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Chapter 8, Kindling Your Inner Fire. Part 3
“A few of my partners are big on goal-setting. Come to think of it, they are the most financially successful people I know. But I don’t think they are the most balanced,” I observed.
“Perhaps they are not setting the right goals. You see, John, life pretty much gives you what you ask from it. Most people want to feel better, have more energy or live with greater satisfaction. Yet, when you ask them to tell you precisely what it is they want, they have no answer. You change your life the moment you set your goals and start to seek out your Dharma,” Julian said, his eyes sparkling with the truth of his words.
“Have you ever met someone with a strange name and then started to notice that name appearing everywhere: in newspapers, on the television or at the office? Or have you ever become interested in a new subject, let’s say fly fishing, and then noticed that you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about the wonders of fly fishing? This is but one illustration of the ageless principle Yogi Raman called joriki, which I have since learned means ‘concentrated mind.’ Concentrate every ounce of your mental energy on self-discovery. Learn what you excel at and what makes you happy. Maybe you are practicing law but are really meant to be a school teacher, given your patience and love of teaching. Perhaps you are a frustrated painter or sculptor. Whatever it is, find your passion and then follow it.”
“Now that I really think about it, it would be sad to reach the end of my life without realizing that I had some special genius that would have unlocked my potential and helped others — even in a small way.”
“That’s right. So from this moment onwards, be acutely aware of your aim in life. Awaken your mind to the abundance of possibility around you. Start to live with more zest. The human mind is the world’s largest filtering device. When used properly it filters out what you perceive as unimportant and gives you only the information you are looking for at that time. At this very moment, as we sit here in your living room, there are hundreds if not thousands of things going on that we are not paying any attention to. There is the sound of the lovers giggling as they stroll along the boardwalk, the goldfish in the tank behind you, the cool air being blown from the air conditioner and even the beat of my own heart. The moment I decide to concentrate on my heartbeat, I start to notice its rhythm and its qualities. Similarly, when you decide to start concentrating your mind on your life’s main aims, your mind starts to filter out the unimportant and focus only on the important.”
“To tell you the truth, I think it’s about time I discovered my purpose,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things in my life. But it isn’t as rewarding as I think it could be. If I left this world today, I really can’t say for sure that I’ve made that big a difference.”
“How does that make you feel?”
“Depressed,” I offered with total honesty. “I know I have talent. Actually, I was one heck of a good artist when I was younger. That was until the legal profession beckoned with the promise of a more stable life.”
“Do you ever wish you had made painting your profession?”
“I really haven’t given it much thought. But I will say one thing. When I painted I was in Heaven.”
“It really fired you up, didn’t it?”
“Absolutely. I lost track of time when I was in the studio painting. I would get lost in the canvas. It was a real release for me. It was almost as if I transcended time and moved into another dimension.”
“John, this is the power of concentrating your mind on a pursuit that you love. Goethe said that ‘we are shaped and fashioned by what we love.’ Maybe your Dharma is to brighten the world with lovely scenes. At least start spending a little time painting every day.”
“How about applying this philosophy to things less esoteric than changing my life?” I asked with a grin.
“This should be good.” Julian replied. “Like what?”
“Let’s say one of my aims, although a minor one, was to drop the spare tire I am carrying around my waist. Where would I start?”
“Don’t be embarrassed. You master the art of goal-setting — and goal getting — by starting off small.”
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step?” I asked intuitively.
“Precisely. And getting good at accomplishing little feats prepares you for realizing the big ones. So, to answer your question squarely, there is nothing wrong with mapping out a full range of smaller goals in the process of planning your bigger ones.”
Julian told me that the Sages of Sivana had created a five-step method to reach their objectives and fulfill the purposes of their lives. It was simple, practical and it worked. The first step was to form a clear mental image of the outcome. If this was to lose weight, Julian told me that every morning just after I woke up, I was to envision myself as a lean, fit person, full of vitality and boundless energy. The clearer this mental picture, the more effective the process would be. He said that the mind was the ultimate treasure house of power and this simple act of “picturing” my goal would open the gateway to the actualization of this desire. Step two was to get some positive pressure on myself.
“The main reason people do not follow through on any resolutions they make is that it is too easy to slip back into their old ways. Pressure is not always a bad thing. Pressure can inspire you to achieve great ends. People generally achieve magnificent things when their backs are up against the wall and they are forced to tap into the wellspring of human potential that lies within them.”
“How can I create this ‘positive pressure’ on myself?” I asked, now thinking about the possibilities of applying this method to everything from getting up earlier to being a more patient and loving father.
“There are a whole host of ways to do this. One of the best is the public pledge. Tell everyone you know that you will lose the excess weight or write that novel or whatever your goal might be. Once you make your goal known to the world, there will instantly be pressure on you to work towards its fulfillment since no one likes to look like a failure. In Sivana, my teachers used more dramatic means to create this positive pressure I speak of. They would declare to one another that if they did not follow through on their commitments, such as fasting for a week or getting up daily at 4:00 a.m. to meditate, they would go down to the icy waterfall and stand under it until their arms and legs went numb. This is an extreme illustration of the power that pressure can exert on the building of good habits and the attainment of goals.”
“‘Extreme’ might be an understatement, Julian. What a bizarre ritual!”
“Extremely effective though. The point is simply that when you train your mind to associate pleasure with good habits and punishment with bad ones, your weaknesses will quickly fall by the wayside.”
“You said there were five steps to follow to make my desires come true.” I said impatiently. “What are the remaining three?”
“Yes, John. Step one is to have a clear vision of your outcome. Step two is to create positive pressure to keep you inspired. The third step is a simple one: never set a goal without attaching a timeline to it. To breathe life into a goal you must attach a precise deadline to it. It’s just like when you are preparing cases for court; you always focus your attention on the ones the judge has scheduled to be heard tomorrow rather than on the ones without any court date.
“Oh, and by the way,” explained Julian, “remember that a goal that is not committed to paper is no goal at all. Go out and buy a journal — a cheap coil notepad will do. Call this your Dream Book and fill it with all your desires, objectives and dreams. Get to know yourself and what you are all about.”
“Don’t I already know myself?”
“Most people don’t. They have never taken the time to know their strengths, their weaknesses, their hopes, their dreams. The Chinese define image in these terms: there are three mirrors that form a person’s reflection; the first is how you see yourself, the second is how others see you and the third mirror reflects the truth. Know yourself, John. Know the truth.
“Divide your Dream Book into separate sections for goals relating to the different areas of your life. For example you might have sections for your physical fitness goals, your financial goals, your personal empowerment goals, your relationship and social goals and, perhaps most importantly, your spiritual goals.”
“Hey, that sounds like fun! I’ve never thought about doing something as creative as that for myself. I really should start challenging myself more,” I said.
“I agree. Another particularly effective technique I learned is to fill your Dream Book with pictures of the things you desire and images of people who have cultivated the abilities, talents and qualities that you hope to emulate. Getting back to you and your ‘spare tire,’ if you want to lose weight and be in outstanding physical shape, paste a picture of a marathon runner or an elite athlete in your Dream Book. If you want to be the world’s finest husband, why not clip out a picture of someone who represents this — perhaps your father — and put it into your journal in the relationship section. If you are dreaming of a mansion by the sea or a sports car, find an inspiring picture of these objects and use them for your book of dreams. Then review this book daily, even for a few minutes. Make it your friend. The results will startle you.”
“This is pretty revolutionary stuff, Julian. I mean, though these ideas have been around for centuries, everybody I know today could improve the quality of their daily lives by applying even a few of them. My wife would love to have a Dream Book. She’d probably fill it with pictures of me without my notorious belly.”
“It’s really not that big,” Julian suggested in a consoling tone.
“Then why does Jenny call me Mr. Donut?” I said, breaking into a broad smile.
Julian started to laugh. I had to follow. Soon the two of us were howling on the floor.
“I guess if you can’t laugh at yourself who can you laugh at?” I said, still giggling.
“Very true, my friend. When I was chained to my former lifestyle, one of my main problems was that I took life too seriously. Now I am much more playful and childlike. I enjoy all of life’s gifts, no matter how small they are.”
“But I have digressed. I have so much to tell you and it is all flowing out of me at once.”
“Back to the five-step method to attain your aims and realize your goals. Once you have formed a clear mental picture of your outcome, created a little pressure behind it, set a deadline and committed it to paper, the next step is to apply what Yogi Raman called The Magic Rule of 21. The learned men and women of his world believed that, for new behavior to crystallize into a habit, one had to perform the new activity for twenty-one days in a row.”
“What’s so special about twenty-one days?”
“The sages were absolute masters of creating new, more rewarding habits which governed the conduct of their lives. Yogi Raman once told me that a bad habit once acquired could never be erased.”
“But all evening you have been inspiring me to change the way I live my life. How can I possibly do this if I can never erase any of my bad habits?”
“I said that bad habits can never be erased. I did not say that negative habits could not be replaced,” Julian noted with precision.
“Oh Julian, you always were the King of Semantics. But I think I see your point.”
“The only way to permanently install a new habit is to direct so much energy toward it that the old one slips away like an unwelcome house guest. The installation is generally complete in about twenty-one days, the time it takes to create a new neural pathway.”
“Say I wanted to start practicing the Heart of the Rose technique to erase the worry habit and live at a more peaceful pace. Do I have to do it at the same time every day?”
“Good question. The first thing I will tell you is that you never have to do anything. Everything I am sharing with you tonight I am offering as a friend who is genuinely interested in your growth and development. Every strategy, tool and technique has been tested over time for effectiveness and measurable results. This I assure you. And though my heart tells me that I should implore you to try all of the methods of the sages, my conscience tells me to simply follow my duty and share the wisdom with you, leaving its implementation up to you. My point is this: never do anything because you have to. The only reason to do something is because you want to and because you know it is the right thing for you to do.”
“Sounds reasonable, Julian. Don’t worry, I haven’t felt for even a moment that you were forcing any of this information down my throat. Anyway, the only thing that could ever be forced down my throat these days would be a box of donuts — and that wouldn’t take much,” I quipped.