Where To Begin?
It’s 2019, self discovery is big and getting much bigger.
All sorts of weird and wonderful experiences are sprouting up to help us make sense of ourselves and the increasingly chaotic world around us.
Whether you’re just starting out or deep into a journey of self-inquiry, this guide is designed to help you find the tools, courses, and experiences that can provide profound insights into your mind and your life.
I’ve laid out some of the best self-discovery tools and organizations that exist from my years of trial and error. Some of these take 10 minutes, some 10 days, but all of them are incredibly powerful and backed by personal life experience.
So let’s jump in…
The only journey is the journey within.
— RAINER RILKE
1. Discover Your Human Design
There are two aspects of high-school physics and biology that we often sleep through which in fact, are incredibly important to our lives. The first is that everything is energy (right down to sub-atomic particles) and the second is we each have unique DNA. Put the two together and it tells us that we each have our own unique energetic blueprint, but what does that mean?
Well, Human Design is a revolutionary system that maps your personal energy field, giving precise and incredible insights into the energetic makeup of your conscious and unconscious mind. It’s a system that shows you how you were built, and how to best respond to the world—like a combination between astrology and Myers-Briggs.
It’s a system that brings together principles of The I Ching, astrology, Kabbalah, Hindu-Brahmin chakra system, and quantum physics. Your Human Design Chart, also called a BodyGraph, is calculated using your birth date, time, and place, to reveal your genetic design.
On the most practical level, Human Design shows you where and how to access your body’s consciousness as a decision-making tool, and ultimately, how to live as your true self.
Human Design offers a map, or a manual, that indicates how you are unique as a person, and guides you in living in a manner that is in sync with who you are. When we live in alignment with our true nature, we begin to experience a level of comfort and acceptance for who we are, instead of chasing who we are not—and we’re able to live out our real purpose in the world.
Human Design readings are often a massive relief for people that have been living a life different to their energetic blueprint because of culture and conditioning.
Each person has an energetic type (manifestor, generator, projector or reflector) as well as a profile, and strategy. The graph then becomes increasingly nuanced by the channels and gates of the unconscious and conscious, which inform the subtler aspects of our genetic makeup and behaviours.
You can get a free Bodygraph at MyBodyGraph and use the information there to get basic insights about your makeup. The deeper revelations come from pairing the map with the Human Design books by Chetyn Parkyn or going and getting a proper reading from a Human Design shaman or certified analyst.
This has been one of the most informative systems for me in understanding my own behaviours and energetic makeup. I’m a 4/6 Manifestor (Opportunist Role-Model) which means I’m here to inform, assume a leadership position in my own way, and offer guidance relating to transcendence. Sounds like Inner Truth right? 🙂
2. Go On A Vipassana Retreat
Meditation is without doubt one of the most useful practices for cultivating mindfulness, bringing yourself to peace, reducing stress, improving sleep, and receiving insight. Mindfulness as a movement is gathering strong space with HeadSpace now at over a million monthly users and Insight Timer (it’s free equivalent) north of 5 million.
Whilst daily meditation is a useful practice for keeping you level (what I think of as ‘maintenance mode’), if you want to dive deep into the real power of meditation, a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat is the way forward.
Vipassana (which means “to see reality as it is”) is a specific meditation technique that uses the body as the object of focus, to help you gain deep insights into the nature of reality and your thoughts about it. Perfected millennia ago by the Buddha as the correct approach to achieve enlightenment, it fell out of awareness (no pun intended) until it was rediscovered in the 1980s by S.N. Goenka and brought back to India whereupon it has flourished as the most popularly taught meditation technique worldwide.
A 10-day meditation retreat involves taking a noble vow of silence (yes, I do mean not speaking for 10 days straight), and meditating for c.11 hours a day using the specified technique. Initially you begin by focusing on the breath, then narrowing this down to a specific area of interest (the nostrils) and then after a few days, graduating on to scanning the body for physical sensations.
As you scan your body, you are taught to not attach to pleasant sensations, or to avoid unpleasant sensations (e.g. pain), as it is the attachment and aversion that is the root cause of suffering. We become upset when the things we attached to leave us, and vice versa about things we don’t like coming to us. The core teaching is that of impermanence, that everything in life arises and passes away. Nothing ever lasts. This is an immutable law of life, a noble truth of Buddhism, and ultimately the key to our liberation from all suffering.
During the retreat you’re forbidden from reading, writing, or interacting with others (no eye contact either), so that you focus entirely on your own experience. If you imagine a 20-30 minute daily practice of meditation helps wipe a little bit of dirt off your mind, then Vipassana is like going in with an industrial cleaning company!
After a few days of cleaning and coming to stillness, the mind starts to bring up deeply repressed thoughts, memories, and feelings. These can be very uncomfortable to sit with, but the practice is simply again to perfect the art of sitting with the discomfort, acknowledging it is impermanent, and then allow it to move on. As you do so, things that bothered you in the past simply fall away, energy returns (the energy that was suppressing it), and insights into the truth of the situation become clearer.
It really is a profound and beautiful process of self-understanding. It is however, not an easy experience. Like many systems and experiences for self discovery (many in this book!), the truth can be painful to look at (in this case, days of body pain and difficult emotions), but the truth will set you free.
When I came out of my first Vipassana I felt bullet-proof! The best thing about it is that it is free to commence and donation-based at the end. During the time you will be housed, fed, and watered for free. You can book online at www.dhamma.org.
3. Train Yourself In Breathwork
Breathing is life, prana as the yogis say, and yet so many of us do it badly. Stress, poor posture, emotional blockages, can all contribute to having inhibited breathing patterns, the most common of which is not breathing enough or not exhaling enough, both of which stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, creating more stress and dis-ease within the mind and body.
‘Breathwork’ has become a whole field of self-discovery and is an umbrella term for all of the varying approaches to self-enquiry through the breath. The most popular contemporary breathwork approaches are the Wim Hof Method, popularised by the legendary cold-immersion adventurer of the same name, Transformational Breathing, and Holotropic Breathing.
Each of these have variants on the same theme of using conscious breathing to calm the mind and bring it into an altered state of consciousness to allow whatever blocked emotional energies to release.
Stanislav Grof, the legendary LSD scientist, sought to find a breathing technique that could create similar effects to LSD-assisted therapy and ultimately ended up developing the Holotropic Breathing method. The word holotropic comes from the Greek holos, which means whole and trepein, which means to move toward. So, holotropic can be translated to mean moving towards wholeness.
Specifically, holotropic breathwork uses short, intense breaths followed by long, deep breaths, over a prolonged period of time (usually 2-3 hours) to induce an altered state of consciousness. Typically you do it lying down, with a group of 10-30 others, overseen by a facilitator. Breathing in this way for such a long period moves an incredible amount of stuck/dense energy in the body, which has no choice but to rise up.
It’s not uncommon for people to start spontaneously crying, yelling, laughing, and all other forms of emotional release! A lot of intense energy can be released and you’re counselled not to judge (yourself or by extension anyone else), and instead just go with the flow.
Afterwards people tend to report blissful sense of release, new creative insights, decreased anxiety/stress, and many other positive outcomes.
For me, I’ve found it an amazing way to gain clarity, feel a greater trust in myself, and release stuck emotions that I’ve buried over the years.
Breathwork is becoming increasingly popular because of its ease to learn, great results, and limited time requirements. It’s also something you can practice at home once you’ve learnt the basics.
For the full low-down, check out our Definitive Guide To Breathwork.
4. Explore Plant Medicine
For thousands of years indigenous cultures and tribes have been exploring and making use of the plants that co-existed in their habitat. Perhaps the most powerful of these is the plant group known as entheogens, or what you can think of as plants that can include psychedelic states.
Unfortunately, due to the heady highs of the hippy-revolution in the 1960s, they are all but entirely illegal in the West, but that has not stopped a strong resurgence of their usage both in their traditional setting (typically Peru, Brazil, Colombia) or non-traditionally in the West.
Popularised by books such as Daniel Pinchbeck’s Breaking Open The Head the medicines have become popular for people looking to dive deeply into the recesses of their unconscious, heal past traumas, and discover untapped wisdom.
It’s possible to write a book on each of the medicines but instead it’s better to summarise the philosophy of working with these medicines and direct you to podcasts on Ayahuasca, the Toad Medicine, and Iboga.
Whichever plant medicine you carefully research and decide to work with, the same approach is true. Plant medicine enables you to transcend the traditional egoic state of consciousness and have a meeting with your soul and/or supranatural consciousness (the plant’s consciousness or the universal source intelligence or both).
In this experience you’ll typically experience an encounter with your soul, your true self, and typically along the way, aspects of your ego consciousness will try to keep you from the encounter through self sabotaging behaviour, projecting fears/images onto something or someone.
These sub-personalities have a positive intent (to keep us safe) and to protect us from something we perceive as painful. The experience is then typically learning that there is nothing to fear, and dismantling these old thought patterns and behaviours by becoming comfortable with them again (similar to Vipassana but in a heightened state). The results are highly beneficial with the end goal to come back into alignment with your true nature, find balance between your heart and mind, balance between your sub-conscious, conscious and super-conscious selves, and to reawaken self-respect, self-worth, and self-love.
The experience can play out over 15 minutes to 8 hours (depending on what form of medicine you take) and is almost always overseen by a professional shaman, in a ceremonial context, adhering to traditional values and preparation.
Plant medicines aren’t for everyone. Of the methods in this book, they are likely the most intense forms of self-discovery you can embark upon, however they do offer incredible insights and awakening when carried out properly and with the appropriate integration afterwards.
For more, check out the Definitive Guide To Ayahuasca as well as my deep dive podcasts on Ayahuasca and the Toad Medicine (Bufo Alvarius) for guidance, recommendations on retreats, and further resources.
Step into the fire of self-discovery. This fire will not burn you, it will burn who you are not.
5. Embark On A Rite Of Passage
In ancient times gone by, particularly in indigenous cultures and those connected deeply to the land, it was seen fit that boys and girls of a certain age (typically puberty), would be put through a rite of passage, a ceremony of initiation to mark their exit from childhood into adulthood.
These ancient rites of passage could be considered quite brutal by today’s standards. For the boys, they often involved simulating a near-death or extreme fear-inducing experience in an effort to sever the boy’s connection from their ego, and learn to bow down to the divine mystery that is life.
Shrouded in secrecy, the passage was handed down generation by generation, helping boys to evolve into mature men quickly within the tribe. It was often found that these rites of passage helped improve social cohesion, reduce intra-tribe violence, and help men adopt responsibility faster.
Nowadays, with no rites of passage or formal demarcation into adulthood, young men and women often graduate into life around 20 years old, with limited understanding of the ‘real world’. They are left to their own devices for figuring out the toolkit needed to navigate life effectively.
It is perhaps not unusual then that so many people find themselves deeply lost in their late 20s and 30s, and men in particular struggle with integrating their feminine side (vulnerability, compassion). Feeling like they have no one to speak to, they instead turn to distraction, drink, or over working.
To remedy the situation and help men find their maturity and sense of place in the world, organizations like the ManKind Project host life-changing experiential personal development programs for men. These weekend retreats bring groups for 30-40 men together for a variety of exercises that help men (of all ages) go through their own rite of passage and be initiated into mature masculinity.
To protect the integrity of the process, much of the retreat is sworn to secrecy, but philosophically speaking it involves a number of group-held exercises to help men break through common belief-systems like ‘emotions are for the weak’, in order to get back in touch with their feminine side and appreciate the strengths and healing to be found in these aspects of the psyche.
Female versions of these initiation ceremonies also exist, and often focus on reclaiming and re-empowering feminine qualities (you’re probably starting to see a theme of suppressed female intelligence here…). Often this can involve practices of reconnecting to the womb, appreciate the cyclical wisdom of the menstrual cycle, and tapping into feminine intuition as well as sacred sexual energy. These weekend retreats are generally speaking, incredible experiences to have.
6. Go On A Vision Quest
Throughout the history of the world and dating back through time unknown, people from all nations, cultures, and religions have used nature as a way of gaining insight, wisdom, and power. Great prophets, leaders, artists, philosophers, and influential guides have turned to nature to gain renewed clarity and wisdom.
Nature is the ultimate, deepest and truest expression of source energy and thus spending time in a deeply immersive way in the wild, can awaken our inner wisdom and uniqueness.
Vision Quests traditionally were like rites of passage, particularly for Native America adolescent boys. Nowadays, the term is used more broadly to mean quests of 4-8 days out in the wild on your own. It is in some ways a cross between Vipassana and a rite of passage, where solace and solitude in nature help connect you to the infinite within.
Vision Quests (sometimes called Wisdom Questions) vary significantly in size, shape, and form, but typically follow the arc of a 4-8 day experience. The first 1-2 days you spend in a group setting in nature, being educated about the surrounding environment, ancient wisdom, how to read signs, and understand yourself. You are then taken out into the wilderness and left alone with limited food and drink (fasting is a key component), to endure whatever comes along, be it wild animals, bad weather, or anything else! Your provisions are basic, in an effort to help you connect inward to your personal sense of power.
Vision Quests often conclude with a group sweat lodge to purify the mind and body, and also commonly with plant medicine to seal the experience of time in nature.
The experience is very powerful and often facilitates you discovering your unique and true intuitive self and your connection to nature. It can help in transforming your anguishes, pain, and sufferance as well as letting go of limiting beliefs, emotional traumas, and self-empowering issues. Most of all you tend to return with a much strong sense of personal power and trust in the universe.
Vision Quests are held all over the world and at all times of year(!) depending on your appetite for hot or cold 🙂 In the USA, Quests For Vision provide regular expeditions, in Europe, Manex Ibar offers particularly powerful Wisdom Quests in France.
Your work is to discover your work and then give all of your heart to it.
7. Life Visioning
All of these incredible transformational experiences, courses, programs, retreats, can often lead you right back to where you started, with the reassuring knowledge that all the answers are already inside you.
Our busy and complex lives can keep our time and attention largely outside of ourselves, but actually some miraculous insights can be found through simply applying our focus back onto our lives again in a guided way.
‘Life Visioning’ is a category of tools and programs that can help with simply reflecting on each aspect of your life, establishing what you want to achieve, and why you want to achieve it. It sounds simple but how often do you sit down and think deeply about how you would like your relationships, your family life, your business, your career, your sex life, your emotional development or your spiritual development, to look like in five or ten years time?
Often when you put pen to paper on these areas of our life, you can discover new insights about what you really want and plot a course to achieving it.
There are a host of programs and courses out there that can help with this self-reflection process. My preferred tools are:
MindValley’s LifeBook – This is a relatively new course put together by Jon & Missy Butcher who pioneered an approach to life visioning that involves thinking deeply about 12 areas of your life (from relationship through to work, friends, spiritual development etc) and setting out what you would love to have, why you want it, what beliefs you have about it, and what the steps are to accomplishing it.
It’s an 8 week online guided process with videos that costs $500. The investment is an accountability deposit which you can refund at the end if you don’t feel you got value, but most people find it’s absolutely worth the investment. You can sign up for their free masterclass online to learn more about it before making a decision.
Self-Authoring Suite – The renowned author, psychologist and academic, Jordan Peterson, famed for his book 12 Rules For Life, has poured much of what he knows about self-discovery and self-actualisation into his power Self-Authoring program. This online tool guides you through a comprehensive reflection of your past experiences and how they have impacted you. It then encourages you to take an account of your current virtues and vices, and lastly guides you to visioning and authoring your future.
Pouring attention into these areas helps you not only develop a vision for your life, but also see where your current limitations (areas for growth are), and what kind of past experiences or beliefs are holding you back from your dreams. Its a simple but very powerful writing tool that has demonstrably improved the lives of many of the students it was originally trialled upon. It costs c.$30 and can be started and finished at your own leisure.
8. Try The Landmark Forum
It’s a common function of human consciousness that our brains tend to replay the past and predict the future based from it. This is why we see so many recurring patterns play out in our lives, in relationships, and with money.
How we think and feel largely determines our actions in life. Our thoughts and feelings though are primarily driven by our beliefs, which sit in our unconscious, having been assumed from early childhood (typically between 0-7).
Most the time, these beliefs keep us running on autopilot, unaware of the data we are filtering and the judgements we are making.
Landmark Worldwide is a unique three-day weekend retreat where you are invited to become deeply conscious of your own perceptual filters of reality, by interrogating and challenging your most sacred beliefs.
Landmark helps show you that you’re 100% responsible for your reality. Everything that happens to you is a matter of your own perception, which is governed by your belief system. This is quite a radical departure from how popular culture informs us to behave, instead of reaction (blame, anger), we can move to response (self-forgiveness, compassion) in times where situations are not to our liking.
Landmark’s process shows you very clearly how it is limiting beliefs that create suffering, not events themselves. By recognizing this pattern, its costs, and how you keep the pattern in place, you see that you have the choice to interrupt the cycle and discover new ways of interacting that lead to new levels of happiness, satisfaction, and fulfilment in areas that are most important to you.
Landmark also breaks down common errors in thinking like the ‘cause-and-effect’ model of reality which make us believe that events happened for specific reasons, when in fact they are unrelated.
The program focuses heavily on breaking bondage with the past and is therefore very useful for people that feel particularly shaped by certain past events, traumas, childhood memories etc.
To catalyse the change in belief systems, the course teaches you how to manage your anxiety and fear and transform them to move forward towards your goals. It teaches the importance of becoming conscious of your language, which can reinforce old patterns or help build new more productive ones.
If you want to pull yourself out of stuck, habitual, unproductive behaviours, Landmark is an amazing a way to do it.
Landmark is held worldwide and costs around $800 (location depending) for a 3 day retreat.