“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
We often hear about the idea of finding yourself.
But many leading thinkers and spiritual guides have told us we’ve got it all wrong.
They tell us you can’t “find” what was never lost in the first place, and that going about it the wrong way in an egotistical manner can end up leaving you further behind than when you first started.
Why is finding yourself considered crazy? Here are 12 key things to know…
1) You’re not lost
How can you find yourself if you’re not lost?
The problem with some of the popular versions of “finding yourself” is that they are presented as a search for a kind of missing treasure or lost secret.
But it doesn’t work that way.
No matter what you’re going through in life or how lost you feel, you as an individual identity who exists are not lost.
Your experience of life is valid and valuable. You can use it to grow and learn. You are not lost, you are in progress.
2) “No man is an island”
More than 400 years ago, the English poet John Donne memorably wrote that:
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
Donne was talking about how we’re all in the same boat and later in the poem famously said:
“Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
His point is we’re all mortal and we’re all going to die. The suffering of one affects us all whether we realize it or not and injustice anywhere is an injustice to us all.
Finding yourself doesn’t happen in a hermetically sealed bubble or on a secluded resort island.
It happens along the rocky road of life, taking the same bumps and bruises as all the rest of us.
3) The only constant is change
The only thing you can be 100% certain of is change.
Even if you sit completely still and drink only a glass of water until tomorrow at this time, the weather will have changed, your digestion will have progressed, your energy level will change and many other things will be different.
There is not static, “final you” to “find” or grasp in some way. Instead, there is a process of finding and discovery that’s ongoing, mystical, powerful, and deep.
To truly find yourself you need to adjust your sails to the dynamics of change. Embrace the ever-flowing current and move with it.
Find yourself in the flux.
4) You find yourself through others
Why is finding yourself considered crazy?
One of the biggest reasons that many spiritually awake people talk about is that you don’t so much find yourself as you discover yourself through others and service to others.
This does not mean some hokey thing about serving a muffin to a homeless guy and taking a selfie with him. This is an ever-present attitude of wanting to be useful and help because you can.
Think of your day as an accounting slip. Are you net positive or net minus at the end of the day?
Have you given more or received more?
There is a blessing in receiving but to never give ends up leaving you miserable and isolated.
Whereas to give and serve is actually extremely empowering. It connects you to others, to the rhythm and needs of life, and ultimately, to yourself and to finding yourself.
5) You find yourself through what you do
The other secret to finding yourself is that you don’t find yourself in your head or even in your heart.
You may have all sorts of intuitions, insights, and amazing ideas about who you are and your potential in this life.
But until you get out there and put them into action they remain just that: ideas and insights.
Maybe one of your callings is to write like I do, maybe it’s to do landscaping, bake bread or become a professor of mathematics…
But whatever it is, you won’t find yourself or your calling in life by thinking about it.
You’ll find it by doing it.
6) Self-discovery is a process of self-creation
Self-discovery is a process of self-creation. It is not so much about finding yourself or uncovering a particular set of characteristics, goals, and talents as it is about creating them.
By your choices and where you decide to focus your attention and energy, you have the power to begin to create the you that you want to be.
Many things from genetics and upbringing to our religious background or cultural affiliation are not our choice — at least not during our upbringing — but as you find the unique you and gravitate towards your passions, you begin to create yourself.
You find yourself in the process of creation.
7) You and I are part of an organic whole
You and I are part of an organic whole called Gaia, Mother Earth, our natural biome, whatever you want to call it.
We find ourselves through nature and our relation to nature.
The deep wisdom in the violence and beauty of nature is no mistake. It’s a signpost to us to find those paradoxes and mysteries inside ourselves and explore them.
We’re all connected in the web of life and our human nature is connected to millennia of struggle for survival.
We are warriors in our core, designed to survive the very worst and care for our fellow humans in the circle of life.
The best way to find yourself is to find your place in the circle of life: interrelated, interdependent, and fully empowered.
8) You don’t need a guru in order to find yourself
The idea of a guru is not necessarily bad: a spiritually attuned master who helps guide students into finding their own spiritual depths and strength.
The reality of a guru is, however, often manipulative and broken.
A man or woman inhabiting a place of superiority, dispensing “answers” and cryptic guidance that always puts them on another level above the commoners and spiritual peasants.
Regardless of your relation to spiritual teachers, gurus, or leaders, you don’t need a guru in order to find yourself.
You have the tools within you to discover just who you are and how to manifest that proactively around you without needing someone else to do it for you.
9) Sometimes getting lost is the best way to find yourself
Why is finding yourself considered crazy?
Because sometimes the best way to find yourself is when you get lost.
When I think back to many pivotal moments in life when I found out key things about who I am, what I love and my role in the world it didn’t happen when I expected.
It happened when I was literally lost:
Unsure where to go after a rerouted plane flight;
Out of a job and wondering where to find work;
Moving to a new place I knew nothing about and having no idea what to expect.
You don’t find yourself where you expect: you find yourself in the rough and tumble of life.
10) There is no exact roadmap to finding yourself and we’re all on a unique journey
Another thing about finding yourself is that it’s different for everyone.
We all have unique journeys in this life, and despite being connected in the grand web of nature, we have different roles, talents, and destinies.
For some people, finding themselves may include more cerebral elements and analysis.
For others, it’s going to be a lot more about action and finding themselves through work and physical reality.
Trying to find yourself in a very intentional way can end up leaving you running in circles.
Because there is no exact roadmap, and usually the greatest epiphanies happen in the place you feel most lost and confused.
11) Finding yourself happens in a mysterious location
Picture yourself on a small boat, traveling down a sparkling river. You have passed rapids and bad weather and now the sun is shining.
But you’re approaching a mysterious area:
Tendrils of jungle vines weave in the water, fog rises through the verdant foliage, macaws call out and a fine mist from a nearby waterfall touches your skin…
You let the paddle glide and relax in your seat.
You breathe deeply, inhaling the revitalizing water vapor and sunshine as a rainbow appears in the mist.
You are in the zone of finding yourself, breathing deeply, navigating the territory between the somatic and autonomous nervous system, healing the rifts that had formerly broken you apart…
You are not in your mind or searching for “answers” anymore. You are experiencing the answer with each breath and your own existence.
You are the answer.
“I once was lost, but now am found…”
Finding yourself in a literal way doesn’t work. It just leads into the same egoic cycle you were trying to break out of when you set out with the idea to find your “true” self.
By contrast, finding yourself in a holistic way that takes into account the changes of life leads to true awakening and vitality.
As the shaman Rudá Iandé said to me recently:
“It sounds funny when I hear people talking like this. Last time I heard a guy telling me he was trying to find himself I grabbed his arm and told him ‘don’t worry, I already found you. You’re right here, in front of me, look!’
The wandering mind which’s trying to find out is usually the only problem. People are often lost in their mind, and disconnected from their body, emotions and instinct.
If you want to find yourself, forget trying to understand yourself. If you wanna find yourself, lose yourself. Let go of your sense of identity through dance, music, sex, or whatever makes you completely forget of yourself and just be present.
Because you’re not something static that can easily be defined.
You’re movement and change. You’re life happening here and now.”