If you are to make the right choices for yourself in life – as Cicero suggests Cato did – you need to choose what feels right. The US speech coach KC Baker calls this self-direction – steering a course to your true north. True north is best expressed as a this-is-me feeling. Psychotherapist Joseph Campbell had an expression for it: ‘Follow your bliss.’ Campbell said he came to the idea of bliss via the Sanskrit word sat-chit-ananda, which means ‘being-consciousness-rapture’.
I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to my rapture, and let it bring me both my consciousness and my being.
The good news is that true north – your bliss – is already there. It’s always been there. You find it when you express what’s already within you, rather than seeking to impress others. The main practice for gravitas is to pay gentle attention to true north, moment to moment. Be aware of what matters to you and what motivates you. What makes you feel good, in your element. Stay in contact with that bliss and let it take you step by step to the goals you dream of. Bliss isn’t always blissful of course, it can be hard work. But it’s rewarding work, a feeling of doing what you’re here to do.
The thing with true north is that, as Cicero says of Cato, when life takes you off course you can steer yourself back in the right direction. You can always shine a light on your integrity and your authenticity because your instinct leads you there.
Broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough is a good example of how true north works for gravitas. Attenborough’s gravitas has a lot to do with his being absolutely tuned in to his innate passion and purpose, and having headed in the direction of his true north all his life, building a great body of knowledge en route. David’s brother, director, producer and actor Richard Attenborough said that, ‘If you took a picture of Dave aged twelve, it would fit perfectly with what he is now.’ And what boosts Attenborough’s gravitas is his clear joy at sharing his passions. It gives him energy and power as a communicator to be so deeply rooted in his ethos and his values. His values go through him like a stick of rock.
Finding true north is about tuning into feeling. When you move towards your values you feel good. When you do something that goes against your values you feel bad. Legendary US first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the UN Human Rights Commission and helped to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, explains:
You have to realise what you value most … comparatively few people … have paused to consider what had value for them. They spend great effort … for values that fundamentally meet no needs of their own … perhaps they have imbibed the values of their particular profession … their neighbors … their family. Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.
The simple, powerful practice of tuning into your values on a daily basis has real power. You can do this by tuning in at the end of each day to what you are grateful for. It teaches you a great deal about your deepest values – very different to the values you might have ‘imbibed’ as Roosevelt puts it.
True north requires that you place your attention in your body and notice whether your choices give you a good feeling – the buzz, the joy of being in your element; or a bad feeling – the low, grey, tired feeling when you’re not. Many people choose to live in their heads rather than their bodies, but René Descartes’s ‘I think therefore I am’ is, recent science tells us, not quite right. Feeling matters too. Your emotion and your thinking are inseparably connected. You need to pay attention to both if you are to have the integrity and authenticity of gravitas.
Discover how to tune into your emotions, rather than your thoughts in my post about ‘Putting your brain in your belly.’