“Okay,” you’re asking, “What does the Mississippi River have to do with me?” Here’s the link. Carl Jung observed that within all cultures, there is a kind of “herd mentality” or a “group-think” that people automatically accept without too much thought. As discussed in Keep Your Eye on the Prize! www.keepyoureyeontheprize.orgpeople in this “collective unconscious” mindset are on “auto pilot” in life. Like the mighty Mississippi River, they flow along, accepting without question the values and behavior dictated by the group. Do you remember this from school? Did you feel pressure to “go along” with the “cool crowd” in order to be accepted, even though this may not have been entirely comfortable? Did you feel that you were in a box that was not entirely of your own making? Well, here’s good news; you have a choice.
Jung encouraged us to step out of this box into the world of possibilities and decide in a conscious way how we wish to live. According to Jung, the goal of life is individuation. M. Scott Peck, M.D. called this process taking the “road less traveled,” the road that will take us down the life we are meant to enjoy. But how do you get onto your true pathway rather than a false one? Finding your own path and not getting sidetracked onto someone else’s can be tricky, as circumstances and important relationships can influence us to make choices we may later reject. However, while it is good to “think out of the box,” it does not make sense to dive into weird or destructive activities just for the sake of being different. Instead, adopt a flexible mindset, recognizing that there are many useful and joyful ways to live life. You can accept some ideas and discard others that do not “fit.” At the end of this trying out process, you may decide that you fit best with the collective culture and values around you, and that is fine too. The idea is to make this decision in a conscious way that will leave you feeling good about yourself and life, recognizing that over time your priorities and values may shift with experience and result in different choices.
Fundamental to this process are the core values that you assemble. This involves the Spiritual Compass Point we discussed earlier. Test your beliefs in order to learn which ones to save and which to discard. Use them when you have to solve a problem in your life. Build a social support system of those who share your core beliefs, so that you do not feel alone. At the same time, work on tolerating those with different points of view without over-reacting defensively and emotionally—a skill that can take the rest of your life. And if you find yourself drifting uncomfortably down the Mighty Mississippi in a river of values that don’t fit with who you are, just head for the shore and the new roads beyond!