‘Today “What do I want?” is the only question I ask.’
From an early age, I heard the advice ‘Be yourself’ but didn’t have a clue what that meant. All I knew about myself is what others told me, particularly those who used the words, ‘you should’ or ‘you must’. I was never asked what I wanted. I was told what I wanted. When I obeyed others all went seemingly well but, within, I was empty and didn’t know it. I had no inner guide.
Fast forward sixty years, still two decades ago, when I was helping college students choose their next steps in life. The first question I asked them was ‘Who am I?’. My own answer then was three sentences long, citing my experience, abilities, age and gender. Today my response is one word: choice. I am choice.
I have come to believe that what distinguishes humans from anything else in creation is our power of choice. The most important question I can ask is ‘What do I want?’, then wait in stillness for a positive answer.
I have lived, and am living, longer and better than over seven billion of the almost eight billion people alive today. Who am I to ask for more? I don’t have to spend time on questions such as ‘Does God exist?’ or ‘What happens when my body dies?’. Today ‘What do I want?’ is the only question I ask.
These days, I have a relaxed, repetitive, daily practice in which I choose to pay attention to positive unplanned thoughts – intuitions that guide me in my affairs. I choose to practise an ever-increasing list of values – spiritual principles – one day at a time.
I have found that these values are the response to my question, ‘What do I want?’. The first two on the list are humility and equality. The last two are courage and gratitude. These have come to me from a variety of sources: Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and writings of contemporary seekers of meaning and vision.
I listen to, and observe without judgment, the intuitions that come to me, leaving the negative ones alone. I choose only positive intuitions to guide my actions. I accept my inner darkness as a friend. Just as a galaxy is bright light from creation with a black hole at its centre, so are we human animals. I have come to believe that intuition is one of our highest and least-practised capacities, and that those who do manage it become known as pioneers and inventors, or world-class writers, artists or athletes, benefiting us all.
By following their vision, these people sometimes pay with their lives, as US psychologist William James showed in the Gifford lectures on Natural Theology at the University of Edinburgh 120 years ago. At the end of the day, when I choose positive rather than negative, creation rather than destruction, light rather than darkness, I am exactly what creation created me for. For that I say, ‘Thank you!’.
This article is taken from a talk he gave to the Quaker Universalist Group.
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