Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #33:

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” 

                                                                                                                    Henry David Thoreau

 It usually takes a long time, and even then it isn’t automatic, for most of us to understand that life isn’t about all those things we think are so terribly important. Life is so much more. It’s got more to do with learning how to show up, to be fully present, and to take life in as it is – without judgment, without a need to compete, and without a need to analyze.

Sometimes it takes us to be into the second half of life to start to understand what we seek is on a deeper, even spiritual, plane. Why is this so?

This can take a while for us to even begin to realize we are required to surrender all we hold onto, so that we are then free to allow life to be as it is. It is usually in our second half of life that we even entertain questions such as:

  • Who am I?
  • Why am I here?
  • What is the purpose of my life?
  • What is it that really matters to me?

When we do get to such a place – to a state where we are able to surrender, and where we are able to accept our life exactly as it is – we have then arrived where a life of satisfaction and peacefulness is possible. This satisfying and peaceful life, even while so much of life has no resolution or closure, can and does bring about a radical shift in our being. We arrive at a place where we are alright even while the world is not alright. Until we are at such a place it is difficult to imagine this seemingly contradictory way. In the past I have written about how we can be two-headed: totally committed to a particular outcome, while at the same time completely unattached to the result. This is similar. We call it an oxymoron – an apparent contradictory statement. And as we know, we humans dislike such ambiguity in our lives. We prefer clear and absolute answers. But as we age we accumulate to the idea that life isn’t so cut and dry. There is a lot of grey, and as we start to accept this greyness we get to see the wisdom and possibility that can evolve from living with this ambiguity. And, believe it or not, we start to breathe easier. We relax; we hang out in this deeper realm.

Children are capable of playing with total abandonment. They can fully immerse themselves into a world of pretend and playfulness without holding back at all. It comes naturally to them. Children have no one to impress or expectations to live up to. They just do so with ease and delight.

Then, after a while, we send them off to a factory-type place called school. Once there, we proceed to drum this natural capacity to be playful, and spontaneous, and their innate ability to live in sheer delight right out of them. We socialize them. We methodically go about conditioning them into the various norms of what it means to behave correctly and to think correctly, so as to fit nicely into society.

If we are lucky, eventually we grow up. And as we age we start to see that all this socialization hasn’t been so fulfilling. If we recognize that we are not who we want to be, but are more the externally shaped person we have been led to become, we can start to go to work to regain some of our former natural capacity. We start to see that these learned ways don’t work – or work poorly. Some people panic with such a realization. But if we remain calm and can own our feelings of discontentment and inauthenticity we are half way there. If we are upset enough, and courageous enough, we might take appropriate action(s). If we are lucky, we learn to become like children again.

Picasso said it best: “It takes a long time to become young.”

This so-called grown-up conditioning – our socialization – comes about largely due to our dislike for the unresolved, and our wanting simple answers to complex issues. All of this is predicated on our anxiety. If we are to move past the present discontent of our lives we have to first be willing to walk within this unresolved and murky place, and find that we can be okay in not knowing, or with uncertainty.

Some people never get comfortable living in the uncertainty and with ambiguity. These folks remain, instead, on the proverbial treadmill of trying harder and harder at doing the same things over and over while hoping to get a different result.

Some religious people can approach God this way. They expect or demand simple answers. “Just tell me what to do!” They’ll read the bible in search for the “yes” or “no.” They want an authority to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. They do not trust their own, God given, inner guidance system.

Many of us tend to search for symptom relief rather than actual solutions to various difficulties we might be facing. If a doctor can give me a pill for a stomach ailment, so much the better. If I do not have to stop ingesting fatty foods or give up booze, and just take a pill, then I’m okay with this approach. Symptoms are valuable. They are our body’s way of letting us know something is not quite right. This is our body’s way of pointing us toward a healthier way to live.

When we mask our symptoms, or merely relieve them without looking for a possible cause or a more systemic solution, we are prone to remain on that treadmill. We stay stuck living in dis-ease and distress.

 Knowing what we want is such an important thing. It is critical for us to live a evolved and fruitful life. Once we know WHAT we want, getting what we want is about the details. The WHAT is the most critical question. HOW comes afterwards.

An Exercise:

Write out what exactly you want for your life. Make it positive and measurable. What would your life look like? How would you know you achieved this desire state?

Be Positive.

Make your statements all positive things you want. Don’t list any negatives you don’t want. For instance, don’t write how you want to avoid illnesses, sadness, or failure.

Instead write:” I want to be successful, healthy and happy.” Then write what your version of success, health, and happiness look like.     


Describe your success, happiness, and health. You might write: “I want to be living near the ocean, or next to a lake, able to watch sunsets, have lots of sunlight, with access to nature…

You might write about your ideal weight, physical activities you are able to engage in, what you are capable of doing on a regular basis.

Then, once you are clear about all that you want, now start to come up with new and old actions and behaviors that may move you toward your stated goals.

As you implement these various actions you’ll need to assess them on a regular basis. Are they working? If so, continue. If not, stop doing this and find better actions. Maybe you need to add additional actions to further you along your pathway. Maybe you need to double down on some that are only partially moving you in the right direction.

Keep your focus on the end result.

“When you are running the race, keep your eye on the finish line.”

We are all about being long distance runners and not sprinters. This is sage advice for one’s life.

And most of all, enjoy the journey itself.

Final thought: Consider letting me, or a supportive friend, know how you are doing.