Love it or hate it the self-help industry is alive and kicking, however it has come in for something of a bashing lately from the scientific community. Like most other industries some of what is produced is of excellent quality, while much of it is substandard, even dangerous in some cases. We cannot deny the reality of supply and demand however, and demand is still at a high. The fact is that this demand is driven by a very human yearning for guidance, consolation, and ultimately, fulfillment.
We live in an age in which the quest for fulfillment has reached drastic proportions. Many people are frantically chasing fulfillment and yet – as a Buddhist might point out - the very notion of chasing it means they aren’t experiencing it. The fact is that fulfillment isn’t a state of becoming, but a state of being. If you like, you can experience fulfillment right now simply by hitting an imaginary pause button and taking a moment to value and appreciate everything that is going on in your life, pleasant, stressful, or otherwise. Fulfillment is not something that you can acquire by adding more to your life or by having a perfect set of circumstances; fulfillment is something you choose to experience as a matter of will. Fulfillment is simply a question of perspective; it is a way of seeing the world and your role within it with the mindset of general acceptance. Real fulfillment is not the absence of difficulties; it is the ability to be content in spite of, and because of life's difficulties and problems.
The late business philosopher - and self-help proponent - Jim Rohn often said, “Don’t wish life was easier; wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems; wish for more wisdom”. The fact is that there will always be challenges. However while many people see challenges as obstacles to their fulfillment, it is important to recognise that challenges are in fact the doorway through which we can experience fulfillment.
Perhaps one of the difficulties we have with creating fulfillment is that we often mistake fulfillment for satiety. Satiety is the condition of having satiated, or satisfied, your needs. If we mistake fulfillment for satiety - knowing as we do that our needs are in a state of constant flux – we will remain perpetually unfulfilled.
Have you ever notice how animals seem to have mastered fulfillment far better than we pitiful humans? They often appear to be content to sit for several hours on branches, lawns and sofas without doing very much at all. Interestingly the reason why we struggle with fulfillment is not because we are stupid, but because we are intelligent.
Unlike animals our highly developed neocortical brain region allows us to perform highly sophisticated intellectual tasks such as abstract thought, reason and logic, as well as ethical and moral ideation. More importantly for the subject in hand is our capacity to exist, both psychologically and emotionally, in three divergent time co-ordinates, namely past, present, and future. A consequence of our ability to imagine both past causal factors and future ramifications means that we spend an awful lot of time worrying about things that aren’t in fact real. By moving out of the present in our imagination we frequently trigger emotions that invariably cause frustration, and this frustration is what often gets in the way of our fulfillment.
True fulfillment, it appears, is not only about the intelligent management of emotion, but also about our capacity to value, accept, and appreciate the totality of our experience, that is, in spite of difficulties. From a purely philosophical perspective the key to fulfillment is a question of looking at life as if looking at a work of art. Often people feel that they need to know what a work of art is. They stand in front of a painting or sculpture with a puzzled look on their face before asking, “What is it?” to which the only true answer is, “It is”.
© SEBASTIAN T. EASTWOOD-BLOOM 2018