FINDING YOUR ELEMENT is a highly personal and often surprising process. We are all starting from different places in terms of our own characteristics and circumstances. The Element is also different for each of us. Even so, there are some common principles that underlie this process that apply to everyone, and techniques and strategies that everyone can use.
You live as we all do in two worlds. There is the world that came into being when you did, and that exists only because you exist. This is the inner world of your personal consciousness: of your own feelings, thoughts, moods and sensations. There is also the world that exists whether or not you exist. This is the external world of other people, of events, of circumstances and material things. This outer world was there long before you were born, and it will continue long after you have left it.
You only know the outer world through your inner world. You perceive it through your physical senses and you make sense of it through the ideas, values, feelings and attitudes that make up your worldview.
To find your Element, you have to explore both of these worlds. You need to fathom your own talents and passions and you need to look creatively at opportunities in the world around you to fulfill them. In practical terms, finding your Element involves three processes. You should try to practice each of them regularly because each will feed the other.
#1 Turn Down the Noise
To find your Element you have to get to know yourself better. You have to spend time with yourself, apart from other people’s opinions of you. For many of us, this is easier said than done.
As you get older, you accumulate responsibilities and take on new roles. In any given day, you may switch between all of them, perhaps as a parent, as friend, lover or partner, as a student, a teacher, a breadwinner or dependent. Like everyone else, you are bound to be affected by how other people see you and by how you want to be seen by them—by what they want for you and what they expect from you.
We also live in times of tremendous “noise” and distraction. The world is becoming increasingly turbulent. It is difficult, for example, to overstate the impact of digital technologies on how we think, live and work. The benefits of these technologies are extraordinary, but there are drawbacks, too. One of them is trying to keep up with the flood of information that pours through our televisions, laptops, tablets and smart phones.
When you add the noise of the external world to all the roles you take in it, it is easy to lose sight of who you really are. To find your Element, you need to regain that perspective. One way is to create time and space to be alone with yourself, to experience who you are when no one else wants anything from you and the noise has stopped. One method is to meditate.
If you can, sit comfortably with your back and shoulders straight but relaxed. Close your eyes.
Take a deep breath through your nose, hold it for a few seconds and slowly let it out.
As you do, try to focus your attention on the flow of your breath. Repeat this slowly four or five times.
Then breathe normally for a few minutes and try to keep focused on the feeling of your breathing.
As random thoughts come into mind—and they inevitably will—don’t try to stop them. Keep your focus on your breath, relax and just be.
After five minutes or so—ten if you can manage it—open your eyes and relax quietly for another couple of minutes.
As easily distracted as we are, even a few minutes each day can be a powerful way of reconnecting with yourself and brightening your sense of who you are beneath the surface. Like most things that are worth doing, it is not easy but it does reward you in the end.
#2 Change Your Perspective
To find your Element, you may need to see yourself differently. The poet Anaïs Nin once said, “I don’t see the world as it is: I see it as I am.” She meant that no one has a neutral point of view. We see the world around us from the world within us and each shapes our perspective on the other
As human beings, we do not always see the world directly; we interpret our experiences through patterns of ideas, values and beliefs. Some of these have to do with our own dispositions and some have to do with the cultures we’re part of and the times we live in. In all areas of our lives, whether and how we act is affected by how we think and feel. Your own attitudes and those of the people around you may help or hinder you in finding what your Element is and pursuing it.
Let’s start with your own assumptions. You may think, for example, that you have no special aptitudes. Many people think that until they discover that they do and what these are. You may think that you have no passions; many people think that too and then find that they have. You may have told yourself for a long time that you’re not good at something that you would love to try and so you haven’t. Or you may be worried that if you do try you’ll fail and look foolish. Or you may think that the moment has passed to try something new. All of these stories that you tell yourself about yourself can stand between you and finding your Element.
Reflecting on your own natural aptitudes and on the experiences that you have been most drawn to in the past and on those that you’d like to explore in future is an essential part of finding your Element. Some of the exercises in this book are designed to help you to do this. As you work through them, you can use many different modes of reflection: words, images, sounds, movement and all the many ways in which they combine. Here are three techniques that you may find especially helpful.
Mind mapping is a visual technique for displaying or sorting information. A mind map centers on a core idea or theme and has lines, words and images extending from it to connecting ideas or information. To create a mind map, you begin by putting the core idea or theme in the center of the page and draw a circle around it. You then draw branching lines from the center circle that represent related thoughts and ideas. You can have as many of these branching lines as you like and each of them may divide into two or more other lines of thought.
A vision board is a collage of images that reflect your aspirations, hopes and dreams. Vision boards are a great way of sorting through what you hope to create in your life and “putting it out there.” Creating a vision board can be a relaxing, therapeutic and really enjoyable process.
The aim of automatic writing is to explore your thoughts and feelings in a spontaneous, unplanned and uncensored way without consciously controlling what you’re writing. Rather than setting out to present an organized point of view to yourself or anyone else, you simply start writing what comes first to your consciousness and move in any direction you like through a process of free association. You don’t pause to correct or judge what you’re writing or to plan what you might write next. As with vision boards, you’re gathering impressions and feelings, and as with mind maps, you’re free to make whatever connections occur to you in the process.
#3 Give It a Try
To find out what lies within, you also have to look outside yourself. You need to try new activities, visit new places and meet new people. You need to put yourself in the way of new opportunities and test yourself in different circumstances. If there are activities or experiences you have wanted to try, you should try them. If there are things that you have been anxious about doing, but feel intrigued by them, you should try them. If you don’t try new things then you may never find out what you are capable of.
Three Elemental Principles
finding your Element is not a ten-step program. It is a highly personal process that has different outcomes for all of us. That’s true. But the process itself is based on three elemental principles that apply to everyone. Here they are.
PRINCIPLE #1: YOUR LIFE IS UNIQUE
Your life is unique in the whole of history. No one has ever lived it before and nobody else ever will. Learning more about your own genetic inheritance can be a powerful way of understanding why you think and feel as you do. Tracing the path that led you here can also help to reveal the way ahead. Finding your Element involves understanding the powers and passions that you were born with as part of your unique biological inheritance.
PRINCIPLE #2: YOU CREATE YOUR OWN LIFE
With people there’s always something new. The reason is that human beings are naturally creative. This is true of us as a species and of our individual lives. You create your own life by how you see the world and your place in it; by the opportunities you take and the ones you refuse; by the possibilities you see and the choices you make. As a human being, you have many choices. For you, if not necessarily for your dog, imagination and creativity come with the kit.
You’re not given your résumé with your birth certificate. You create your life and you can recreate it. As the psychologist George Kelly says, “No one needs to be a victim of their own biography.” Or, as Carl Jung puts it, “I am not what has happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
PRINCIPLE #3: LIFE IS ORGANIC
very few people in middle age or beyond correctly anticipated the lives they have actually led. Even if they’re doing generally what they had in mind, and few are, they could not have foreseen all the nuances: this job, this partner, these homes and, if they have them, these children. How could they?
Finding your Element means being open to new experiences and to exploring new paths and possibilities in yourself and in the world around you.