We’re a funny lot, us human beings. We’re walking contradictions, every one of us. Gratitude for the things we’ve achieved is too often outweighed by regret for those we haven’t. Do you know what I mean? It sometimes seems that whatever we’re doing, and however successfully we’re doing it, there’s always some other part of our nature that’s being neglected or forgotten about. And those dreams and ambitions we had that got buried or pushed aside by the inevitable daily round of duties and responsibilities have a nasty way of surfacing when we least expect it. Have you ever delved into your loft or basement on an errand to find some trivial item only to have your partner calling to you after half an hour, wondering what the hell you’re doing up there?
“Nothing darling. Just wallowing in nostalgia and regret”.
You caught sight of that guitar, the one you were so determined to learn how to play. The watercolour set that you never even opened. The beginnings of a novel in that dusty old notebook that you promised yourself you’d finish. And on and on. There’s a story we tell ourselves at moments like this. It’s the one that goes: ‘Ah well, we can’t do everything. We can’t fulfil every need, pursue every dream. There are only so many hours in the day. Not to mention these bills that need paying. Maybe next year…’
All very plausible, but let’s look at it more deeply. What actually are our needs at the end of the day? One of the first life coaches to inspire me when I started on my personal development journey was Tony Robbins. He pretty much nailed it with his ‘Hierarchy of Human Needs’. He said there are four basic ones: Certainty, Variety, Love and Significance. And a clue to our feelings of regret when we think of our unrealised ambitions is in those first two, certainty and variety. They are seemingly at odds with each other. We need certainty, which means money, which means getting a job. But we also need variety, which means having plenty of free time to develop our talents and skills.
So then are we doomed to a life of compromise and regret?
The only answer I can give is my deep conviction that Mind has our backs, that the only thing stopping us from doing anything at all is that old familiar story. It’s been told by a purely illusory self, created from nothing but thought. He or she has ‘let opportunities slip by’, ‘squandered time’, ‘missed the boat’ etc etc. We are spiritual beings in human form with unlimited potential but as yet we haven’t cracked mortality, and sometimes our limited lifespan can weigh heavily, such as when we’re in a low mood.
Strange but true is the fact that time expands and contracts according to our state of mind. When we are fully engaged in any activity that we love there’s a very real sense of time standing still. As Carl Jung said ‘where our attention goes our energy flows’, and when we’re in this highly desirable state the mastery of seemingly impossible skills can seem effortless and fun. It’s really as simple as that.
Remember that physically and emotionally we are not the same people who first had the thought: ‘I’d really like to …” learn that instrument, learn to draw, learn Spanish, whatever it is. So all you need is a good feeling in the moment, free of made-up negative thoughts about who you are, where you’ve come from, what you’ve achieved or haven’t achieved, in order to launch yourself into whatever activity you choose, and so enrich your life.
Tony Robbins didn’t stop at those four basic needs by the way. He highlighted two others that he termed ‘spiritual needs’. It could be argued that these are in the end more important than the others. They are Growth and Contribution. Here we have the same apparent contradiction. How can we grow as an individual while at the same time satisfying our need to give to others?
But maybe there’s no real contradiction after all. Feeding our souls by making music or art, taking up fishing or golf can expand our consciousness, meaning we have more to give. And by the same token it seems the more love and support we give to others – not just family and friends but in the world at large – the more clarity we achieve, and so more focused on our own needs we become.
Those ambitions you feel you abandoned are right where you left them. Blow the dust off and start again.