As a young man, I attended a Protestant seminary and studied ancient Greek and Hebrew. In the Bible, the word "sin" comes from an ancient Greek word taken from the sport of archery. The word literally means "to miss the mark," as in your arrow missing the target. The greatest sin is to miss the mark of what you intended your life to be. This is why Wordsworth, the great English poet, could write in The Prelude that he must become a poet "else be sinning greatly." In this way, living with intention means asking: How close is my life to the bull's-eye?
There are two levels to this issue of being true to one's self. First, on a day-to-day basis, am I living true to my soul? I like to tell people the problem with life is that it is so daily! A happy, purposeful life is the accumulation of many happy days. What became obvious to me as I was listening to the stories of people's lives is that wise people know what a good day is (a good day for them, that is). My grandfather, who was one of the wise elders in my life, used to talk about having a "good tired" at the end of a given day. He contrasted this with a "bad tired." He told me a good tired, "was when you lived your life focusing on the things that really mattered to you. A bad tired often comes even when it looks like we are winning, but realize we are not being true to ourselves. It seems to me the first element of knowing ourselves is figuring out what makes up a "good tired" day for us.
We do this by simply reflecting more. When we have a good tired day, take notice of what was true of that day, what were the elements that contributed to contentment. When we have a bad tired day, reflect on the elements that made the "bad tired."
Having practiced this simple technique for some time, I noticed several things. On my good tired days I almost always have been outside sometime during the day. Even a 15-minute walk in a park makes a big difference. On my good tired days I have almost always made room for people, especially for friends and family. My work did not feel like tasks; rather, I focused on making a difference in my work, and I had some exercise during the day.
By contrast, on bad tired days I focused on tasks all day long--no time for friends or people, no time for reading or learning. By noticing and reflecting on these simple differences, I am able to have more good tired days. This is a pattern I saw again and again among those we interviewed: Happy people know what brings them happiness and consistently make those things a priority.
Most of my life I have played tennis. When I am on a tennis court, I lose track of time, which is not a bad definition of Joseph Campbell's idea of "following your bliss." A few summers ago I attended a tennis camp, and the staff there gave me the following advice. They said that most people don't reflect much at all while they are playing. If they win a point they are euphoric and then frustrated when they lose a point. Most players fail to reflect on why they are winning or why they are losing. The camp taught a simple technique--after every point, ask three questions: Did I win or lose? Why did I win or lose? And what do I want to do differently in the next point based on what I learned? My tennis improved, and so did my life.
Imagine if at the end of every day we asked those three questions: Did today feel like a good or a bad tired day? If it felt good, what were the elements that made it good? If it felt like a bad tired day, what contributed to that feeling? And is there anything I want to do differently tomorrow based on what I noticed today? Imagine if we asked these questions after each week of our life, after each month, and each year. Our life moves closer and closer to our "bullseye."
Of course, following your heart and being true to yourself also involve larger questions. Do my career and my work in the world represent my true self? Is my whole life truly my "path"? Am I being the kind of person I want to be in the world?
Copyright © 2008 John Izzo
John Izzo, Ph.D., is the bestselling author of Second Innocence and host of the public television series The Five Things You Must Discover Before You Die. Holding advanced degrees in religion and psychology, Izzo has spoken to over one million people on four continents about living more purposeful lives. More information about Mr. Izzo can be found at www.theizzogroup.co
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