As a kid, I used to love playing the game of Life, where you start out with a car and a choice of two pathways -- the college path, which takes a bit longer but can lead to a higher salary, or the working path, which gets you off to a faster start but can cost you later on in the game.
In the game of "Real Life," I've noticed that there are three pathways we can take, each one of which leads to a completely different experience of and relationship with our circumstances, dreams, and goals...
1. The Victim's Path
"I don't see the glass as half empty. I see it as half full -- of poison." -- Woody Allen
Let me be clear -- to the best of my understanding, nobody chooses to be a victim. In fact, it is our perceived lack of choice that causes us to experience life as something that happens to us without our consent, is taken away from us without our consent, and filled with so many bumps and jolts that the best we can hope for is that our next life will be better than this one.
That's not to say the victim path doesn't involve some action. While we certainly can lose a few years (or even decades) drifting along with no real sense of direction, meaning, or purpose, we may also fight to right a few wrongs, give our kids a better start than we had, and chase the odd pipe dream like a lottery win, an idea that leads to millions when the big companies buy it from us so we don't have to develop it, or hitting the jackpot in Las Vegas.
We'll also grab on to whatever moments of happiness and love we might stumble across and may even get to the end of our days and think that things didn't turn out as badly as we'd feared. It's just that fundamentally, we spent our lives feeling like we don't count, nothing we do matters, and the odds were always stacked against us from the start.
2. The Empowered Path
"I will either find a way or make one." -- Hannibal, shortly before losing the Punic wars
It would seem, at first glance, that the empowered path to success is the natural antidote to the path of the victim. When we choose to see ourselves as the predominant creative force in our lives, something wonderful happens -- choices emerge, directions are set, actions are taken, and the most difficult of circumstances becomes little more than the raw material for our next creation.
For me, I spent the first 25 years or so of my life as a reasonably successful victim. At times, the apparent unfairness of life would get me down and I nearly drowned in a sea of what I now know to have been dodgy brain chemistry. As I slowly got my bearings, I did my best to fight back against the victim voice inside my head with a cacophony of plans and schemes designed not so much to create things in the world as to take me away from my own unhappiness and insecurity.
Some of those plans and schemes actually worked out, and in spite of my own worst efforts I met the girl of my dreams, got a dream job on a television sitcom, and started to learn that sometimes, a can-do attitude actually can pay off. I began to study the personal empowerment and success literature in earnest, and for the next ten years or so I set higher and higher goals and even achieved some of them. Sure, I was stressed as hell, but I'd learned to "man up," broaden my shoulders and take it.
Compared with the quiet desperation of the victim path, empowerment feels amazing. Yet in the back of my mind, I knew something was off. I was beginning to meet with some extraordinarily successful people. Many of them were just like me -- happy and confident when things were going well, petty and desperate when they weren't. We wore our masks of arrogance or indifference on top to hide a head full of insecurity and fear.
But there were some people I met who seemed to be on a different path, even though they had many of the same things in their lives that I was working so hard to achieve. As I looked to see what was different about them, I realized they were following something I came to call "the path of the soul."
3. The Soul's Path
"This is the true joy in life -- to be used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." -- George Bernard Shaw
What I noticed is that people who followed inner wisdom instead of outer goals still wound up getting somewhere in the game of life. It's just that it didn't matter so much to them where that happened to be. Instead of striving to be the predominant creative force in their lives themselves, they delighted in being conduits for a creative force that exists far beyond the consciousness of the delicate ego-mind. In short, they allowed their lives to unfold from a place of connection with a deeper wisdom that seems to be an innate part of the human potential.
I called it "the path of the soul" because it seemed to me that when people followed their inner promptings over all the shoulds and have tos they carried around inside their head, their lives unfolded with a beauty and perfection that my own best laid plans never seemed to have. It was as if their own soul was designing the perfect path and laying it out in front of them, one daily brick at a time.
But for myself, because the only two choices I really understood were owner and victim, I kept trying to find ways to "own" my soul path. There were many times when things would unfold beautifully up to a certain point until I panicked at being so close to my heart's desire and decided to jump in to make sure it all worked out the way I wanted. I would set goals and targets and create a flurry of plans and schemes. And suddenly what was once an effortless unfolding became as high stress and high pressure as any work I'd ever done.
I thought my job was to "be a force of nature," not recognizing that the operant power behind any force of nature is nature itself. And herein lies the essence of the path of the soul:
When you allow a deeper wisdom to come through you, that deeper wisdom inevitably comes through.
And while the unfolding of the inner path is certainly less predictable than the outside-in architecture of the empowered one, it is, in my experience so far, the path most in line with the kindness of the design.
Have fun, learn heaps, and see what happens!
For more by Michael Neill, click here.