How To Achieve Fulfillment
Updated: Oct 6, 2019
Many—most—people make their fulfillment contingent on external prerequisites. When I lose the weight I will be happy. I when I meet the right guy I will be happy. When I have that child I will be happy. When I get that job I will be happy. If you have longings and desires like these, I sincerely hope you achieve your dreams. After all, that is one of the joys of life. Go for it. Make every last dream come true. I am here to tell you, however, that achieving your dreams does not guarantee a sense of permanent fulfillment. That is something that can only be found within. It's a cliché, but a true cliché.
First and foremost, fulfillment is a state of mind. It's a feeling. It's a sense of abundance that's in no way connected to your bank balance or any other material consideration. It's not rare for an affluent person to feel they do not have enough, nor is it rare for someone with very little to feel carefree. Fulfillment is something that can't be taken away as our external circumstances change and, spoiler alert, it's more profound than you could have ever possibly imagined.
One of the first steps toward getting there is to understand the source of feeling unfulfilled. While working with hundreds of people using a therapy designed to uncover deep trauma, I have found that the source of feeling suffering and loss is not wanting to feel suffering and loss. Here's how it works.
Let's take a hypothetical person named Rachel. From the outside, Rachel looks like she has it all. She makes a good living and has an exciting social life. She's intelligent, attractive and has a good personality, but deep down she's unhappy. Something's missing. She doesn't know what. But there is a background feeling of grief and loss that follows her throughout her day. It's been there so long she is no longer even aware of it. It influences her in subtle ways by acting as a wet blanket on her enthusiasm for certain things and making her downright averse to others. Rachel is holding on to a trauma.
Let's say when Rachel was four years old, her dog was hit by a car and died. Let's also assume that this dog was Rachel's best friend. She loved him and he loved her. He was the apple of her eye. She loved him with the boundless tsunami of love that only children are seemingly capable of giving. And then, all at once, he is unexpectedly gone forever. For this little girl, the grief is enormous. The loss is enormous. It is out of proportion, but she is just four years old, after all. She is faced with what seems like a choice. Feel the full brunt of the loss and be destroyed, or bury the feeling deep down along with her tsunami of love. So she toughens up, swallows the feeling, and closes off to a precious part of her heart.
If Rachel gets a promotion at work will she feel fulfilled? No.
Tragically, the texture of lives on Earth is often one of lost love and broken dreams. We all seem to close off to the pain in order to get on with our lives. The problem is that burying the pain, even out of a sense of self preservation, usually results in a superficiality of spirit. To be a deep person requires you to feel the deep stuff, not to organize your life so that you can constantly avoid feeling. Somewhere in the depths of your psyche, there is at least one emotional scar pulling the strings of your personality and standing in the way between you and true fulfillment.
The effects of not feeling powerful emotions can be varied. In the example of Rachel, maybe Rachel's unwillingness to feel the early loss of love results in an inability to reach real depth in relationships with anyone else—or, conversely, maybe it manifests in a needy and desperate approach to all relationships in her life. These things tend to come out in different ways depending on the person.
So, how can someone like Rachel escape this scar, this pattern of lost love and broken dreams? You have to feel. If you open and open and open some more until the tears feel like they will never stop flowing, something magical happens. Given the right conditions, your sadness gives way to what lies beneath it and what came before it: joy, bliss, and fullness. Basically, fulfillment. Once you have access to this, there is not much left to want.
If you didn't love, you wouldn't suffer the perceived loss of love. It is one of the strange dichotomies of inner work that your pain, anger, bitterness and hatred all seem to float upon a sea of unconditional love. Little by little, as you open more to your suffering, your sense of love and fullness becomes immense.
This experience is not difficult to achieve. It does not require years of meditating atop a mountain in the Himalayas. It is simple and profound, and results in a feeling of being rich in spirit and full of life. The subconscious mechanisms that engaged as a result of your personal flavor of trauma tend to lose a substantial amount of their ability to manipulate you. Reactivity, bitterness, anger, and resentment can often be transformed into something akin to gratitude, and feelings of hopelessness can become feelings of abundance.