“In my work with professional women, I’ve seen that happiness continually escapes them because, first, they don’t understand exactly what will make them happy. They just don’t know themselves well at all.” – Kathy Caprino, Senior Contributor to Forbes Magazine
“I sometimes still get confused about my real priorities (maybe it is a lack of wakefulness, clarity or sheer stupidity) because I fall too often for the easy quickly fixed ones, which are probably not real priorities. … I like your emphasis on recalling what is most “experientially” sacred to us and what we feel most inspired by in life (maybe a good ritual to start the day) and then attend and nourish that even if in small ways.”
Five minutes after the last week-long retreat I led, my son and I were sitting on a lawn looking out over the expansive grounds and lush gardens, and he asked me, “What do you think the participants are taking with them from the retreat?” I thought about it for a moment and replied, “Hopefully, a greater sense of their real priorities and how to go about fulfilling them.”
Such a retreat, which is meant from the start to explore the bigger picture of life, is removed from the kinds of daily obligations, concerns and distractions we usually juggle. The intention is to dive into the priorities, experiences and yearnings that we may have forgotten about or never saw clearly in the first place. As you suggest in your comment above, that’s often tough to find in our day-to-day lives. Your choice of the word “confused” is well placed. And that confusion can become dangerous if it goes on for too long, as well articulated by Kathy Caprino in her Forbes magazine article, ‘The Top 8 Things People Desperately Desire But Can’t Seem To Attain’, which addresses what is often missing in the lives of those who are externally successful, many of whom make hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per year:
“What’s so intriguing about these responses is that it’s becoming more obvious with each passing year that the things we humans desperately long for today are not only universal and timeless, but also have become even more elusive and challenging to access and sustain, even as we ‘evolve’ and develop in this tech-frenzied, time-crushing world.”
Now, I don’t believe that Forbes magazine is going to solve the universal and timeless questions of what people desperately long for, or even what real priorities are. But it is good news that those who have made it in the world of social, career and ambition achievement are noticing that they desperately long for something else even so.
Of course, each of us has to determine what our most important personal priorities are. The list of the 8 most desperately longed for priorities in the linked Forbes article – in order, happiness, money, freedom, peace, joy, balance, fulfillment and confidence – seems significant enough, I suppose, although I wonder how much of the bigger picture these people are actually looking at. (For example, where is love, trust, relief from suffering for those they care about, or improvement for the afflicted world in which they live? I’d guess that having your own happiness and money as your first two priorities for too long would basically guarantee failure with all the rest on that list.) In any case, it is important to actually take the time and focus to seriously explore what our real priorities are, and I applaud all efforts to do so.
In my own explorations of the bigger picture, I’ve found that what we most desperately long for extends from our intrinsic values. I wrote about those values in this blog back in March 2015 and you can find that post here. For simplicity, though, I’ll list the five most essential universal and timeless values below (universal because they exist no matter what your race, age, gender, religion, political preference, education and beliefs are; and timeless because they are embedded as the primary themes in art, music, literature, myths, symbols and rituals in all cultures throughout recorded history):
1) Care / Protection
2) Fairness / Reciprocity
3) Ingroup / Loyalty
4) Authority / Respect
5) Purity / Sanctity
At a glance, those probably look like abstract ideas that you wouldn’t place on your top priority list. But if you look back over your life, isolate each of these intrinsic values and make them concretely specific, then look again, you may find that these are indeed what make up the bigger picture. For example, let me delineate this list with specifics that have consistently shown up in conversations with colleagues, friends and clients over decades in their most revealing moments…
- The care and protection of our wellbeing and vital enthusiasm for living, of those we love, and of our most treasured experiences; and being cared for by those we love.
- Fairness and reciprocity in our personal and professional relationships; and corrections made for abuses, negligence or blatant disregard of trusts given.
- Being oneself within a group of dependably loyal friends, family or colleagues who share the same interests and intent, and participating in activities and conversations that are exceptionally meaningful, rewarding and fun.
- Finding our true place as the authority of our chosen vocation and spheres of expertise, and receiving the appropriate acknowledgment and respect for all it took to get there and sustain it.
- Knowing and having consistent access to something, someone, someplace that generates the experiences of awe, serene faith and a return to innocence – an intuitive sense that the most important things are okay after all, now, and will be over the passage of time.
If you make your own list from these five intrinsic values with precise names, places, activities and designs, you will at least have greater clarity about what you deeply if not desperately long for, which is worthy knowledge from which to envision and construct real priorities. I don’t think we can do that in one sitting, nor can most of us access the necessary clarity as a ritual in-between juggling our daily obligations and practical concerns. But I do like the (also universal and timeless) ritual of stepping back from the usual grind once a week to reconsider what the bigger picture is and our place relative to it. And perhaps a couple of times each year for a longer length of time in an environment that allows for and promotes such reconsideration and exploration.
Making and having one’s own list, though, is not just a word or a thought game. A list is part of the process of clarifying awareness – a sort of map to those desperately longed-for destinations. In my last blog post, ‘Intensity of Aliveness’, the key point I was making is “setting alight the ideas by getting out of our heads into visceral engagement.” To define the bigger picture is an important, even radical start; then there is the traveling to the destinations – actually living in accordance with our real priorities. By doing so, we don’t only see and understand the bigger picture, we enter into it.