I am thrilled to share a guest post this week from my Amazing friend Ashton Aiden - I know you're going to love it!
At a point in my life, I became quite annoyed with some of the pseudo-spiritual, new-age, and self-help culture that I would run into anywhere I went to pursue my own path. More than anything else, it was the popular little phrases, the stereotypical little “life teachings” that seemed to be handed out to anyone and everyone, BY anyone and everyone, so freely.
It took me some time to accept this was just a part of life, but in learning to accept my own frustrations, I also realized something more:
Some of these stereotypical teachings, the ones that get thrown around like $1 bills at strip clubs, are not just annoying. They can be dangerous.
I’ll share a story to explain this further.
I once had a very bright, very talented, ambitious, and arrogant friend. He was a young man, early twenties. He had a decent job, good family, good living conditions, and was in a happy relationship with a very good woman. I’m not sure if he realized it, but from an outside perspective I could see that many people envied the life he lived and the things he had.
This man was very dedicated to bettering himself, and gave most of the credit for the good things in his life to this dedication. He was quite blessed for it, and did a lot of good with it as well. And yet, he was never quite fully satisfied with what he had. He was constantly pushing for more. He wanted to be wealthy and successful, he wanted to change the world, and he wanted to be fully enlightened.
Though his life looked great to many people, even exceptional, and he seemed quite happy, he wanted more. And he was hell-bound on achieving his goals and dreams.
His relationship with his girlfriend was really something. They almost never fought. They were always out doing fun things, going on trips together. She never lost patience with him (even when his arrogant self-help and new-age stereotypes would start to fly out), she was constantly complimenting him, building him up, and doing nice things for him. Anyone could tell she genuinely loved and cared for him. It was a relationship that some people only dream of.
And he loved her too, very much. Yet, an idea had begun to form in his mind…One that bred dissatisfaction.
I’m not sure where this idea came from. It could have been a book, it could have been a couple books, maybe even a workshop or an inspirational speech, maybe even a facebook meme with a quote on it. It was probably a combination of all these. The idea goes something like this:
“If someone in your life is holding you back from accomplishing your dreams, keep your distance.”
In fact, I’m pretty sure I just saw a meme the other day on Facebook, with a picture of something pretty, like flowers or a sunset that said “Surround yourself only with those who aid you in achieving your dreams.”
You see this man had decided that he had to do something that broke his heart. He had to end his relationship. As much as he didn’t want to, as much as he knew how much it would hurt, he was not willing to sacrifice his goals, his dreams, his spiritual path.
So one morning he woke up early, sweating and with shaky hands. He looked at her asleep in bed, adored her one last time, and with a heavy heart made arrangements for how he was going to handle the situation. A few hours later he woke her up and broke the news to her. He couldn’t do it anymore. He had to move on and fully pursue his dreams.
He watched as the words crushed her, and as she grabbed her things and stormed out the door, shocked, hurt, betrayed. She had done so much for him. They had been happy. She’d thought they really had a chance, and in one moment, abruptly, it was over. That night he spent alone, his heart ripped to pieces. He felt a pain that we all know, the pain of losing someone you deeply love. And yet, he felt he had done what he had to do. As much as it hurt, he believed he was doing what had to be done. That was his only comfort.
And he did do well for himself afterwards. Just a few years later he was excelling at his career. His income was rising, he was making great headway on his goals. From all outward appearances, he was definitely doing well.
But one day I was catching up with him, having a beer, and I caught a glance of his eyes, just for a quick second as he was staring off into space, thinking to himself. I saw a heaviness about him; a pain and a weariness that I had never noticed before. He noticed that I’d seen it, and the twinkle I was used to seeing returned. He smiled at me with an understanding look, took a deep breath and a swig of his drink. And then he said something that I’ve never forgotten:
“You know Ashton, for all the seeming success I’ve had in the past few months, with my job, my goals, my spiritual practices even… I’m no happier today than I was 2 years ago. In fact, I’m less than I’ve ever been in my life. I threw away happiness without even knowing that I had it in the first place. I’ve been such a damn fool.”
You see my friend had made one of the most fatal mistakes someone could make on the path of self-development, and I could see in his eyes that he knew it. He had gotten so caught up in chasing his goals, so determined to achieve what he wanted to achieve, that he had forgotten the reason why he was working to achieve them in the first place. The ultimate goal is never about the thing, the situation, or the achievement. The only reason we chase our goals and dreams is because we believe they will make us happy.
My friend had learned the hard way that accomplishing goals, bettering ourselves, striving to achieve are all for naught if the end goal isn’t happiness.
Now let’s return to the specific quote that I brought up. I want to make it clear that I am not necessarily disagreeing with its overall message.
Let’s take the quote “surround yourself only with people who aid you in achieving your dreams.”
Sounds quite right doesn’t it? There’s definitely something in there that’s worth absorbing.
But let’s get down to real, imperfect, human, nitty-gritty reality here. It’s not always that simple. When people internalize messages and ideas like this, and spout them off like they’re the Ten Commandments they run into a serious risk of losing sight of the forest for the trees. People aren’t all either one or the other. In the game of black and white, people are always shades of grey. Always.
Yes there are people that we absolutely should cut out of our life, no doubt. There are also people that love us, support us, forgive us, and accept us no matter what we do. Like your mom maybe. Or your best friend. Or, if you’re really lucky, your lover.
But most people out there are just as incapable of unconditionally supporting someone as…………
…..you maybe? Most people?
There are the people in our lives who are unconditionally loyal, but drink a little too much. There are people who will show up for us at the drop of the dime in our time of need, but think that our opinions on politics and nutrition are just, plain, weird. And there are people who don’t understand your goals and dreams at all, but are there at the end of the day for you to rub your back, tell you they love you, and take care of you in whatever way they know how. And you probably fall into one of those categories with most people in your life that you are close to as well.
So what is the missing ingredient here? What is the trick to understanding how far to take all this nice, neat, hyped up cliché new age jargon and apply it to our lives in a way that works for us?
Your heart knows what happiness is. Your heart knows what the difference between success and idealization is. Your heart knows when you are being smothered, and when you are free, even if your mind can’t tell the difference.
I used one specific thought for this article to prove a point. But this applies to ALL of the information out there. All the self-improvement books. All the popular and successful teachers. All of the inspirational quotes and memes.
We must realize that we are always the authority, and what always matters most is what the heart advises us to do. So my advice, and my warning to anyone on this path of self-actualization is this: Don’t you DARE decide that someone else knows better than you. Don’t you dare substitute an ideal for the reality of your life, your humanness, your individual situation. Listen to your heart and avoid dogma like the plague. Because there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all teaching. And there is no quote or advice out there that can be applied to everything in your complex and very personal life.
I’ll leave you with a very applicable quote from Walt Whitman:
“You shall no longer take things at second or third hand…nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the specters in books (or videos, speeches, or quotes). You shall not look through my eyes either, not take things from me. You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.”
I wish you true success and the discernment to be happy and at peace,
Ashton Aiden is a certified life coach, a brainwave entrainment geek, a lover of dogs, and a passionate advocate of the human potential. He spends most of his time working through his website, brainwavelove.com, to educate the public on the powerful benefits of brainwave entrainment technology. When not doing this, he enjoys coaching people on the art of manifestation, providing spiritual commentary, and exploring the outdoors in his home state with his dog, Biff, and his girlfriend Dechen. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on facebook.com/brainwavelove