As a writer or entrepreneur, one way to define your audience is to think about your past self. What did she need or want? I am here because I want to offer to others what my past self needed, and what my current self still longs for. Wise guidance and community support. Let me tell you how I got here.
I remember the day, when I was 10 or so, when I saw a television special about the Woodstock Music Festival. I did the math to figure out that my parents would have been 18 at the time, so I assumed that they must have gone- like how could they miss that? They had not gone. My parents were not Woodstock people. They were not hippies, they were homebodies, and didn’t even really listen to any of the bands that were at Woodstock.
There was nothing non-conformist about my upbringing. I had two working parents, and spent a lot of time with my very sweet, very Catholic Grandma. There were no counter cultural lessons being taught, that is for sure. But, for unknown reasons, I have always questioned everything, mistrusted authority, and felt drawn to unconventional ideas. I recently read though a journal from when I was 10 where I wrote about questioning the truth of the religion I was raised in. In my mind, reincarnation made at lot more sense then heaven or hell. I am not even sure how I knew about the concept of reincarnation. A few years later, I mysteriously ended up with a Grateful Dead cassette tape in my possession. It was their album American Beauty. I became so obsessed with it that it made my teenage mind start to wonder….Maybe I was a reincarnated hippie?
At some point soon after I could drive, I ended up in a store in our town that I had never been into with my family. It was a “Health Food” store, and it was stuck in the 70’s- decorated in brown and yellow with bright orange Formica countertops. Upon entering you were hit with that smell that “Health Food” stores have, a mix of vitamins and herbs and essential oils. It was dimly lit, which added to the mystery of all the products on the shelves that I had never seen before. Best of all, they had a book section, and the books were stuck in the 70’s too- Back to Eden, The Farm Vegetarian cookbook, Our Bodies, Ourselves. That reincarnated hippie in me was right at home. I ended up buying a book that caught my eye- also orange and yellow and from the 70’s- Handbook to Higher Consciousness by Ken Keyes.
I’m not sure why I chose that book, but reading it opened me up to seeing that I can change more than my lifestyle and subcultural association. Hippie culture had already shown me that there were ways to live outside of the dominant culture. You could dismiss the status quo and think about who you wanted to be, intentionally creating yourself as you saw fit. But what I didn’t know until reading Ken Keyes’ book, is that it is one thing to deprogram cultural expectations and live an alternative lifestyle, and quite another to deprogram your mind.
I was already doing many things my family viewed as weird- like becoming vegan and refusing to adhere to cultural beauty standards by not shaving. I did not follow trends and was not interested in pop culture or tradition. These outer changes were a reflection of inner changes based upon my new values, combined with typical teenage identity development, but my mind had not changed much. I was still the worried and shy girl who was overly aware of her image. I really was not happy, and because I was questioning and introspective by nature, I wondered why this was when my life was good.
The Handbook to Higher Consciousness started to answer this question. For the first time I learned that our minds are like computers that take in data through our experiences and create programs that we use to make sense of the world. I learned that I do have control over the programs, and through conscious awareness can rewrite them. The big take away was that my mind is just a thought creation, and I have control over the creation. I can look at it from the perspective of an objective viewer and see what it is doing. If what it is doing does not serve my well-being, I can change it. This was huge. This meant that I do not have to try so hard to control my world to suit my mind. I don’t have to believe everything my mind tells me. For an emotional teenager who fell victim to the whims of her thoughts and moods, this was profound; this was just what my past self needed.
It is now 25 years later, and I still have a lot of work to do. When I have the awareness to stop and watch what my mind is doing, rather then getting caught up in its drama, life is better. I have learned a lot along the way, but it has been slow going because I have never had guidance. I’ve longed for a wise person to guide me along this path, or at least a traveling buddy, but I have mostly walked it alone and have gotten sidetracked many times.
This journey has lead me to spend the last 20 years immersed in the fields of Psychology and Social Work academically, and I’ve also amassed a library of self-books. It is beautiful to see that mental well-being, self-healing and meditation have exploded in popularity in recent years. It is obvious that many of us want to do this work, but it is time consuming, it’s often confusing or downright painful, and it can be a lonely journey. If I would have had a little guidance, some good resources, and a community of supportive people around me, I could have traveled this path so much faster. That is what my past self needed.
Mental health is so much more than being free of mental illness. Mental health is about well-being, awareness, and continual growth. We spend so much time trying to create a happy life by manipulating our outer world to please our inner world- our mind. What if we spent time learning that our life is a product of our mind and that we can intentionally create a mind that runs the programs that we want it to run, so we can have a life that is full of meaning, purpose, good relationships and positive emotions?
If you are ready to hear this message, and it is new to you, you will be hit with how big this is. We come to earth with our individual tendencies, but much of what we think of as our “self” is our own creation. Most of it happens unconsciously though our childhood experiences and cultural influences. Because we didn’t purposely create ourselves, we think that this is just who we are. The work of self-growth is taking all of this mind stuff and getting really aware of what is going on in there. Then we have to become intentional about what programs we want to weed out and which we want to cultivate. This is no small task, but unless you were raised by monks, we all have this work to do.
This work is being called self-healing, re-parenting, self-actualization or self-growth. When this work is not done, the dysfunctional stuff of the mind can turn into depression, anxiety, unhealthy relationships and many other things that diminish our well-being. This work is just a part of our growth as a human being at this point in our evolution. I believe a big part of why we are here as humans is to do this work.
If there were an operating manual for you mind, you would have to be the one to write it. You are the only one who knows the exact combination of things you know and has had the experiences you have had. The computer programs that you are currently running are one of a kind because they are your creation. You are your own best guide/teacher/wise one/guru. You just need to be able to see the path to get started, a few mile markers along the way, and support for when you feel lost. This is what my past self needed.
So that is why I’ve created Wisdom Cultivators. This project is the result of spending 20 years zigzagging on and off the path wishing I had some nudges in the right direction; wishing I had guidance when my inner compass was spinning. I want to create a place where you can find the inspiration, guidance, and support that I have longed for all this time. We have so much to offer each other. Wisdom Cultivators will be a place to connect and guide each other.
“You need to keep finding yourself, a little more each day, that real, unlimited you. She is your instructor. You need to understand her and to practice her.” -Richard Bach
Thanks for reading.
Aimee O’Neil LLMSW