While many of us are busy chasing achievement - success in work, study, on the sports field, or in the acquisition of items - we often forget that what is more important is the development of fulfilment - satisfaction or happiness as the result of fully developing one's potential.
I was reminded of this little gem while listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast with Anthony Robbins (link below). Tony Robbins was talking about how important it is to focus on fulfilment rather than external successes. Tony used the late great comedian Robin Williams, who so determinedly achieved so much and yet was so unhappy that he eventually took his own life, as an example of what can happen when our focus is potentially on the wrong thing.
Most of us are brainwashed from an early age that what is important in life is success at school, then success at work, success in the material world, and these days some of us even expect and desire success in the celebrity world. Yet all this chasing success doesn't necessarily bring happiness, in fact, more often than not it can bring frustration and disappointment.
So, what is fulfilment and how can we find it? The featured image for this blog post is a photo I took while walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain a few years ago. I used this particular shot for this blog post as it signifies a time in my life when I felt most fulfilled. The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St James, is a pilgrimage trail that is considered by many to be a spiritual path that allows for spiritual growth. The walk started for me at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France and ended a month later in Santiago, Spain. I don't think I have ever felt so at peace in my life.
So. why was it such a fulfilling experience? I have listed below some of the elements that I believe allowed my journey to be so satisfying. And I am pretty sure that if you translate some of these into your life you will have a good chance of improving your own life satisfaction.
1. I was fully present each day. Every evening I decided which albergue, or accomodation, I would stop at the next day. So, in the morning when I rose, all I had to do was follow the path to the next stopping point, find my selected accomodation, and ensure I had food to eat along the way. There were no bills to think about paying, no office politics to worry about, and no having to remind myself that I should exercise that day. Every day, all I had to think about was where I was in each moment. It was a simple and very satisfying life.
2. I was part of a community of like-minded individuals. Every day on the walk I met new and interesting people. People of all nationalities, backgrounds and ages. I would often also meet up with people I had met before. However, although everyone was externally so different, ultimately we were all on the walk for the same reason, for some form of personal or spiritual development. This meant that everyone was respectful of everyone else's need for company at times, and also their need for personal space and alone time.
3. Everyday included exercise, good food, and fresh air. Walking approximately 20 kms each day felt so good. I could feel that everyday I was getting fitter and fitter. I could always find good food to eat and every day I was outside in nature. These simple things are part of what can make life so satisfying if we choose to put our attention on them, and to really appreciate them.
4. Challenges were treated as opportunities for growth. There were challenges to be faced along the way. For some of us, it was dealing with past emotions that had been left unattended for too long, for others it was the challenge of being in a new country where people spoke a different language, and for some it may have been the concern about not having accomodation arranged in advance and the uncertainty of not knowing if they would find a bed for the night. For me, no matter what came up, I was very aware that it was a learning experience and an opportunity for growth. Now, I admit, I don't have this perspective all the time, but for some reason while on the camino I was able to view every challenge as an opportunity for growth. This perspective meant that I was using challenges as an opportunity to develop as a person, and that I did not find challenges to be unhelpful stressors, as they so often are in life.
5. Learning. I have always been interested in learning languages, and I thought I would try to learn some Spanish while in Spain. I loved the experience, and the opportunity it provided to interact with some of the locals. I believe this type of mental stimulation is helpful in many ways, for example, it can help to keep our mind occupied to stop it from becoming what Buddhists often call the 'monkey mind'. A monkey mind is a mind that is off doing it's own thing and may even become a bit mischievous, causing us trouble. For example, if you're not keeping your mind working on something it may decide it would like to focus on how you won't be able to find somewhere to stay that night, and then work on building up a very convincing story around this initial worrying thought. If our minds are occupied with learning and growing, they are less likely to be creating anxious worrying thoughts that can cause us distress.
6. Every day was different. Because everyday on the camino covered a different part of Spain, each day was completely different. The scenery was different, the climate changed along the way, the people were different. This constant change kept life interesting. I know it can be difficult to get out of the daily routine, but consider if there is anything you can do to make your day a little different: can you go to work by a different route; work outside of the office, maybe in a cafe; try something completely different for breakfast; or find a way to meet some new people.
Well, all this talk about the camino has got me thinking that it might be time to find another camino adventure. I've heard that Italy is upgrading some of it's walks, so I'm off to do some investigating.
I hope you've enjoyed this article, and if you have any feedback or questions, don't hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.
1. Listen to the Tim Ferriss podcast with Tony Robbins.
2. Watch Alan Watt's Life is Not a Journey.
3. Camino reference - www.santiago-compostela.net