The purpose of The Journey of Life is the journey itself - not to get somewhere. We already are somewhere, exactly where we need to be and to go forward from. It’s not about destination/ending point, but about destiny, which is an eternal going forward that is already here, all along the way. It is our manifest destiny to live and learn and grow throughout eternity. Forms change, but life continues. The spiritual goal of every human life is transcendence - “extending beyond the limits of ordinary experience; Being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge.” (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary)

Life is often described as a journey of discovery and growth, and the function of the journey is to learn through experiences. This is an ancient concept. It’s reflected in the Australian Aboriginal rite of passage from youth to manhood called the “walkabout” and similar events in Native American and countless other tribal traditions from every area of this planet. These are journeys of passage and transcendence.

The goal of our journey through life is to learn the lessons that life’s challenges, problems, and adventures offer us. The main idea is not necessarily to get it right (or get it wrong) but simply to get it.

Usually it takes a while to get it. The majority of the world's religions believe in some form of reincarnation or eternal life - that we return for many lifetimes on earth. I hope so – it seems unimaginable to get it all in one short life. But whether it’s one lifetime or many, we get lots of opportunities to learn each of the lessons, especially the important ones, the ones our soul came here for. How can we spot which ones those are? Easy. They keep coming up.

When we learned our ABC’s and the multiplication tables, we had to repeat them many many times, before we really knew them. This is one of the ways we learn – by repetition. That’s why tour same old personal self-defeating, self-sabotaging, self-limiting patterns keep turning up to challenge us again and again. To give us more chances to learn our way past them. To graduate, to transcend, to move on to the next level.

“I thought I was past that!” I’ve heard myself say. “I guess not – Here it is again. And I fell for it! – Again!” It was just wearing a different hat. Or in a different person, or a different circumstance.

The Victim/martyr trap is the one I’ve personally struggled with the most, on many levels from almost-insignificant little events to major life-decisions. Victim/martyr is also known as “Door-mat” syndrome, “People-pleaser” "codependent" and uglier names. It’s about not being willing to stand up and say No. Or Yes. Or whatever I really wanted. It’s about being afraid tell the real truth because I thought it was not what the other person wanted to hear, and I was afraid if I gave them the “wrong” answer I’d have to pay a terrible price because of it.

Well, this is an understandable fear, for all of us. It's a kind of “dishonesty for self-defense.” I have certainly paid some dues in my life, and so I learned to use small, harmless dishonesties without realizing I was cheating myself. Being honest means being vulnerable, and that’s always a little bit scary, sometimes a lot. And yet, if we never show our true self to anyone, no one can ever really know us, or really love US. They can only love or not love, respect or not respect, the “public version” of us.

After lots of disappointments and failures I eventually learned that when I practice finding a quiet appropriate way to speak the truth as I see it, and ask for what I really want instead of what I think I might have the best chance to get, I end up stronger, and amazingly, I receive more respect too. I didn’t say it was easy, but like anything else, it gets easier with practice. And it does work.

We often fail to recognize the self-limiting scenarios and sub-plots in our lives until we look back over our shoulder and see that we’ve done it again. I know when I’m growing in my life – I can tell because now I start to see the pattern sooner, and I can say to myself “Hold it! What’s really going on here?” I pull back for a moment and recognize that I have the choice to break free of it before it reaches the crash-point.

This works much better. It is possible - there is the choice to change the course of things and events by changing my relationship to them. I can’t force them to change, but I can choose to change how I see things in relation to the person I want to be, how I want to see myself. I can recognize that my opinion of me is much more powerful in my life than their opinion of me. Then, amazingly, things start to change themselves.

It's true that “Whatever you give attention to, grows.” So when we spend mental energy thinking about what we fear, or what we dislike, we are actually giving more power to it. If we focus on how we’ve been mistreated (and realistically, everyone has been at some time) then we’re bound to get more of that unwanted kind of experience perpetuating in our present and into our future.

When I got really sick and tired of that kind of treatment, tired of being Poor-Pitiful-Me, I made a conscious decision NOT to worry over it, NOT to invest emotion in it, and NOT to mentally obsess on my misery like a dog gnawing on a bone. Instead, I choose now to intentionally shift my attention to some other, more pleasant thoughts right away.

My misery thought can’t do anything but hurt me, only now it’s not that person or event that’s hurting me, it’s ME that’s hurting me, by giving those feelings and thoughts such a good parking place - right up front!

We don’t actually have to do that to ourselves; there are other choices. Just try this : When you have done what you could in the situation, deliberately pull your attention away from the ugly stuff, and park your mental focus someplace else. Any pleasant thought will do. Call up a mental picture of some blessing you do have. Think of some beautiful place you’ve seen, something funny you saw on TV, or something that’s good or happy in your life - anything else but your misery. (THe old folks used to say "Count your blessings.")Notice that when you hold on to the hurt or the resentment, it doesn’t change the offending person or thing, it just makes YOU feel worse. Do you really want that? Do you really deserve that? Of course you don’t. Decide to let it go.

Build a new habit. When the misery-thought rudely pushes back in again (and it will, repeatedly) yank your attention away again, and park your thoughts in a better place, again. This gets easier with practice, and it works brilliantly. It clears your mind and puts you in a clearer perspective. In a few days or weeks (or sometimes in a few minutes) you’ll start to notice that things at work have started changing. Or that relationship. Or that problem, whatever it was. As soon as you are different on the inside, there is an incredibly powerful effect on whatever is going on, on the outside.

Of course I am not entirely free of my old patterns; there is still much more to learn. But at least now I can see them coming. I can decide to make better choices, which turn out to be much happier ones. On my way to this point of the journey, my old habits and patterns have sneaked back in, many times. Sometimes I saw them coming and considered changing my course, but didn't. So I learned another coping mechanism "the bail-out."

This did get me out of the soup, usually right at the boiling point. But this created another pattern – failure to complete things. I had the perfect excuse though. I told myself I didn’t have to feel like a quitter, because I hung in there until “fate” or “circumstances beyond my control” forced me to bail.

Really? Forced me? A cop-out is a cop-out. It's also a choice. Making excuses just delays my graduation. The Course In Miracles says “There are no accidents” and goes on to say everything that happens to us is called into our lives by us - and we receive just as we have asked. Another quote that has proved itself to be very valuable in my own life is: “This obstacle has come into your life to bless you.”

One thing I know for sure: We are what we believe we are. When we choose to be helpless (by allowing ourselves to believe we are helpless) in an instant, we become helpless. If we believe we’re victims of other people’s influence, we will be.

Like it or not, we are who we are, doing what we do, and making our way through this life. Other people are not us, and we are not them, and yet we are all expressions of God. Different as we are, the rules are the same for everybody. We have been put here together to learn from each other. While we are here, we are the teacher as well as the student. And so am I, and so are you.

So there is really no cop-out; choice is unavoidable. We either take possession of our own life and live it with honesty, responsibility and awareness, or we don’t. We must make mistakes, that’s how we learn. Life is not always easy, and living a life of honesty is a big responsibility with big rewards. Life can be simple, but also terribly complex, and always involves endless learning.

To really love life and live it with spirit and joy, takes courage, commitment, and conscious co-creation with God. It is an astonishing, ever-changing, wonderful journey that never ends, and you’ve got a ticket to ride.

this Month's New Thought Essay, Poetry, and Blog. Darkhorse Press New Poets