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Stepping Out of the Shadows/[Re]Connecting With
Your Life's Journey

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Illuminating the Path

By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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Developing 20-20 Vision

Your vision will become clear only when you can look inside your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
-Carl Jung

The next step is brutally simple, yet undoubtedly one of the more frightening steps to follow. For after we awaken to what we want our lives to be, after we awaken to how we have drifted from what that picture looks like for us, after we have liberated the energy that lifts us out of our paralysis, we need to set out in a new direction. 

Although a new direction may be what we desire most in our lives, discovering the direction that will honor the awakening that we have undergone can still be an elusive end to achieve. For not only do we need to discover a path that is uniquely suited to who we are, we also need to learn how to pass on the inevitable temptations of following a path that is the creation of someone other than ourselves. I refer to the next step as Illuminating the Path. I can best explain it in the following story I once heard.

It’s a story about a man who had set out on a very special journey, a search if you will. This man was determined to discover the one true path that would bring him to his own spiritual awakening. You see, he had studied the various  spiritual ways of the world, never really settling on any one  path to follow. So he set out to find someone who could prescribe for him the one true path that would best serve the awakening he so desperately wanted to experience.

For ten years, he went from spiritual leader to spiritual leader trying to get each and everyone of them to tell him what the one true way was. But time after time, he had the same experience.

He would follow their way for awhile, become dissatisfied and leave. He roamed the world, going from spiritual leader to spiritual leader, following their way but never being satisfied with their practices or what their practices brought him.

After ten years of searching, his travels brought him to the foot of the tallest mountain in all of India. There he was informed that if he climbed the mountain to the very top he would discover the answer he had been searching for.

Our searcher, ever the adventurer, set out on foot to climb the mountain. After three weeks of brutal physical exertion, the man came to the last ledge that he had to climb in order to complete his daunting ascent.

As he boosted himself up over his final hurdle, there before his very eyes his long sought after answer appeared. For as he reached the top of the mountain, he stood before a pool of water from which he saw his own reflection shimmering against the bright light of the noon sun. And all at once the answer came rushing into his consciousness, the answer that he had been seeking from everyone with whom he had spoken to over the last ten years. The answer, simple but profound, “My true path lives only within myself.”

Upon hearing that story for the first time, I realized how I too was looking everywhere but within myself for the one path that would honor my life. You know that song Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places? Well, I promised myself that I would stop looking to others for the answers that lived only within me.

As a result of that pledge to myself, I have created over the years a set of criteria to follow that keeps my path illuminated, allowing me to determine where I am, whether I have strayed, or how true I am being to my path.

When I think of others before myself, my path is illuminated.

When I maintain a discipline that nourishes my mind, body, spirit, and soul, my path is illuminated.

When I act spontaneously, my path is illuminated.

When my actions are a reflection of my life’s purpose, my path is illuminated.

When I rise above my fears to do what I must do next, my path is illuminated.

When I take responsibility for my emotional and spiritual well-being, my path is illuminated.

When I am flexible enough to withstand the never-ending winds of change, my path is illuminated.

When I steel myself by remaining grounded by my life’s vision, my path is illuminated.

When I allow myself to adapt to the circumstances of my life rather than forcing the circumstances to conform to my life’s plan, my path is illuminated.

When I offer forgiveness to myself rather than condemnation and shame, my path is illuminated.

Although I have devised my own means by which I light my path, there is nothing simple about keeping the lights from flickering out. No indeed, in the course of learning how to illuminate the path of my life’s journey, I have discovered that there are basic elements that keep the flame alive. 

The elements that I am referring to? In a word, trust. Learning to trust ourselves. Trusting ourselves that we know what is best for us. How many of us have gone through life not trusting ourselves? Not trusting what we think. Not trusting what we feel. Not trusting the choices we make.

Roland understands how important trusting himself is. For much of his life he focused on others rather than centering himself from within.

“I grew up in my family always feeling like I was crazy. When I tried to tell someone what I was feeling, my feelings were minimized or belittled. ‘Oh, you’re too sensitive, you’re always overreacting’ was the way I was always dismissed. When I tried to tell someone what I was experiencing, I was told to shut up. When I tried to tell someone what I thought, my thoughts were questioned.

“So I learned to ignore my experiences, I learned to invalidate what I was thinking and feeling. Most damaging of all, I learned how to look to others to affirm what I was experiencing about myself and the people in my life.

“The result was that I never pursued what I wanted, because I could easily talk myself out of it. Afterall, why subject myself to the inevitable second guessing, the inescapable belittlement. That only served to make the noise in my head, you know the self-doubts, even the self-loathing, get louder and louder.

“You know, I had to do a lot of spring cleaning in my life. I couldn’t really begin to trust myself until I found people in my life who encouraged me. People who understood what it meant to support me. People who understood that I could learn best by doing for myself rather than being told what to do. People who knew how to let me pick up the pieces when I fell rather than wag their finger at me and say ‘I told you so.’

“Their kindness and respect acted as a mirror, teaching me how to trust myself as they invested their trust and faith in me.”

A second element of keeping the flame alive is fortitude. The internal strength we all possess to withstand the discouragement of setbacks and wrong turns. The strength that we all possess to calm ourselves in times of crisis. Being able to withstand the tides of doubt.

The doubt washing over us, tugging at us, tripping us up, making us dive for cover with each new step we take. The doubt foisted upon ourselves by others who would rather pull us down because of their own fear, their fear of losing us if we heal, grow, and transform. The doubt that lives within ourselves, the self-doubt so easily activated whenever we feel like we are venturing out on our own.

Whenever I am feeling unnerved, whenever doubt creeps into my life, whenever fear overtakes me, causing me to second guess myself, I have a very simple exercise I do. I turn the world off for fifteen minutes. I simply sit in a chair, close my eyes, and focus on my breathing. That’s all there is to it. But you would be amazed at how restorative that simple little exercise can be.

The final element I rely upon to keep the flame burning bright? In a word, patience. If we follow a path that flows from within ourselves, then we will experience our lives as a series of trials. Quite simply, life is full of pain and suffering. We will be tested by the trials that appear along the way. The choice will always be there for us, to persevere or turn around.

What we learn from our journey is that there is nothing in life that does not extract some cost. More importantly, there is nothing in life that can be achieved without going through a series of small trials.

Herb knows the value of patience. He has learned the hard way about the game of life, the fact that you don’t hit a home run with one swing of the bat. Herb was in drug rehab five times before that truism sunk in for him.

“For me, it was always easier to give up, give in. I would always choose self-indulgence over patience. I knew the steps I was suppose to take whenever I wanted to use. Call my sponsor. Get to a meeting. Call somebody from my contact list. I could have taken a quiet time or read the Big Book.

“I didn’t get it, you know, I didn’t get that being sober meant more than just not drinking. It meant doing every little step along the way that went into not drinking.

“I didn’t understand one very important fact. Sobriety was a state of being, a way of life, not an act of abstinence. I had to learn that not drinking was the outcome of continual striving, patiently doing all of the little things. Once I figured that out, I was able to stop indulging every little whim I had.”

How about ending things up for this section, doing our familiar exercise. What about this step Illuminating the Path? For me, the path is turning inward for our answers. Cultivating a level of awareness that will enable us to transcend the limits that we experience by following our own conscious thoughts or the directives of others. Discovering the essence of our path--patience, perseverance, and our own inner strength.

But how about for you? Where does this idea of a path take you? What does it mean to you to Illuminate the Path? More importantly what is the means by which you want to light that path? Take your time with this one.

It’s critical for you to devise for yourself a path that is meaningful for you and you only. We are trying to find the vessel by which you can express the energy that is beginning to stir deep within you. Let yourself be as creative as you dare to be. For it is this very creativity that will help you shape your life’s journey into the way that does you the most honor.

This is where the fun starts, yet at the same time there is an enormous burden in taking total responsibility for our well-being. What we can expect is that both fear and exhilaration will wash over ourselves quite often. That’s the wonder of what lies ahead for us all. New experiences, new territories to be explored, new adventures to live out, and most of all, life lived in the lightness of the here-and-now rather than the darkness of all the tomorrows that have never come to fruition.

The biggest thrill of all? We get to start navigating this journey!



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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