I remember the day I met him. He was an old “Hills” farmer and a genius at fixing old abandoned tractors. He never knew it, but he was an important influence that helped me change the course of my life.
Once Upon A Time A Few Decades Back
It was back when I was homesteading 27 acres in upstate New York. Like others at the time, I had turned away from engineering and corporate life to “live off the land.” I was raising goats, chickens, pigs, turkeys, tending bees, and growing our food. A neighbor had an old abandoned Ford tractor sitting out behind his barn. The engine was frozen solid from years of sitting unprotected in upstate New York’s weather. When I asked him how much he wanted for it, he said, “you can have it if you take it away.”
I got the tractor back to the homestead (another learning experience), but I had no clue as to how to get it running again. It sat in the front yard and continued to rust for another month before a friend told me about an old farmer down the road that was good at fixing old tractors. So I hired him to fix mine. His first response to seeing the tractor was to quietly shake his head in what I took as disbelief in my lack of judgment for dragging it to my farm. He came back the next morning, jacked up the tractor to put pressure on the crankshaft, poured Coke-a-Cola into each of the cylinders and left telling me he’d be back. His “back” meant two weeks.
The morning he returned it took about an hour of careful banging on the jacked up crankshaft before there was a loud bang as the pistons broke free and the tractor settled proudly back onto its cracked and worn tires. He said he’d be back the next morning to get it put back together and fired up. And fire up it did! After a lot of chugging and black smoke that neighbors later said looked like we were sending long distance smoke signals, I had a fully functioning tractor. Noisy, but running.
We were sitting on my old hay wagon (the one that now had a tractor to pull it around) having a final beer and watching the tractor as it chugged away struggling to overcome years of neglect. As we sat there reflecting on the state of the world, he told me in the imperative voice of absolute truth that “the reason all the trees were getting brown and dying was that the stupid astronauts unknowingly brought back an alien disease from the moon.” He was actually quite angry about it.
The Moment of Insight For Me
He came back about a week later to see how the tractor was “holding up.” I now understood that meant a few more beers and more reflecting on the state of the world. As he drained the last of his beer and stood up to leave he made his final comment on the state of the world…..and changed the course of my life. He reflected, again in the imperative voice of absolute truth, that “the moon landing never really happened. It was just another government hoax. You can’t never trust the government. They just want to come around and take all your damn money….control your damn life” he said climbing into his truck to leave.
At the time I simply nodded agreement at his statement but inside I was thinking “they never landed on the moon, but they brought back a disease that was killing the trees. How is it possible that a person can a person hold two directly opposing beliefs and assume both of them to be true”? I was astounded that anyone could be that unaware…..that lacking in self-awareness.
I never saw him again. But in the weeks and months that followed, I continued to be intrigued at his inability to see the irony of his opposing beliefs. Looking back today, I know that my journey into mental health and my career as a therapist and life coach began that day. Now, decades after that life changing experience, I fully understand that it’s actually quite common for the human ego to protect it’s self-identity by holding opposing beliefs and never consciously see the irony of those colliding beliefs. Never see how destructive they can be to one’s happiness, success, relationships with others, and the creation of meaning and purpose in life. Our ego tends to have an unhealthy belief in our own importance. It also needs to always be right.
- Many people are convinced that they are compassionate, but they can walk by a homeless person and not even see them.
- They believe in living a healthy life, but they eat fast food and never exercise.
- They believe that they are can smell the roses and flow with life, but tend to be very judgmental of others.
- They value love in their lives but have a deep fear of true intimacy.
- They are convinced they are good listeners, but they never stop talking long enough to actually hear what the other person is saying.
- They believe they have a high level of autonomy and self-reliance but are painfully concerned with how others think about them.
- They want to be successful, but they never take the time to learn the skills, develop the habits, or acquire the knowledge needed to create the successful life they dream about. They go through life assuming that successful people are either smarter or luckier than they are.
When we lack self-awareness the list of directly opposing, life-limiting, colliding beliefs we unconsciously hold as humans can indeed…….be almost endless.
Why Self-Awareness Is So Vitally Important
The reason self-awareness is so important and indispensable to happiness and success in life….is embedded in the simple reality that we are fully responsible for the life we are currently living. We created our current life using our thoughts and beliefs to make the decisions and choices that resulted in the life we are currently living. If we want to create a successful new life for ourselves, achieve happiness, have healthy relationships with others, and live a life with meaning and purpose…..it is critically important that we understand how our minds work.
We need to awaken our consciousness and become fully aware of our beliefs, how we make decisions, what values are important to use; especially the reality distorting beliefs we unconsciously hold that will limit our ability to create the life we dream about living. Stated differently, if we want to create a new and happier life, we have to become deeply and intentionally self-aware. We have to overcome our ego’s obsessive need to create and maintain beliefs that support our self-identity; even when those beliefs conflict with each other; and its never-ending need to be right.
The more self-aware we can become, the greater our chance of turning our dreams into reality. And vice versa.
What Is Self-Awareness?
Intentional self-awareness is learning to see yourself as the creator of your own life. It’s about investing in yourself. It’s about developing mental toughness. Learning to see and fully accept reality. It about taming our primitive ego and its never-ending need to control reality by “pushing the river.”
It ’s about learning to strip away the limiting biases built into our ego’s many beliefs, and the absolute certainty of those beliefs. Until we have deep self-awareness, our unexamined conscious and unconscious beliefs will prevent us from making the best possible decisions and choices as we get about the business of creating the life we’ve always dreamed of living. Intentional self-awareness keeps our ego from continually shooting ourselves in the foot.
The Self-Aware Life Is A Dance, Not A Journey
To paraphrase the words of philosopher Alan Watts… ‘life is not a journey. It’s dance. It’s music. It’s not about getting somewhere. Getting to the end is to miss the point of being alive. We need to learn to dance and embrace the music of life just for the joy of it. We don’t work at music; we play music. The point of music or dance isn’t to get to the end…..it’s about enjoying the process of playing the music and dancing the dance.’
Life is about living the process…the dance….hearing the music. It’s not about goals and simply getting to the end. The more intentionally self-aware we can become, the more we can create and enjoy the process of living. The more we can avoid the stress, pain, suffering, and anxiety that defines the lives of so many self-unaware people.
Life is best lived fully conscious. Fully awake to the realities that surround us. Fully self-aware of those pesky colliding beliefs that get in the way of gratitude and joy in life. Knowing we already possess all the happiness that exists in the universe. We just have to discover the beliefs and thoughts that are getting in the way of our ability to fully experience that happiness we have always possessed.
Happiness is discovering your purpose in life. Paying attention to those things that define you as a person and the life you were born to live. Happiness is knowing that life is not a journey that’s obsessively focused on “self” and the achievement of goals, objectives, power, fame, and possessions. Happiness is learning to dance through life adding value to the world and the lives of others. Paradoxically, intentional self-awareness is the gift we give ourselves that frees us from our primitive ego’s obsessive need to see ourselves as separate, our never-ending need to be right, and living life constantly focused on ourselves.
Happiness, success, healthy relationships, and a life filled with meaning and purpose all require the ability to become self-aware and see our life through the eyes of a well-trained life coach; to learn the skills and practices needed to become more fully and intentionally “self-aware”; and most importantly, learning to accept full responsibility for our life…..past, present, and future.