Last week I wrote about the importance of confidence as a high-octane fuel for leadership. In fact, it’s a make or break attribute if you’re interested in becoming a senior leader of any organization. That fact is it’s also a problem. There are people who are so confident they are made leaders of powerful organizations or have loud public microphones that influence millions that are simply bad for the world. You can be devilishly immoral or colossally incompetent and still be hypnotically confident.
That brings trouble to us all. Many confident acting people are primarily driven by fear or by having something to prove. When these are your ghostly drives it’s like living in a haunted house. Scary stuff happens. People whose confidence is driven by these low motives often seem insistent, arrogant and relentless. It’s important to recognize that large organizations are most often toxic to people’s positive well-being because these abrasive behaviors are very often rewarded, especially if they’re covered by a spray tan of charm and a bleached smile.
Today I’m going to present something far more important than practical confidence.
That’s because practical confidence is only a behavioral skill. But due to my long life and an ample share of crushing life tests I have learned there is a confidence far more valuable than a confident personality. If you discover it, it will make you immune to the harmful effects of fear driven bosses. It is also the most powerful psychological vaccine in the universe. I call it your Invisible Light. It’s not primarily a quality of your personality. Rather it’s a quality of your core being. It only becomes visible when you realize you have nothing to prove. It comes in the flash of clarity that the point of life is not what you achieve but the quality of person you become.
Simply put… you uncover your invisible light when you move from self-awareness to soul-awareness.
I realize the word ‘soul’ raises red flags in some of you. But please relax your inner voice of skepticism and just listen for a bit. I’m going to tell you a very personal story about coming to soul awareness. It’s not a story about religion. Rather it’s a story of my experience with reality…but transcendent reality. And it’s the root of profound confidence.
It’s a story that begins with my lost decade.
It began on May 30th 1990 as I was sitting in a chair in my parents’ bedroom watching my father die. I was very close to my father my entire life. He was a John Wayne figure. A cattle rancher with a college degree…maybe the smartest man who has ever fixed watering troughs. He was passionate, loving and fearless. When I was 13 I actually saw him talk an angry, desperate man out of trying to kill him by offering him a job. I thought a lot about his example as I sat in vigil. In the instance my Dad past I felt his essence, his spirit, his soul leave the room. I didn’t imagine this. I experienced it. It was only the beginning.
The next nine years were brutal.
Everything that was important to me was stomped on. My wife of 20 years announced that she didn’t love me but rather had fallen in love with a young business partner. I was betrayed by a lifelong friend in a new business venture. The list goes on. I will simply summarize by saying everything that was important to me and nearly every belief I valued was shattered. For nine years I was virtually alone and continuously struggled like a drowning man desperate for air. It was in this state of prolonged misery that I came across a book written in 1934 titled “The Secret Path” by Paul Brunton. In it he captures the essence of thousands of years of seeking the ultimate truth. He gets at the root of our invisible light by eliminating all the things that we are NOT.
First, we are not who we ‘think’ we are.
It’s true…all of us have a self-concept… the story about ourselves that we tell ourselves. This is the monologue of our inner voice that tells us how smart we are, how good-looking we are, what we ought to believe, what we ought to do, what we deserve, what excuses we can justify…and on and on. It is a full-blown novel. But it isn’t who we really are. It’s just our story. I know this because when my story got shredded I was still breathing…but just barely. I had spent my life saying my prayers and eating my Wheaties…doing what I should whether I liked it or not. I expected life to be just and fair. I thought the universe worked like an honest bank. If I just kept investing by being responsible and trying to be good, nothing really bad would happen to me. That was the story I kept telling myself.
But that story was dead wrong. Brunton is brilliant at teaching you how to write a new story.
He uses a simple meditation that enables you to clearly understand that you are not your achievements, your appearance, your memories, your job, your opinions, your reputation, your stuff, your behavior, your IQ, your tribes, your tastes, your interests or anything else that is not your essential identity. In today’s world this is a radical idea.
Psychologists tell us that we are all ‘socially constructed.’ They maintain that our identity is formed by whom we identify with or disassociate from. They laugh at the idea that we have an individual essence. They insist that all we are is the story we have created about ourselves. Some brain scientists also maintain that our separate consciousness is an illusion. They claim our identity is simply an imaginary construction of our brain chemistry. But is it? That is after all the big question.
It you take away all experiences, achievements, and everything else that seems to make us individuals what’s left?
Soul awareness. Soul awareness is neither a logical assertion nor an emotional belief. It is a profound and direct experience of being. It is knowing beyond reason. It is sometimes called super–rational knowledge. It’s knowledge that arises from our whole being, not just from the limited tools of logic or just the hot blood of emotion.
How do you get to super-rational knowledge?
Simply turn off the noise of your busy mind and listen for something deeper. If you say “I am not my achievements, who am I?” Just listen. If you say “If I am not my body, who am I?” Just listen. That’s what I did. I did it for months. If you quiet your mind and learn to pay inner attention you can have a super-rational experience of truth beyond doubt. Soul evident truths. You see your invisible light. You discover that the existence of your inner being needs no external proof. Without a doubt you exist. It is nothing less than your transcendent identity…what most people call your soul. As Einstein discovered, matter can be converted to pure energy and energy into matter. You can experience your eternal energy. Your indestructible essence. In the quiet of sustained silence it is simply there.
Knowing this makes you free.
Toward the end of my decade of dark nights I went up to the mountains. I was alone in a cabin and as the sun was setting I decided to spend a little quiet time and think about my father. I laid down on the floor, closed my eyes and tried to imagine how it might feel to have him loving me right then and there father to son. I felt empty, exhausted and hurting. Then my mind shifted. I envisioned him holding me as a tiny child and I could feel his sure, unrestrained love. Then something changed. My imagination receded and I began to sense his actual presence. It seemed like a physical presence, not just in my mind but right there in the room. He seemed to be hovering above me, mirroring my reclined position.
His presence was unmistakable, just like when he walked into a room when I was growing up. He had the same powerful energy he’d always had. I had not felt anything like that since his passing. I didn’t know that I could. My mind was empty of thoughts but flooded with love. Then he spoke to me. Not out loud, but in his voice, with his thoughts. He simply and powerfully affirmed that there was nothing wrong with me. And there was nothing wrong with what I wanted for my life. He simply said, “Be who you are and do what you came for.” I realize that that sounds corny, like something you might hear on Oprah. If I were making this up I would try to be more clever.
But I’m not making this up. It wasn’t so much his words as his undeniable presence that he used as a spiritual blowtorch to evaporate my self-pity and doubt. Above all it made me feel that I was ‘enough.’ A few other things happened in the remaining moments of that experience but the last thing he said was “this is real.” To be as descriptive as I can be it wasn’t so much that he said it as he ‘intended’ it.
That night my suffering ended.
The challenges didn’t, but the way I took on those challenges completely changed. I had received a gift of profound confidence.
The bottom line for me is simply this… There is more to life than what we see.
What most people think is important isn’t at least not in the way they think it is. So for me the point of life is to become the best person I choose to be. As far as the world goes, I have nothing to prove…nobody else’s expectations to meet. I know that my experience is not unique. Tens of thousands, maybe even millions of us have had super-rational experiences confirming that there is more to life than life. We have every reason to be profoundly confident.