No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.
― Gautama Buddha
Are you headed in the right direction?
Are your journey and your desired destination likely to make you happy?
Did you chart your own path, or is it a product of circumstances? Do you have control over your path?
That last one is a biggie. It may seem that our paths are out of our control, that we are destined to continue with our lives the way we have been and that deviations aren’t possible. We may feel trapped.
In some cases, we are wedded to certain aspects of our lives. We make commitments, we have responsibilities, and we have people to whom we have to answer. But if we take those as foundations on which we can build a life that is flexible (as much as possible), fun, fulfilling, and meaningful, we may find that we have more control over our paths than we originally thought.
It can be helpful to think of our paths on different levels. We have our physical paths (our life circumstances), our mental paths (the direction of our thoughts), and our emotional paths, and we have to pay attention to each of them.
Our physical paths might be the ones over which we have the least control. We have to earn money to live, we have to take care of our children, we have to maintain our homes.
Or do we?
None of these are actually requirements. We choose to do these things because the consequences of not doing them drive our choices. We don’t want our children to go hungry, we don’t want to lose our homes, we don’t want our cars to break down—so we take action; we choose paths that avoid those outcomes. We make those choices.
However, we should seriously analyze any parts of our paths that seem like requirements. Consider the consequences, think about the options, and make the choices with our eyes open (see “Choice“).
Beyond these choices is what we do with the parts of our lives that are not spoken for: the parts of our lives that give us joy, excitement, and fun. These might include our creative pursuits, our spiritual practices, or our adventures. When you look out at the world around you, try to shift your perspective so that you see a vast collection of opportunities instead of barriers made up of duties, responsibilities, and requirements. Even within the confines of our responsibilities, there are always opportunities for fun, fulfillment, and excitement; we just have to constantly be on the lookout (see “Opportunity“).
Our mental paths also play a key role in how fulfilling and meaningful our lives are. By mental path I mean not only what we think about on a day-to-day basis, but how those thoughts evolve over time. Like a physical path, a mental path includes thoughts that are necessary and thoughts that give us pleasure, make us excited, or challenge us. If we get stuck on a mental path that results in negative emotions, such as thoughts of worry, regret, loss, guilt, or anger, we have to find ways to break free of that pattern and gravitate toward those thoughts that give us positive emotions. Ultimately, we are responsible for the content of our consciousness (see “Content“).
Our emotional paths are directly tied to our physical and mental paths, but to a certain degree, we also have some choice regarding our emotions. While we can’t just flip a switch to turn off negative emotions and turn on positive ones, we can choose not to live in an emotional place that feeds on and cultivates negative emotions. This is not to say that we should deny or ignore our negative emotions. In order to process them, we have to feel them (see “Sad“). We need to visit that side of ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we have to live there.
I recently had some experiences in which I found myself going down a path that I wouldn’t have chosen—a path of sadness and regret. My emotional path was driving my mental and physical paths. While I understood this from a rational perspective, it took me some time before I was able to realize that I was choosing these paths and that I could just as easily choose other paths: paths that made me happy or paths that led me to a better place. This is always easier said than done, but if we can convince ourselves that we have this power, this choice—we would never choose a path that is harmful to us.
That path that each of us takes is the path we choose. Let’s choose a good one.