can see the distressing price we pay for its absence. This is because we automatically lay the blame for any kind of suffering on someone or something else.
Fortunately though, when we see through the ruse, we understand the rugged spirit that characterizes autonomy is incrementally and diligently earned as we acquire our mettle and turn this self-reliance to good use.
We also understand that it’s a fight, a lifelong fight. That is, we have always to deal with the antecedents of our biology and our untutored ego-function. Both lend themselves not to the individual responsibility on which America has built its hope and promise but to Henry James’ unsentimental description of life as a struggle wherein evil is apt to be strong, goodness weak, folly defiant and petty rages and easy mediocrity common.
But when life gets right up in our face, we fight the good fight and win it day by day when we:
- Shoulder the burdens of responsibility, accountability and trustworthiness.
- Gain creative control over our way of being in the world.
- Exit the ego-protection program.
- Practice good sense and personal responsibility in the light of a larger purpose to our life.
- Work to satisfy the demands of living autonomously.
- Artfully manage our philosophically responsible oversight of our ego-function, our thoughts, feelings and motivations, and our judgments, decisions and actions.
- Make the courage to love life.
- And at day’s end, recognize it as a completion.
Certainly, over much of what happens in the world, we have little individual control. Yet we are capable of a progressive expansion of the autonomy born of overcoming the counterproductive habits of an oversized, untutored ego function. And, as we come to grips with the cognitive and communicative practices that distinguish a right-sized ego-function, we can have far more referential authority over our private experience of life and over our subjective journey.
The promised existence, the achievement of a personally rewarding life of our own design awaits the individual who fights the good fight.
I’ve been teaching classes on autonomy and life for over 30 years. These classes offer a unique and powerful governing philosophy for practical living. They stand firmly on America’s promise of freedom, justice and equality and the opportunity to a life of our own design. More information is available on my website: autonomyandlife.com.