In these times, unsure about how the future will play out, it’s essential that we look beyond our certainties for what constitutes a substantive life. Aren’t we looking for a “bigger truth” that will give meaning, purpose and hope to our lives and strengthen our ability to provide leadership for those who depend on us?
In other words, how we had been defined by our condition and circumstances may now be reconsidered and its confines breached. Certainly the tendency to count on the accumulation of wealth and status as the means to reflecting a substantive life and being taken seriously now seems too superficial a guideline. New means for governing our stability as a necessary component for creating and living a well-ordered life may be required.
Turning a discerning and disciplined eye to the human condition and circumstance is an effective means to a profound and striking change in being and direction. Let me tell you what I mean.
At the same time that each of us is already in the world, up and running, perhaps on the fast track, we are also in the world experimentally. Yes, we are subjected to the experiments of the world-already-in-full-swing, to its general conventions, rules and procedures, to its general rewards and safeguards, to its general obstacles and dangers.
But we are also authors and authorities who create, hypothesize and experiment with other possibilities that suit our unique intellectual and moral commitments and our one-of-a-kind temperaments. Our success rate at these various experiments in sovereign individuation, in the ways and means of what it means to be fully and uniquely human, depends on two factors.
- The authenticity of the truth and discipline with which we conceive, administer and monitor the experiments.
- The honesty with which we match our thoughts and conduct to what we discover.
In addition to the intellectual integrity and peace of mind that such experiments can afford, they help us to stay pragmatic with respect to the results. In an experiment, mistakes, failures, wrong steps and misjudgments mean that we should return to the drawing board, not quit in exasperation or discouragement. We aren’t scientists. Like them, though, we can learn from hypotheses proved wrong or ineffective as well as from those that prove reliable and useful when it comes to judgment, decision-making and a personally rewarding life.
Here’s the bigger truth! It makes sense to match our way of being in the world with our evolving understanding of the human condition and circumstance and, consequently, with the way we author, govern and perfect ourselves. The more we understand the possibilities for sovereign individuation and become disciplined in our ability to impose our executive responsibility on our neural circuitry, the more stable life is. Not rigid, static, narrow-minded and inflexible, but receptive, resourceful, courageous and on our toes when it comes to meeting the demands of life’s dynamic, experimental design and ordering.
However, learning these new ways of seeing, and of doing things we haven’t really done before, requires not only planning but also the willingness to be comfortable with (or at least tolerate!) incremental, repetitive and systematic practice.
Bringing a profound and striking change in being and direction into existence will be challenging. We may believe that learning to think in new ways is a weightless, insubstantial task, but it’s actually physical. The mental effort needed to gather new intelligence and to practice and master its coordinated actions is as taxing as becoming manually adroit at new skills.
Indeed the practice of a bigger truth, bigger life works more or less as any other ordinary practice. After we practice a piano concerto or field ground balls many, many times, we find the task, once difficult, now easier. The fits and starts, the awkwardness, are gone because new direct pathways in the nervous system have been constructed.
And so it is with extending our lives beyond what has circumscribed us up until now. What is at first novel, complicated and a big stretch, becomes over time our new — refreshingly new and gratifying, even joyful — spontaneity as well as a new confidence to take hold of and drive a remarkable and creative control of our life. The backbone, versatility and spirit that characterize a bigger life sit well on us.
In sum, in real life, in real time, it takes serious effort to intervene upon the patterns, habits and emotional tension — usually physiological agitation — stimulated by novelty, complexity, inertia and our routine biological needs. So perhaps difficult and outside our comfort zones at first, the reward of a bigger life is worth the effort.
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This is an updated version of my blog post “Bigger truth, bigger life.”