A thoughtful balance

Autonomy and Life

Arnold Siegel 0 Comments

Arnold Siegel

A thoughtful balance
Part 1

Intentionally or not, here we are. In the fast lane. We live in a time when economic realities and social expectations press almost all of us to hustle—almost all of the time. And to appear to take it all in stride. Get up early. Manage the needs of family. Hurry off to work amid traffic, congestion, tired or angry drivers. Deal with everyday bad news concerning kids, our own parents, peers and employees. Lead, motivate, resolve. Cooperate, accommodate, adapt. Innovate. You name it. Sturdy back, nimble fingers, quick feet, we do it. In other words, the demands made on us to carry on never end.

Yet, even as we're busy, we feel another demand, a demand that runs deep within. A demand that isn't really met by a comprehensive must/needs "to-do" list. We feel the demand emotionally. Why this is so is complex. Indeed.

We are not just well-oiled machines built to manage a logical to-do list. In fact, we are also products of evolution, a living system—computational and hard-wired. An eons-old adaptation that is not necessarily a natural fit for a complex life in the fast lane.

In addition, we are individuals who want to see a bigger picture, be a bigger person and make a bigger contribution. Though inextricably bound to biology and the cultural impress, we also know of freedom, creativity and imagination.

So, even as we're perfecting our competence and control when it comes to running a business or managing a home, we recognize the heart's demand. Its call on conscience, on affinity and compassion, on integrity and fair play, on hope, good faith and love.

Yes, we can recognize this call to a thoughtful balance as a humane obligation. But we can also recognize it as the means to a profound presence of mind, to happiness, to emotional expansiveness. This call, when heeded, provides a fine and exquisite balance to the relentless programmed nature of existence.

I don't think it works to call the heart's demand, "me-time." It's not about a squeezed-in golf game or spa visit and can't really be accommodated by a to-do list.

Yes, it is true that none of us can afford to recklessly flout convention. We must go through all the motions that constitute responsibility. But the automaticity of conventional life does not satisfy the heart's demand. It is the quality of our whole response to being in the world that plays the significant role in the quality of our experience. So, the heart's demand is fulfilled when we acquire—over a whole lifetime—a core bedrock of inner strength and creative resourcefulness that brings imagination and emotional and intellectual balance to conventional life.

And it's not easily come by, this thoughtful balance. As I said, the anxieties attendant upon modern life keep us in line, focused on the to-do list. But unless we attend to the balance, we don't really individuate as originals, as authors of our way of being, as the architects of a life of our own design.

Unchain your heart
Part 2

In my previous podcast, I discussed the intense focus and labor demanded by the modern cultural impress. Even if we try to balance the stress and fast-track logic with a second home, vacation getaway or yoga retreat, the pressure continues.

It's in our heads. It's in our subjective experience. It's in our perspective. It's in our explanations. Everything just seems to make sense in light of everything else. After all, economic uncertainties and social expectations are real. As is the rivalrous impulse.

During the long march from creature to culture, always at play is the rivalrous impulse. We are born with it, bred to it, conditioned by it and rewarded for it. Had we no flexibility with our subjective capacity, the immediate rivalrous impulse would be instrumental in keeping some of us alive. It drives animals, small and large, to extend and defend their territory and to compete for resources. We have extra brainpower. This extra resource makes it possible for us to transcend the immediate—to insert a pause between the stimulus and the response. We can anticipate our needs, make plans to acquire necessities and comforts and set aside resources for the proverbial rainy day.

This transcendent know-how or can-do changed human possibility. Life is no longer limited to happenstance, to the way that it is. Life can be about the way it ought to be. Unlike the jungle's creatures, humans now have the means for going beyond the condition and circumstance in which they find themselves. They can transcend the immediate wiring and move into a wonderland born of intention, imagination and genius.

Does this mean that we've shed the rivalrous impulse? No. Translated into a modern vigilant, unnerving status anxiety, the rivalrous impulse drives us still—its internal and external beat so dominant that even conscience is at its mercy. It would have us believe that our fulfillment and overall merit depend upon our place on the Scoreboard.

In other words, though long out of the jungle, we still find ourselves in a world where widespread sophisticated exploitation of the rivalrous impulse drives contentious and adversarial competition for every inch of material or conceptual territory. We can't escape it; it seems to make the world go ‘round. But very much about it makes for a lesser or unbalanced human experience.

Think it over. Think about how so much of life is driven by this impulse. The antagonism. The pettiness. The no-holds-barred drive to move up in the pecking order. The rationalizing and adulteration of value. The envy, jealousy, conceit. The intimidation, disagreeableness and spite.

When we do make a moment to think it over, we probably recognize that this constant press feels more like reaction than living a life of our own design. Of course, we do have to deal with economic uncertainties or social expectations—though both were shaped in large part by the Scoreboard's exploitation of the rivalrous impulse.

At the same time, we want to be true to the heart's instinctive feel for faith, hope and love, for meaning, substance and contribution. And very often that truth must transact under intense and immediate pressure and conflict—from within and from without.

If we don't have the subjective ability to deal with the conflict in an authentic, balanced and resourceful way, we lose out on the opportunity to give voice and depth to the farthest reaches of human possibility.

Arnold Siegel


The Retreat Workshops, led by Arnold Siegel, offer a unique and extraordinary inquiry into the nature, condition and opportunities of our human existence. The aim of the Workshops is to provide you with the tools and insight required to forge a life of your own design.

Typically attended by 50-75 people, the Workshops are conducted over three days – Friday through Sunday – at fine hotels or beach resorts, enabling busy people to "get away from it all" in order to take stock. It's a time and place where you can think over what's important and possible for you and your life, where you take time to design the life you'd like to lead, and where you learn the practical skills for living out your design in daily life.

During the Workshop, you will read Arnold Siegel's book (available only during the  Workshop) and begin to acquire the discipline of Autonomy and Life—the deep intellectual resources and the reserves of heart and humanity—that will get you through life's challenges. By the second or third day of The Retreat Workshop, you'll have a poignant experience of the freely chosen, well-lived life and of who you might yet be in its heartful enactment.

Stamford, CT
October 28, 29, 30

Newport Beach, CA
November 11, 12, 13

To register for a Retreat Workshop or to learn about the other courses offered
by Arnold Siegel, please call Jean at:

1 800 818 7818


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