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Chapter 9, The Ancient Art of Self-Leadership. Part 2
“What does courage have to do with self-leadership and personal development?” I wondered aloud.
“Courage allows you to run your own race. Courage allows you to do whatever you want to do because you know that it is right. Courage gives you the self-control to persist where others have failed. Ultimately, the degree of courage you live with determines the amount of fulfillment you receive. It allows you to truly realize all the exquisite wonders of the epic that is your life. And those who master themselves have an abundance of courage.”
“Okay. I am starting to understand the power of working on myself. Where do I start?”
Julian returned to his conversation with Yogi Raman high atop the mountains, on what he remembered as a remarkably starry and gloriously beautiful night.
“Initially, I too had trouble with the notion of self-improvement. After all, I was a tough, Harvard-trained legal gunslinger who had no time for New Age theories forced on me by what I thought were people with bad haircuts who hung out at airports. I was wrong. It was this close-mindedness that was holding my life back all of those years. The more I listened to Yogi Raman and the more I reflected on the pain and suffering of my former world, the more I welcomed the philosophy of kaizen, constant and never-ending enrichment of the mind, body and soul, into my new life,” Julian asserted.
“Why am I hearing so much about the ‘mind, body and soul’ these days? It seems I can’t even turn on the tube without someone making mention of it.”
“This is the trilogy of your human endowments. To improve your mind without the cultivation of your physical gifts would be a very hollow victory. Elevating your mind and body to their highest level without nurturing your soul would leave you feeling very empty and unfulfilled. But when you dedicate your energies to unlocking the full potential of all three of your human endowments, you will taste the divine ecstacy of an enlightened life.”
“You’ve got me pretty excited, pal.”
“As to your question about where to start, I promise that I will give you a number of ancient yet powerful techniques in a few moments. But first I must share a practical illustration with you. Get into push-up position.”
‘Good grief, Julian’s become a drill sergeant,’ I silently thought. Being curious and wishing to keep my cup empty, I complied.
“Now do as many push-ups as you can possibly do. Don’t stop until you truly are certain that you cannot do any more.”
I struggled with the exercise, my two-hundred-and-fifteen-pound frame not being used to much more than walking to the nearest McDonald’s with my kids or meandering through a round of golf with my law partners. The first fifteen push-ups were pure agony. With the heat of that summer evening adding to my discomfort, I started to sweat profusely. However, I was determined not to show any signs of weakness and carried on until my vanity started to give way along with my arms. At twenty-three push-ups I gave up.
“No more, Julian. This is killing me. What are you trying to do here?”
“Are you certain that you can’t do any more?”
“I’m sure. C’mon, give me a break. The only lesson I’m going to learn from this is what to do for a heart attack.”
“Do ten more. Then you can rest,” commanded Julian.
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
But I continued. One. Two. Five. Eight. And finally ten. I lay on the floor in total exhaustion.
“I went through precisely the same experience with Yogi Raman the night he shared his special fable with me,” said Julian. “He told me that pain was a great teacher.”
“What could anyone possibly learn from an experience like this?” I asked breathlessly.
“Yogi Raman, and all of the Sages of Sivana for that matter, believed that people grow the most when they enter the Zone of the Unknown.”
“Okay. But what does that have to do with making me do all those push-ups?”
“You told me after you had done twenty-three that you couldn’t do any more. You told me that this was your absolute limit. Yet, when I challenged you to do more, you responded with another ten push-ups. You had more inside you and when you reached for your resources, you received more. Yogi Raman explained a fundamental truth to me whilst I was his student: ‘The only limits on your life are those that you set yourself.’ When you dare to get out of your circle of comfort and explore the unknown, you start to liberate your true human potential. This is the first step towards self-mastery and mastery over every other circumstance in your life. When you push beyond your limits, just as you did in this little demonstration, you unlock mental and physical reserves that you never thought you had.”
‘Fascinating,’ I thought. Come to think of it, I had recently read in a book that the average person uses only a minute measure of his human capacity. I wondered what we could do if we started using the remaining reservoir of our abilities.
Julian sensed he was on a roll.
“You practice the art of kaizen by pushing yourself daily. Work hard to improve your mind and body. Nourish your spirit. Do the things you fear. Start to live with unbridled energy and limitless enthusiasm. Watch the sun rise. Dance in a rain shower. Be the person you dream of being. Do the things you have always wanted to do but didn’t because you tricked yourself into believing that you were too young, too old, too rich or too poor. Prepare to live a soaring, fully alive life. In the East they say that luck favors the prepared mind. I believe that life favors the prepared mind.”
Julian continued his passionate discourse. “Identify the things that are holding you back. Are you scared of speaking or do you have trouble in your relationships? Do you lack a positive attitude or do you need more energy? Make a written inventory of your weaknesses. Satisfied people are far more thoughtful than others. Take the time to reflect on what it is that might be keeping you from the life you really want and know deep down you can have. Once you have identified what your weaknesses are, the next step is to face them head on and attack your fears. If you fear public speaking, sign up to give twenty speeches. If you fear starting a new business or getting out of a dissatisfying relationship, muster every ounce of your inner resolve and do it. This might be the first taste of real freedom that you have experienced in years. Fear is nothing more than a mental monster you have created, a negative stream of consciousness.”
“Fear is nothing more than a negative stream of consciousness? I like that. You mean all my fears are nothing more than imaginary little gremlins that have crept into my mind over the years?”
“Exactly, John. Every time they have prevented you from taking some action, you have added fuel to their fire. But when you conquer your fears, you conquer your life.”
“I need an example.”
“Sure. Let’s take public speaking, an activity most people fear more than death itself. When I was a litigator, I actually saw lawyers who were scared of stepping into court. They would do anything, including settling their client’s otherwise worthy cases just to avoid the pain of getting up on their feet inside a packed courtroom.”
“I’ve seen them too.”
“Do you actually think that they were born with this fear?”
“I sure hope not.”
“Study a baby. She has no limits. Her mind is a lush landscape of potential and possibility. Properly cultivated, it will lead her to greatness. Filled with negativity, it will lead her to mediocrity, at best. What I am saying is this: no experience, whether it is public speaking or asking your boss for a raise or swimming in a sun-soaked lake or walking along the beach on a moonlit night, is inherently painful or pleasant. It is your thinking that makes it so.”
“A baby could be trained to view a glorious sunny day as depressing. A child could be trained to see a puppy as a vicious animal. An adult could be trained to see a drug as a pleasant vehicle for release. It’s all a matter of conditioning, isn’t it?”
“The same holds true of fear. Fear is a conditioned response: a life-sucking habit that can easily consume your energy, creativity and spirit if you are not careful. When fear rears its ugly head, beat it down quickly. The best way to do that is to do the thing you fear. Understand the anatomy of fear. It is your own creation. Like any other creation, it is just as easy to tear it down as it is to erect it. Methodically search for and then destroy every fear that has secretly slid into the fortress of your mind. This alone will give you enormous confidence, happiness and peace of mind.”
“Can a person’s mind actually be fully fearless?” I asked.
“Great question. The answer is an unequivocal and emphatic ‘Yes!’ Each and every one of the Sages of Sivana was absolutely fearless. You could see it in the way they walked. You could see it in the way they talked. You could see it when you looked deep into their eyes and I’ll tell you something else, John.”
“What,” I asked, fascinated by what I was hearing.
“I too am fearless. I know myself and I have come to see that my natural state is one of indomitable strength and unlimited potential. It was just that I was blocked by all those years of selfneglect and unbalanced thinking. I’ll tell you another thing. When you erase fear from your mind, you start to look younger and your health becomes more vibrant.”
‘Ah, the old mind-body connection,” I replied, hoping to mask my ignorance.
“Yes. The sages of the East have known about it for over five thousand years. Hardly ‘new age,'” he said, with a broad grin lighting up his radiant face.
“The sages shared another powerful principle with me which I think about often. I think it will be invaluable to you as you walk the path of self-leadership and personal mastery. It has given me motivation at times when I feel like taking things easy. The philosophy can be stated succinctly: what sets highly actualized people apart from those who never live inspired lives is that they do those things that less developed people don’t like doing—even though they might not like doing them either.
“Truly enlightened people, those who experience deep happiness daily, are prepared to put off short-term pleasure for the sake of long-term fulfillment. So they tackle their weaknesses and fears head on, even if dipping into the zone of the unknown brings with it a measure of discomfort. They resolve to live by the wisdom of kaizen, improving every aspect of themselves ceaselessly and continuously. With time, things that were once difficult become easy. Fears that once prevented them from all the happiness, health and prosperity they deserved fall to the wayside like stickmen toppled by a hurricane.”
“So you’re suggesting that I must change myself before I change my life?”
“Yes. It’s like that old story my favorite professor told me when I was in law school. One night a father was relaxing with his newspaper after a long day at the office. His son, who wanted to play, kept on pestering him. Finally, fed up, the father ripped out a picture of the globe that was in the paper and tore it into a hundred tiny pieces. ‘Here son, go ahead and try to put this back together.’ he said, hoping that this would keep the little boy busy long enough for him to finish reading his paper. To his amazement, his son returned after only one minute with the globe perfectly back together. When the startled father asked how he achieved this feat, the son smiled gently and replied ‘Dad, on the other side of the globe there was a picture of a person, and once I got the person together, the world was okay.'”
“That’s a great story.”
“You see John, the wisest people I have ever met, from the Sages of Sivana to my professors at Harvard Law School, all seem to know the key formula for happiness.”
“Do continue,” I said with a hint of impatience.
“It’s precisely what I said earlier: happiness comes through the progressive realization of a worthy objective. When you are doing what you truly love to do you are bound to find deep contentment.”
“If happiness comes to everyone who simply does what they love doing, why are so many people miserable?”
“Fair point, John. Doing what you love, whether this means giving up the work you are presently doing to become an actor or spending less time on those things that are less important to make time for those things that are more meaningful, requires a great deal of courage. It requires you to step out of your comfort zone. And change is always a little uncomfortable at first. It is also more than a little risky. Having said this, this is the surest way to design a more joyful life.”