There has been an increasing incidence of mental disorders following the financial and energy crises, COVID, Ukraine, and the current cost-of-living crisis.
Most of these are once-in-a-lifetime external shocks and could easily be blamed for the current mental health malaise but the trend was building already.
Why? Because of our growing reliance on twentieth century observation, "What gets measured gets managed" to motivate people in our organisations.
Measures have supplanted meaning
This mindset sparked society's increasing fixation with external metrics such as quarterly earnings, goals, targets, deadlines, grades, hits, likes, numbers of followers, etc. It has drawn our attention outside of ourselves at the expense of the inside. “Don’t just sit there, do something!” has been the mantra rather than “Don’t just do something, sit there (and think why)!”.
To accede to these external measures, we have become dislocated increasingly, from the processes from which the results ensue; from each other, and from who we really are, with a consequent cost to our mental well-being. Measures have supplanted meaning.
There will always be adverse external circumstances for that is the nature of life. What’s critical to mental well-being, however, is how we engage internally with our external circumstances, and that is 100% down to us.
How do we engage internally? The answer lies with the Delphic "Know thyself" and with Shakespeare's "Know thyself and to thine own self be true.” What they are saying is know who you really are and configure your life to be true to that. You will continue to experience life’s chaos, but will also experience the joy, fulfilment, and inner peace that come from being authentic, or true to yourself.
Before you can be true to yourself, however, you need to know who you really are. The world's greatest sages, philosophers, psychologists and beyond have yet to agree a definitive answer as to who we really are. Therefore, the definition of ‘Self’ I describe here is a practical, working model that I use to guide me through life.
A model is never the thing it represents and is not the truth. As world-renowned statistician George E. P. Box said, “All models are wrong, but some are useful,” Models are useful to the extent that they can predict outcomes in all situations for which they are designed. This model applies to all life’s situations.
We exist at two levels - the self and the Self
The model assumes that we exist at two levels. The first, is at the level of mind which you experience as your thoughts, your feelings, your identity, your persona, your ego etc. This is your ‘self’ with a small ‘s’. We identify easily with this level; in fact, most people do not get beyond believing that their thoughts and personality are who they are.
The role of the self or the mind is not to think, or to have thoughts but, primarily, to ensure that the mind’s body, your body, survives and indeed thrives in worldly situations, using thought to effect this. In doing this, our minds generate our perception that we believe is reality.
The mind also files its experiences of life, as transmitted to it through the five senses, into its filing system and processes these files in the moment, to guide you (your body) through similar situations, using thoughts and your identity.
Your identity is that system of strengths which have worked for you in the past, and weaknesses, created by your mind, to ensure that you survive life and its situations. Being your mind’s best effort at identity creation, it will resist to the death, perversely, any attempt to impugn your (its) identity.
The key role of this mind level of the self, is to have your body-mind survive.
You are not your self
Your thoughts, feelings, personality, and identity, change, however. Who you are now is not who you were five years ago, last year, or even last week. Who you will be next year will be different from who you are now.
Your feelings, similarly, are based on your perception of yourself and your circumstances, and like your circumstances, they come and go. Because they are always changing, who you are is not your thoughts, personality, or body.
What never changes, however, is your awareness of your thoughts, personality, and body. Every situation that you have ever experienced in life, including now, has taken place in your awareness. Nothing can occur without your being aware of it.
You may have noticed that as your body ages and changes, your awareness does not change. Whatever happens to you or your body in life, never affects your awareness. You could experience the most horrific car accident and have your body completely dismembered, yet this would all occur within your awareness and your awareness would still remain unchanged.
You are your Self
This unchanging awareness represents the second level of who you are, and it is often called your higher Self, and written as ‘Self’ with a capital ‘S’.
In summary, at one level, you are your identity, which participates in and engages with worldly circumstances, events, and situations to have you survive, and is your self.
At another level, you are the awareness of your identity, thoughts, worldly circumstances, and situations. This is your higher Self.
What is your purpose?
Whether you experience joy, fulfilment and inner peace is determined by the purpose you choose for your life and whether in choosing, you are being true to your Self.
Everything in the universe has a purpose and you have too. The question is, whether you have chosen your life’s purpose or whether you’ve accepted a default purpose.
You participate in the world through your body, so the first part to fulfilling your purpose is to exist or be here in a form that can fulfil its purpose. In other words, the first part of your purpose is to survive.
The purpose of your level one self, your mind, is to have your body-mind survive. This is its programming so all your thoughts and actions, by default, are designed to have you survive. In today’s world, particularly in the West, survival manifests as being successful. Your default purpose, managed for you by your mind, is to be successful.
Being true to this version of yourself is interpreted by using your identity’s strengths and avoiding its weaknesses to bring you success in the eyes of the world. This indeed ticks all the boxes of what constitutes a life in which you have ‘made it’.
For example, perhaps you were bad at PE at school but good at maths, so in choosing your career, you trained as an accountant and avoided trying to be a professional rugby player. In other words, to earn your living you utilised your strengths and avoided your weaknesses. Eventually, you became a partner in the firm, bought the house on the hill and were deemed by all to have ‘made it’.
Most people live this way - or at least, try to. They avoid what they’re bad at and do what they’re good at and Aristotle would not disagree: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.” In other words, do what you’re good at, and what the world wants, and get paid for it.
Is that it?
But while some may be very successful at this, many get to the point where, having been supremely successful and made piles of money, they are left wondering, “Is this what it’s all about?” They’ve been successful, happy even, but not necessarily fulfilled. And these are the successful ones!
The trouble is, doing what you’re good at and what may come easily to you can divert you from doing what you are called to do by your higher Self. This calling may initially prove a more difficult hill to climb - and though you may gain the trappings of success by taking a traditional/easier route, you are left unfulfilled.
Or contribution and service?
This is because while the lower self exists to have your body and identity survive, your higher Self exists to serve the whole (ie humanity, life, the world, the universe). It has no interest in the survival of the body other than as a medium for contribution and service. Your purpose, as well as to survive, is to answer the call of your higher Self to contribute and serve in the way that you choose.
Contribute and serve how?
During my Purpose, Vision, Mission, Principles seminar, I ask participants: “What is the one true purpose of your life?” Very few respond with “to survive”, although a few may come up with variants of being successful in some way. But the longer participants are given to consider the question for themselves, the more of them will respond with some variant of “To make a difference” or “To have made a difference.”
Made a difference in what? And the answer is: how we are now. That to which we have evolved. We want to do our bit toward that and our future evolution.
Your contribution to human evolution
A few thousand years ago humans were scratching around looking for nuts and berries, living in caves, and would be now if it weren’t for those who said, “There is a better way”. Those who innovated and invented fire, the wheel, steam, internal combustion, the light bulb, windows (both sorts) and the internet, are all examples of this.
Humanity has evolved and is evolving because some among us not only existed but used their existence to better the lot of the human condition. Of course, now that we recognise the degradation of the planet, that contribution and service includes not just to humanity but to the world, to nature and its wildlife, if humanity is to survive and continue to evolve.
How we each contribute and serve is our choice and utilises, but is not restricted to, the strengths that comprise our identity (for a deeper analysis of purpose see post ‘Choose the purpose that calls to you for a life of blood, sweat, tears, and inner peace’). In contributing, however, our primary motivation is service rather than easy income generation; we are not using our strengths to get, but to give.
It’s not about the money
The return we receive from contributing to the world, however, is not money. That’s a by-product. The pay-off we get when we contribute and serve is also not just happiness and excitement, although we do feel these. It’s a deeper fulfilment, and joy, at doing what we came here to do. It is an inner peace that pervades who we are being, as we contribute to the betterment of others, even if our own life's circumstances are not as we would wish them to be.
As Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
It’s about contribution
To experience the joy, fulfilment, and inner peace that is mental well-being, you must be true to your Self, making your contribution to the world in the way that calls to you, and utilises those strengths for which you have a passion. You have a purpose, both to exist and to use your gifts in the service of others.
Actually, to get the most from them, assume that your gifts are for others.
By Christopher Jones-Warner
Recommended further reading:
Start with Why - Simon Sinek
Find Your Why - Simon Sinek
Be Your Future Self Now - Dr Benjamin Hardy
The Big Leap - Dr Gay Hendricks
The Genius Zone - Dr Gay Hendricks
The Power of Intention - Dr Wayne Dyer
The Mystical Messiah - Alan Cohen
Unique Ability 2.0 - Catherine Nomura, Julia Waller, Shannon Waller