Values, Decisions, and Inner Peace
Who Am I and Where am I Going?
Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Have you ever stopped to really think about who you are and where you are going in your life? It is not something we like to dwell on very much. The answers aren’t always so clear or easy to make in this sometimes frightening world. We might have a good idea of some aspects of our life, like what we want to do academically or professionally. But many parts of our lives remain undiscovered. This may be due to fear of finding what might be there, or it may be because we simply don’t know how to look. Several of our great thinkers had these wise words regarding how we become who we are. Think about these quotes for a moment:
The mind is everything; what you think, you become. – Buddha
You are today where your thoughts have brought you. You will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you. – James Allen
We become what we think about. – Napoleon Hill
A man is what he thinks about all day long. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
As a man Thinketh in his heart, so is he – David, the psalmist
These men understood that what happens in our regular thinking patterns; brings about the type of person each of us becomes. Sometimes it is difficult to make the best decisions. We find ourselves struggling to choose between several alternatives. But it is our decisions that we make on a moment to moment basis create the future that we will live. All decision making comes down to how we value those things on which we are deciding – always. When you know what is most important to you, making decisions is a simple process. When you aren’t sure what you value most in a situation, making the best one for you is more difficult.
Think about the people who we tend to respect the most in our culture. They are usually those who have clearly defined values and live by them. Mahatma Gandhi was a perfect example of a person who was very clear about what was most important to him. Despite going up against impossible odds, living according to his highest values ultimately brought about the freeing of an entire nation. Gandhi was very clear about his values. He knew that his choices and behavior followed them. He was driven by his values instead of being driven by his emotions or the circumstances in his environment.
Why should we discover our Values?
There is a principle in Buddhism called Dharma. It is a rather complex principle, but one aspect of it has to do with the idea of a jigsaw puzzle. Consider the possibility that each one of us that has ever lived is a specific piece of an enormous puzzle of several billion pieces (one for each person). This is a very large puzzle. Consider, further, that your own personal piece of this gigantic puzzle is a specific size and shape and fits correctly in only one precise place in this puzzle. Your piece of this puzzle does not fit in any other place on the puzzle board. In other words, you are not able to be another puzzle piece; you can only be your own. Dharma teaches us that when you find out what your puzzle piece is all about, you find satisfaction in life; you feel fulfilled, happy, content, and worthwhile. When a person aimlessly wanders about not even knowing about the pieces of the puzzle, or tries to be someone else’s piece, thinking that is the appropriate way to be and do things, this person is likely to find confusion, unhappiness, despair. As Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” This is what he was talking about. People are not living according to their own puzzle piece, which is uniquely theirs and entirely necessary to find out. This is stressful.
What happens when we do live according to our own puzzle piece? The natural consequences are inner peace, wisdom and happiness. We feel fulfilled and satisfied with ourselves and the direction in which our life is going when we are certain about who we are. What happens when we don’t discover our real purpose for being? What are the consequences of not knowing what our inner nature is and following that path but instead, following someone else’s perfect way which is not perfect for us? Anthony Robbins describes what commonly happens when people don’t take a good look at who they are and where they are going. He calls it the Niagara Syndrome and it goes like this:
“…Life is like a river, and most people jump on the river of life without ever really deciding where they want to end up. So, in a short period of time, they get caught up in the current. current events, current fears, and current challenges. When they come to forks in the river, they don't consciously decide where they want to go, or which direction is right for them. They merely "go with the flow." They become a part of the mass of people who are directed by the environment instead of by their own values. As a result, they feel out of control. They remain in this unconscious state until one day the sound of the raging water awakens them and they discover that they are 5 feet from Niagara Falls in a boat with no oars. At this point, all they can say is, "oh, shoot!" But by then it's too late. They are going to take a fall. Sometimes it's an emotional fall. Sometimes it's a physical fall. Sometimes it's a financial fall. It is likely that what ever challenges you have in your life currently could have been avoided by some better decisions upstream.” (Robbins, 41-42).
A similar analogy is about the person who spends his entire life climbing up the ladder of success only to realize, when he arrives at the top of the ladder, that his ladder which he has been climbing for such a long time, is leaning against the wrong wall. We commonly call the experience this person
has when he comes to this realization of leaning against the wrong wall, or coming upon the waterfall, a midlife crisis. This person goes through deep emotional trauma asking himself such penetrating questions as, “How did I get to this point in my life?" Or, "What have I done with my life?" As Tony Robbins mentions, making the choice to flow in a different river or climb up the different ladder would have resulted in a far different experience.
Knowing what our values are and then learning to live by them is one of the most powerful ways to gain inner peace and decrease stress levels. Not only does this apply to the bigger life decisions, but our everyday choice making as well. As an example, consider the man who deeply values his relationship with his wife and kids. He is a family man. But frequently, during his workday, he spends excessive amounts of time with other women, taking them out to lunch and buying expensive gifts for them. If this man has a conscience of any kind, he will very likely feel quite unpleasant feelings within himself because his actions do not match the things he considers that are most important. Another person who values honesty highly will feel some very uncomfortable feelings when she cheats on a test or shoplifts a nice shirt that she really wants. When our actions are not in line with our values, the natural emotional consequence is stress.
On the other hand, the person who values the personality trait of love and compassion, and who spends large amounts of time volunteering in a hospice will find deep feelings of peace and contentment because her actions are in line with her behavior. The more our behavior is out of line with our values, the more stress and inner chaos we will feel.
This chapter is about helping us find out what is our own puzzle piece and then discovering what this piece of the puzzle is all about. It is a chapter on real self-discovery. Because once we find out who we really are and what our life is about, we can then make choices that support that life instead of a life where we are wandering aimlessly like a boat with no rudder to guide it along.
On one occasion, when I was about 24, I was jogging. I was nearing the end of a fairly long run. I was feeling very good as the endorphins were cruising and second wind was well in place. I was at that place where I felt like I could jog forever. I wasn't really thinking of anything in particular when suddenly an overwhelming thought occurred to me. It sounded something like this, "Damn! This is my life I am living here! My life is nobody else’s to live. I can only live this life and all I will ever have is my life. But when I go along with the crowd, I'm not living my life. When I follow the direction that my parents, my teachers, my coaches think is best for me, I am not living my own life. My life is mine to choose. And if I don't start choosing, it's going to pass me by.” I knew then and there that I did not want to come to the end of my life and think that I had settled for mediocrity; that I had gotten so caught up in the day-to-day stuff that I had lost all awareness of what was really important to me. I did not want my final words, when it was time to depart from this life, to be, "if only."
I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately.
Try it as many times as you think necessary.
This question is one that only a very old man asks …
Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good;
if it doesn’t, it is of no use. – Carlos Castaneda
Finding out what’s most Important – Our Values
In order for us to make positive change in the direction of our own true path, there are several beliefs that we must firmly maintain in our minds that will support us as we begin our journey. Here are these beliefs:
1. We must first believe that we are capable of changing now. Regardless of our current situation we have the capacity and the ability to make any changes that we feel are appropriate.
2. We must also have the belief that if we are going to create long-term change in our lives, that we are responsible. Nobody else is going to do it for us. It requires our own decision, our own motivation, and our own action.
3. We must have the belief that if we set our sites in a new direction, and then move confidently in that direction, we will successfully arrive near the place we wanted to go. Henry David Thoreau wrote: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success in uncommon hours.”
4. We must be certain that our values determine our actions and behaviors. We may not be clear about what we value, but our choices are dependent on what we feel is most important to us. In other words, all decision making is based on values clarification.
It is appropriate to ask, at this point, what a value really is. Rokeach said that values are “enduring beliefs that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence. Allport described a value as “a belief upon which one acts by preference.” When we place importance on something that we cherish we are valuing that trait, ideal, or characteristic.
Rokeach, in his book titled The Nature of Human Values. says there are two kinds of values that people have: "instrumental values " and "terminal values ". Instrumental values consist, primarily, of personal characteristic and character traits. Terminal values are those things that we can work toward or we think are most important and that we feel are most desirable. The following two tables illustrate examples of instrumental and terminal values.