The Afternoon of Life

Last night I watched a Dr. Wayne Dyer DVD called The Shift (originally titled Ambition to Meaning), which I found very moving and inspiring. In this video Dr. Dyer points out that the solutions that work in the morning of our lives will eventually cease to work in the afternoon of our lives.

It can be very unsettling — and frustrating beyond belief — when our old solutions no longer create the results we expect. We do what we think is best — we know it’s the right thing to do — but our tried and trusted routines seem to be broken for some odd reason. The harder we try, the worse we feel. It’s like sinking into an invisible abyss.

Why does this happen?

At some point in your life, your old patterns of success must break down to make way for something new. The lessons you learned that enabled you to succeed at one level of awareness (even if you consider your success to be moderate) must be shed in order for you to become something more.

Let me share my personal experience with this challenge. It was in the early 2000s, and I was happily running my computer game publishing business. The business was profitable, I was doing interesting work I enjoyed, and customers were happy. I did a ton of work on the side to help other software developers succeed, including serving for a year as President of a non-profit association. I had a good life, a loving wife, and good friends. I had interesting goals, and my future looked bright.

But very slowly over a period of many months (perhaps years), I began to feel that something wasn’t right. My drive and motivation were slowly sinking. I didn’t feel as happy as I thought I should be. I was getting what I wanted, but it wasn’t enough. However, I couldn’t say what was missing. There were other things that I wanted, but most of what I wanted I already had, or it was well on its way. I should have been very happy and fulfilled, and for a while that seemed to be the case, but little by little, I began feeling worse and worse.

Something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Was I eating the wrong foods? Was I not exercising enough… or not doing the right kind of exercise? Maybe I just needed to mix things up a bit for more variety — take on some new projects. Maybe I needed to read more books or attend more seminars to find the answer. Maybe I needed to spend more time meditating and journaling.

I put in a ton of effort trying to diagnose the problem, but each time I thought I’d figured it out and tried to implement a solution, it never worked. At best I’d be enthusiastic for a few days, and inevitably that slow sinking feeling would return. The best I could do was to distract myself from it with entertainment — novels, video games, etc. But even then I could still feel this sense of dread lurking in the shadows of my consciousness.

Months passed, and I kept trying new ways to diagnose the problem and new solutions. My income started to go down because I wasn’t as motivated to work. Even the simplest tasks on my to-do list seemed unusually burdensome. Intuitively I knew something was terribly wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Then in mid-2004, partly on a whim, I decided to attend Hay House’s I Can Do It! conference in Las Vegas. On the first day of the conference, I listened to a 3-hour talk by Dr. Dyer about the power of intention and living on purpose. Instantly I recognized the truth of his words. I was stunned. Throughout much of his talk, I either had tears in my eyes, or I was shaking. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I knew that my life had just been spun off in a totally different direction.

While listening to Dr. Dyer, I had a sudden flash of clarity. It was a glimpse into my future. I knew what I was supposed to do next, but it was too big to accept all at once. I heard a voice in my head say to me, “Your place is on that stage.” I knew it was true, but my reaction at the time was close to panic. If what I was experiencing was really accurate, it would effectively mean dismantling everything I’d spent the last decade building, including the identity I’d created for myself.

The rest of that conference was also extremely eye-opening, not as shocking to me as the first day, but it gave me more of what I needed to know. It was incredibly inspiring to be around so many other people who were also looking for meaning and purpose in their lives.

It took a while to process that experience and to make sense of it. For the next few months, I felt like I was living in two worlds. My external reality continued largely unchanged for a while, but internally I was a different person. I’d been inspired by a greater purpose, and I could see where I was supposed to go next. I knew that I was no longer a game developer. I had something more significant that I was supposed to do, and it was time to get to it.

Later that year I launched, not really knowing how I was going to succeed on that path. But success wasn’t that important to me at the time because this new path just felt so incredibly good. It was like being wrapped in a blanket of bliss. I was so happy with what I was doing that it didn’t bother me that my games business was only earning about 25% of what it could have been making… or that my new personal development website only earned $167 in the first six months… about 17 cents an hour since I was working on it full-time.

Fast forward five years. My games business is a thing of the past, and I now run a thriving personal development business. Hay House is my book publisher. I spoke at the I Can Do It! conference twice last year, and I met Dr. Dyer — and many other Hay House authors. The vision I had in 2004 was eerily prophetic.

These external changes serve as nice validation, but they don’t represent the essence of the transformation I had to go through. The real changes were internal — a shift in my consciousness.

Instead of putting success and achievement first in my life, I had to begin thinking in terms of happiness, fulfillment, purpose, and service. It took a long time for me to accept that the simple act of helping other people made me feel very happy, more than achieving a goal I’d set only for myself. Intuitively I could see that this was true, but mentally accepting it was the truly hard part. Logically it just didn’t seem like that’s how life was supposed to work. It seemed like I’d be happier if I worked on my own goals to get what I wanted instead of doing nice things for others.

Eventually I said to myself, “Okay, so I get a kick out of helping people. Maybe I should just focus on that.” And then the voice of fear blurted out, “But you’ll starve. You’ll go broke. You’ll fail. That strategy won’t work. You’ve gotta look out for number one. If you don’t do that, things will turn out very badly.”

For a while I believed those fears. They seemed so sensible and grounded, and the alternative seemed so unrealistic and airy fairy. But I resolved this conflict by getting curious. I admitted to myself that I really don’t understand how life works. Maybe my assumptions about how life works are inaccurate. I opted to try the service-based approach to see what would happen. I decided to accept that the outcome might be bad, but I had to find out for sure. At the same time, I began to recognize a deeper truth: If I don’t absolutely enjoy my life, then I’ve failed as a human being… no matter what else I accomplished along the way. So I began making it a priority to feel good about my life, and I noticed I feel very, very good when I’m helping people, and I don’t feel good when I’m too focused on myself. The more I experimented, the more obvious the pattern became.

But there was something even more significant happening. I gradually learned that when I focused on helping others, my own needs were getting met, and my personal desires were getting fulfilled. In fact, it was practically effortless. I barely even had to attend to my own personal goals because they largely fell into my lap. Money began flowing in greater quantities, and soon I was receiving much more than I was spending. New friends and contacts began showing up with exciting opportunities. What I wanted sometimes literally was delivered to my doorstep.

I realized that the universe already knows what I want and need. It’s not set up to deny my desires. It wants me to be fulfilled. But it needs me to make the first move. I have to hold myself in the state of emitting happiness, and then the universe can send my desires to me. And the way I emit happiness is by helping others be happy.

If you’re unhappy, the universe cannot bring you what you want. Your goals will remain unachieved, your desires unfulfilled. If you think those things will bring you greater happiness, then you’ve created a bridge between those new experiences and a particular state of being. In order to attract those experiences into your life, you must move toward the corresponding state of being. If you don’t do that, you’ll repel your desires instead of attracting them.

I know that I’m happiest when I focus my energy on helping people. That vibration makes me feel blissful, and it draws all my desires into my life. When I keep myself in that space, I feel joyful and fulfilled, and I don’t struggle with stress or depression. But when I stray from that mindset and get sucked back into socially conditioned values like success and achievement as the chief aims of life, that slow sinking feeling gradually returns, and soon it becomes obvious that I’ve gotten off track.

The good news is that when you know you’re sinking and you recognize that you’re not feeling good about your life, you can reorient yourself quickly and begin feeling good again. Just run through a few different thoughts of what you might do next, and notice how each thought makes you feel. Then act on the thought that makes you feel best.

I wasn’t actually planning to write an article today. But while I was reviewing some reader questions and also thinking about the DVD I watched last night, I started getting some ideas for a new article. I jotted down a few ideas, and a few paragraphs later, I noticed the article was beginning to write itself. I observed the thought of writing an article, and it felt very blissful to me. I thought about putting it off for later, and that thought didn’t feel as good. So two hours later, here I am… still writing… and it feels very joyful and effortless to do so. I am starting to get hungry though. 🙂

Don’t look to past solutions. Stay in the present. Know that life is always reflecting back to you what you are. If you’re feeling stressed and tight, it’s because that’s the person you’ve become. That is the vibration you’re emitting. If you don’t like what the world is giving you, it’s because what you’re giving the world does not make you feel good.

The lesson here is very simple: Stop acting on thoughts that don’t make you feel good. Keep cycling through different thoughts until you find one that makes you feel good. Then act on it.

Seek to optimize the feelgoodness of the thoughts you choose to act on. Dismiss the thoughts that don’t feel good. Turn toward the thoughts that make you feel best. Let go and trust in those good thoughts, and stop analyzing them to death and killing the good feelings before you have a chance to act on them. Follow the feeling of bliss; it will not lead you astray.

This morning I was feeling a little bit off. I had a mild sense of tightness and stress in my body. So I asked myself, “How can I feel blissful and happy again?” And the answer came back, “Do something to help someone right now.” I thought the fastest way to do that would be to post a message on my Twitter account that might help someone. I sat quietly with that intention and allowed the words to come. I posted a simple message: You do not have to struggle today. It felt good to post that. It was a reminder to me as well.

Then I asked, “What else can I do to help people right now?” I thought I could answer some of my emails. I don’t have time to answer all the advice requests I get, and I actively discourage people from asking for advice by email. It just isn’t practical for me to answer all the questions that come in each day. But every once in a while, I’ll sit down and type some replies for an hour or so to answer people’s questions when I think I can be helpful and when it feels good to do so.

By the time I’d gone through about 20 emails, I was feeling pretty good. And then I got a message from a friend that was a response to the Twitter message I posted earlier today. She said that she’d asked the universe for guidance to help her overcome some confusion in her life, and my short 7-word message was the answer she needed to hear. It relaxed her and helped her in a way she needed to be helped. Reading her email made me smile.

Interesting synchronicities like this happen all the time when I stay in the flow of being happy and doing what I can to help people. But when I get too caught up in personal ambition and lose sight of meaning, fulfillment, and purpose, the synchronicities go away. I can tell when I’m back on track because the synchronicities immediately start flowing again. It’s magical how that happens.

When I’m in a good state of being, and I experience an unfulfilled need, the universe says, “Sure, no problem. Here you go.” When I’m out of alignment with my higher self, however, the universe says, “Sorry, can’t help you.”

A couple weeks ago, I was in a bookstore browsing through some tech books. I started getting some ideas for a new article, and I thought to myself, Crap… I need to write this down, but I don’t have any paper or a pen. I searched my pockets, and I found some old movie ticket stubs — with just enough blank space to jot down the ideas I was getting. Then I thought, Okay, I’ve got paper. Now I need a pen. I got caught up in another idea, and while I was pondering it, I paced a couple steps, turned on instinct, and saw two pens sitting on the bookshelf right next of me. I love that kind of service. The funny thing is that when I try to get these kinds of manifestations for my own personal goals, it rarely works. But it happens all the time when I’m working on something for other people, like writing a new article that I intend to share for free.

You may be very frustrated when you hit the afternoon of life and try to apply the same solutions that worked for you in the morning of life. I found it very difficult to admit to myself that what I was doing was no longer making me happy and fulfilled, even though I had every reason to believe it would. That was a truth that was very hard to swallow. I kept looking to re-implement what worked in the past, but those solutions ceased to be effective and usually made things worse.

If you strive for happiness, you’ll never find it. Happiness is only found in the present. It’s something you can create right now, in this very moment. I experience happiness when I put out happiness, i.e. when I act with the intention of making other people happy. When I’m feeling a bit down and I stop myself and say, “Let’s forget about me for a moment and do something nice for others,” the negative feelings subside, and a sense of bliss flows in to replace them. It’s quite simple in practice. The challenge is remembering to do it. 🙂