By this point on my journey, I had discovered a lot about Michael. I realized that the negative consequences I was experiencing in my life were largely due to the unhealthy beliefs and perceptions I had formed during a very abusive and dysfunctional childhood. Low self-image, esteem and worth, left me “looking for love in all the wrong places” meaning for me that I was looking for someone else to love me since I did not love myself. The consequences of this in my life were; co-dependent relationships, stuffing anger from my earlier childhood which was only coming out sideways, the need for constant change and the inability to settle down, and feeling so lost and confused. The pain became too much at one point in my life triggered by another failed relationship, which prompted me this time to take that hard look within.
Counseling and intensive workshops helped me to begin my recovery and stabilize myself, providing awareness to what my key issues were along with how to cope initially and then create healthier beliefs. I began to identify and use what I refer to as “tools for self-discovery” (Discovering Michael). Affirmations were used to begin to reprogram my subconscious, replacing unhealthy beliefs such as “I am worthless” (which was repeated to me thousands of times by my father), with new beliefs I wanted to develop such as, “I am okay” “I am a loving and caring person”.
Through the use of Personality Assessments I learned more about my personality and my preferences. These were often profound realizations, for example, allowing me to understand my introverted style as a preference vs. a defect in my personality. The collection of assessments allowed me to create sort of collage of my personality characteristics, helping me to form a picture of who I was. I read hundreds of books related to what my issues were. I attended workshops to help me learn new tools such as journaling to help me process my feelings and capture thoughts and new ideas.
I had decided to take charge of my life, no longer being a victim to my past, but instead learning how to create my future. Once stabilized and feeling better about myself, I began to re-consider what I valued as important. Climbing up the corporate ladder no longer represented my aspiration, but I had no idea what did. I began to experiment with my life starting with volunteering. New values became evident as I realized how much I cared about helping others, and being me which meant pushing away many of the mainstream values that I had adopted early on.
I was in a better place, happier overall and more content. I was living on my own in order to overcome my neediness and jealousy, which characterized so much of my experience in previous relationships. I had made major changes with respect to my values that significantly influenced how I lived and what I did with my life.
However, something remained nagging me deep inside. One of the values I was searching for related to understanding my own spiritual belief. I began my search investigating almost every religion around me. I invited in those that visited my neighborhood to speak about their place of worship and religion. I listened intently and asked lots of questions. I attended services for those religions that intrigued me. The sense of community was nice to experience and something that I longed for. However, in each case, I found myself hesitant to buy in to their beliefs. Something just didn’t feel right, although I had no idea what this was.
In my book, I share the story about “stumbling” onto a spiritual retreat. Here I attended numerous sessions on a wide variety of topics. The key realizations were two things. First, that I was on a “spiritual quest” which was defined as coming to grips with my own set of beliefs about life, and second, that I was not alone. There were hundreds there on a similar search. A search for the Holy Grail, to understand the meaning of life and how we fit in!! It all made sense, at least in terms of understanding what that deep nagging feeling was.
For me, organized religion seemed too constraining, wanting to tell me what to believe without question. There were rules and guidelines, some that I liked and others that I did not. It only reminded me of the negative experiences I had growing up in the Catholic religion. My feelings were best summed up by a minister during a service when he said, “I am learning to respect God more and man’s interpretation of God less”.
Okay, so I am on a spiritual search, now what? New doors immediately opened during the retreat as I listened to other’s stories. One of the most amazing stories came from a man dressed as he was, a blue-collar worker, a simple man. He spoke about how he was pronounced dead as a result of an accident, and during this time how he had an encounter with the light, what I would come to learn was termed a “near-death experience.” The concept of God he spoke about rang so true in my heart. It seemed to touch me in an area of knowing that was dormant for most of my life.
I was so inspired by this that I had a new thirst for reading about near-death experiences. I met a woman who shared her own experience. Eventually I would travel with her to Africa where she volunteered her time to help others. I read ferociously on all kinds of spiritual topics.
I mustered up the courage to quit my job, stating that I had to go out and discover the meaning of life. My boss looked at me like I was on some kind of drug or had lost my marbles, which is probably more true than not (-:
I began to travel abroad with just a backpack, meeting hundreds of others on my journey. In each case I would ask around for a local volunteer opportunity, providing me with the opportunity to really learn more about their culture, while giving something back. Later I would read Michael Crichton’s book, Travels, whose learnings were so similar to my own. I exposed myself to the dark side of humanity, seeing first hand the ravages of discrimination, judgement, politics, competition and how so many regular people suffered. It was tragic, yet what I needed to open my eyes and senses to the reality of life.
I returned to what was home, but it no longer felt like home anymore. I was a man without a country, unsure anymore where I belonged. I was so angry, seeing others take for granted what others would beg for. But it was in this struggle that the pieces slowly came together. Small epiphanies helped me to understand that what I was experiencing outside of myself, represented my own personal struggles. I was still angry at the injustice I had experienced and needed to come to terms with this. With time, I began to see things differently. A new awareness emerged realizing that there was purpose to life, which was really all I needed to know. I had come to know at a deep level that there was meaning to life.
My spiritual quest continued for many years to chip away at these inner layers to understand my own purpose and how I fit in. The concepts I wrestle with now seem filled with paradoxes and more questions. But at the core now is a belief that there is indeed meaning, which is a powerful and life-changing realization. And what makes it so powerful was my own journey to come to this conclusion.
My story is only one of a limitless number of ways of coming to these deeper realizations. The process of personal growth and self-discovery for me has touched every level and aspect of self. A daunting journey. It represents the kinds of soul-searching this step of the process of self-discovery can be like. The most amazing thing is that I am still wrestling with my experiences, as they have caused ripples through every aspect of my being.
And so I have worked through the layers of my onion, gaining incredible self-awareness. But self-awareness is a double-edged sword. It allows you to gain a greater understanding which helps to give life new meaning, but at the same time constantly challenges me with being responsible for my own actions. Yes, it was nice to be able to blame others for my woes, but I have come to know that this is no longer appropriate. I am in charge of my life, even down to the thoughts I have. And the journey continues…
Thank you for allowing me to share my perspective on the process of personal growth and self-discovery. I look forward to hearing your points of view and reactions.
Next topic will focus on a powerful discussion held recently on the topic of the struggle associated with life.