Volunteering while traveling in Peru served as a great way to get a deeper connection with the country and its people, so when I saw a similar opportunity to volunteer in the US, I grabbed it with both hands.
The Option Institute is an international Autism treatment center nestled in the middle of nature, which is one of the reasons why I chose to spend 2 full months there and remove myself from the general tourist route.
The Berkshires region, a 2.5 hour scenic drive from New York City, is breathtakingly picturesque and extremely peaceful. The Institute's 100 acre property is situated within wooded rolling hills which are filled with hiking trails, lakes and wildlife. Our volunteer's cottage was surrounded by thick green forest and my room offered views of nature from every angle. I could even hear the sounds of flowing streams before sleep.
In this environment it is not surprising that the mind starts to clear and the body becomes energized. Waking up for an early morning run had never been easier for me. It was even spiritual in a way. I recognized beauty everywhere I ran and felt in tune with the world around me. This type of surrounding also fostered clarity and deeper seeing, especially working side by side with a group of like-minded people from different backgrounds.
Besides the satisfaction of giving to others (and the satisfaction of free accommodation), we all had group classes where we shared and uncovered our beliefs. The Option Institute and the Autism Center base their philosophy on the thesis that every behavior is a result of an adopted belief, therefore it is changeable with a simple process.
The Option Dialogue Process
I'm not sure of the exact history and background but the Option Dialogue process really reminds me of the famous Greek philosopher, Socrates, who posed deep, challenging questions and then used the answers to shed light on the reasons behind people's decisions.
The dialogue process we practiced at the Institute was basically a system of belief analysis which involved a series of questions that gave us an opportunity to crystallize what we know and more importantly, what we want.
When you think about it, nowadays most people avoid questions. They are commonly interpreted as signs of doubt or weakness. Most of us are afraid to confront our beliefs and open the "black box", just another tendency we've adopted along the way. We often say "I don't know", when in fact the reality for most of us is that we actually fear the answer and adopt a belief that is unknowable to compensate.
The Institute on the other hand, considers questions as a gift and an opportunity to help us reveal beliefs which can ultimately be altered. The questions we posed were never direct and did not lead to a described path. They were freely given and always triggered from the last answer. This is because it is believed that each of us is our own expert and that we know more than anyone about ourselves. The primary assumption is that each one of us does the best he can based on his beliefs, and the intention is always to take care of himself. Even when we're angry, for example, that emotion is triggered because we have an underlying belief that it serves us on some level.
One of the reasons I personally liked this process is because there is no right or wrong, good or bad, answers within the dialogue framework. We simply try to better understand ourselves in a nonjudgmental way and then use this understanding to further learn.
What did I learn?
So many things really, but primarily in the realm of happiness and unhappiness.
We all want to be happy obviously. In fact, it is the reason for all our desires and aspirations. However, we find ourselves too often unsatisfied or unhappy. We're used to blaming things on outside influences, such as an event or a person. We put something between ourselves and happiness. We put a condition. If that happens I will be happy. If I earn such and such amount, I will be happy. If I get into a relationship, I will be happy. We don't really accept responsibility for our happiness, where in reality we decide it ourselves.
In those 2 months spent exploring my belief system while volunteering, I could clearly see this mechanism. I could see the conditions I created and how sometimes I elected to choose unhappiness as a motivator to move myself forward, in many cases, quite successfully.charm
The real question however is, why not just be happy now and then if you want something, you can work towards it while already being happy? It seems more effective. More energy can be actualized to get what I want instead of energy spent on shutting down and forming fear.
It's only when we take full responsibility of our feelings, that we can maximize our happiness. That doesn't mean we will not experience dissatisfaction at all. I can already see scenarios where unhappiness can serve us quite well, but we can still defiantly ask questions. Does it get me what I want? Or does it give me less than what I want? And if I still decide to choose unhappiness, what's the point of keeping it long?
Questions. A gift indeed.
Live your dreams!
Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating society to its abundance potential.