“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.” – Lao Tzu

Years back, I once took a powerful weekend seminar with a group that claimed they coined the term “transformation,” at least as far as its use in the field of personal development. Now, I don’t know if that claim is true, but I think it can be accurately said that the process of transformation within the realm of personal development – as in all realms – is ongoing and always present in so many ways.

Transformation is a great buzz word for me

It makes me sort of tingle inside. It makes me feel like my being here, in this body, on this planet, in this arena of existence, at this time in humanity’s ongoing evolution, has purpose. Has meaning. Has trajectory.

I like to feel and know that I am always transforming, always evolving. Consciously and with intent.

The term transformation has been applied in many ways in a wide array of fields such as physics, math, linguistics, biology, and of course human potential and spiritual development.

But they all share the commonality that transformation refers to some kind of metamorphosis or process of change. Often, dramatic or significant change.

A conversion to something completely new, something different, something improved and/or more advanced or evolved than before. A change in character, behavior, understanding, perspective, appearance, or downright biological makeup.

There must be more to life than this

For a long time, I ached to have some kind of confirmation that life is not simply a treadmill of

  1. grow up and get educated,
  2. get an advanced education if you can,
  3. get a job,
  4. pay the bills,
  5. have kids,
  6. pay the bills,
  7. take the allotted two-week vacations now and then,
  8. pay the bills,
  9. retire,
  10. pay the bills,
  11. die.

“There just has to be more to life than this!” used to ring in my head as I sat at my desk day after day in the nine-to-five office jobs I’ve had and, heck, in nearly every job where I was basically doing the same or similar tasks over and over again, working the same hours with the same people, many of whom had become zombies to the slavery of their jobs and their bank accounts.

If I were able to show you my notebooks and calendars, doodles and scribbles from those periods, there would be little hand-written notes here and there saying “There must be more than this,” “Soon I will be set free,” alongside little reminders to myself to “See the broader perspective,” and to “Breathe,” and remember that “This too shall pass.”

It has always amused and confounded me that 70s–80s rock star, Freddie Mercury, who, at least from an outside perspective, had a rather extraordinary, decadent, and exciting life, sang a song with the words, “There must be more to life than this.”

In actuality, the lyrics of his song seem to be more about the lack of love in the world, but to me they were also pointing to something much bigger; to the possibility that there is more to existence than most people have opened their minds to even attempt to comprehend.

To get to the fruit of the tree, you have to go out on a limb

To hold the possibility that there must be more to life than this, but to not have that yearning, that asking, that inner almost-knowing fulfilled, answered, satisfied, even just a little bit, was a source of great pain for me for many years.

Like the proverbial character “Neo” in the first few scenes of The Matrix, I was constantly searching, seeking, digging, exploring.

I just knew there was something more to life, to me, to existence, to being.

But, for a long time, there was no fruit out on that limb.

The miserables ones

In fact, the fruit, at times, became so elusive that, during one too-long period in my journey, I became suicidal.

Not to be overly dramatic. I wouldn’t be overly dramatic, even though, yes, I was an actor (and yes, I performed in Broadway’s Les Miserables, that show about “the miserables ones”). Well, maybe I would be dramatic on occasion, but not with this. When all alone with myself, sitting in a heap of pain and confusion, I knew the difference between being overly dramatic with myself and being truly, deeply in despair.

I knew that I did want to find a way out of my life experience. I wanted to end it, because I couldn’t see any other way to stop the chain of pain.

Sometimes, I would even lay in a full bathtub and hold my head under the water to see what it might feel like, to see if I could do it. Other times, I would hypothesize the most probable ways that I could do it and get away with it, hopefully making it appear to be an accident.

Being able to write about it now with relative nonchalance, when at the time it felt like I was dragging around the grim reaper’s curse with me, is a very welcome sign I’m headed in the right direction.

Suicide watch in paradise

During one period of my life, I was working on a cruise ship, traveling to various exotic locales such as the Caribbean, Central America, Tahiti, and Hawaii as an entertainer and member of the activities staff. While the traveling was rewarding and I met some wonderful people, the position was really the last place I wanted to be at that stage in my life, but I needed the gig and felt there was nowhere else to turn at the time.

When I think back to that time it fascinates me that even though, in the outer world, my life may have appeared to be pretty decent, with the traveling and a relatively cushy gig, that didn’t make much difference to my inner world. My inner world was suffering, and so, as a result, so was my perspective and my overall experience of just about everything.

In my general loss of purpose and direction, I would concoct scenarios of jumping overboard in the middle of the night when no one could be watching. When the ship was at sea, it always seemed the distance between life and death was just a balcony rail away.

Or, I would imagine how I could get off the ship in the next port, and drown myself at the nearest beach, never to return.

Problem was, I realized that in every case I could come up with, every person on the ship would be affected. No matter what I did, there would ultimately be some search party, or the ship would have to stop or be held-up leaving or arriving at some port, and literally everyone, from passenger to deck hand, would be affected by my pain.

And then I realized that, of course, that would be true no matter how and where I did it, whether working on a ship or not. There would be a ripple effect and countless people, especially, of course, those closest to me would be affected, many of them deeply. And I didn’t want to spread my pain any more than it had already spread inside of me.

I wanted it to stop with me, but also to stop within me, I just didn’t know how to make that happen.

The fruit needed to ripen

Fast-forward to another period in my journey. A period where, at last, I was getting some traction in alleviating the inner pain because I was finding some clarity, some answers.

In addition to other ongoing pursuits in the realms of self-realization, spirituality, and human potential, I was now studying (and occasionally having) out-of-body experiences (OBEs) with organizations such as The Monroe Institute and the International Academy of Consciousness.

I was reading about near-death experiences (NDEs) and taking in presentations by people like William Buhlman, Anita Moorjani, Jurgen Ziewe, Michael Newton, Eben Alexander, Julia Assante, Shawna Ristic, and others. I had been interested in OBEs since my late teens but had never gone further than dipping my toe in the shallow end to see what they were all about.

Little did I know that not only were OBEs incredibly exciting, paradigm shattering, and seemingly miraculous experiences, but the study of them opened up important insights into the mysteries of existence, of spiritual and multidimensional reality and personal development, soul development.

You can, and do, take it with you

With all of this study of OBEs and NDEs, I came to clearly understand, without a doubt, that whoever and however we are in our lives, we take it all with us when we pass-on at the point of “death.” [It’s become very clear to me that there is no “death,” but I’ll save that for another time.] So, if we are confused, in pain, dysfunctional, hating life or our ourselves, lost, or whatever form our misery might take, we will not drop those shadows when we pass-on.

We may have a nice welcoming party when we get to “the other side,” but ultimately we will experience our existence in that world, that dimension, through the same eyes of perception through which we have experienced this world.

Our misperceptions, misunderstandings, and dysfunctions will continue to be a part of us until we learn to work through them, to see them in a new light, to let them go and actually appreciate what they have given us.

So, committing suicide would not have been an escape from my problems, it merely would have been a change of scenery.

Our problems are with us until we transform them, until we shed light on them and in them, and learn from them. Learn what they have to teach us. And learn that they are profoundly important, essential catalysts for our evolution; there’s no other reason for them to exist.

Life – and our problems – are not happening to us, but for us. What a revelation. What a gift.

Doing the work

So how do you go about transforming your problems in the here and now? If you’re stuck and hating life, or simply are missing a sense of direction or purpose, what do you do? Wait it out?

Sell everything and move to an ashram somewhere? Become a spiritual nomad and travel the world? Become a nun or a monk?

Well, those all might be possibilities; the right paths for some. But for most of us, our lives are here in the “mainstream” world, and the mainstream world has much to teach us. It’s the avenue for evolution that we have chosen, at some level, at least for our lives up to now.

Dip your toe in the shallow end

My recommendation, if you’re looking to begin transforming, to start healing your wounds, understanding yourself and why you’re here, is to simply begin. Dip your toe in the shallow end.

What are you aware of here and now that needs attention in yourself and in how you “show up” in the world? Just start there.

Is it an issue you’ve carried since childhood that is still playing itself out in your adult life? Is it an inner dysfunction or mental block that has been with you for as long as you can remember, but you just can’t work it out?

Is it a broken heart? A lack of inner self-worth?

Whatever it is, it’s there for a reason. A good reason. It’s part of your path and if you will find the courage and willpower to go into it, it will have profound and beautiful lessons for you.

And when you work through it from the inside out, you and your life can transform in astonishing ways.

Smoke and mirrors

Often these inner issues seem like huge, perilous mountains to climb. They terrify us, thinking that if we go into them, we might encounter something that we won’t be able to handle.

But that’s never the case. Life doesn’t give us more than we can handle.

Our issues might look scary from where we are now, but once we have dealt with them, we usually come out on the other side amazed at how simple it was.

By being avoided over and over through the years, these issues may appear to have grown larger, but how they appear is most often just smoke and mirrors, the layers of protection we’ve unknowingly put there. But while those layers may have served us at first, now they’re holding us back.

You can only start with what you know right now. Find a book that inspires you and speaks to your specific issue, and start there. Attend a workshop. Visit a healer or intuitive therapist. Go on a retreat. Communicate with your loved ones and share your challenges with them. The options are endless. Once you begin, your path of inner awakening and clarity can and will continue to unfold.

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is no escape; there is only transformation.