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Rings on water – choosing your values

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Imagine that you’re sitting in a boat and want to set off on a journey.
What do you think is absolutely necessary for you before raising the anchor?
Yes, you’re right, you need a course, a certain direction in which you will sail.

If you don’t know where you want to head, you’re just going to drift at sea. And when a boat drifts, it’s not the captain but the wind who chooses directions. This may be very, very dangerous when a storm comes.

Our life is like a great journey. We constantly move, yet if we do not have any direction, it is likely that we actually drift. Then our lives look more like chronicles of coincidences and not like stories about great journeys.

In psychotherapy life directions are often called values. Values are our beliefs about what’s important and what really matters to us.

There are many ways to work on personal values and to choose life directions. I myself like to use a “rings on water” metaphor because it relates to my own childhood.

I grew up in a little town in an apartment building housing eight families. Our building had a large backyard, in which I often played with neighbors’ kids.  The yard was adjacent to a river. I remember that when I was a little boy, at the pre-school age, our backyard was full of small stones. I still wonder where they came from. I have no idea.

What I clearly remember is that I loved to pick up the stones in the yard and throw them into the river. I liked the splashing sound when a stone hit the water and I liked watching the rings on the surface long after the stone had sunk. I was so much into this stone throwing that our neighbors used to say to my father that before I grew up there wouldn’t be a single stone left in the yard. How true this was…

When I now look back on my life from an adult perspective I feel, in a sense, like a thrown stone. We all are like stones thrown by an invisible hand somewhere in space and time. We suddenly appear into this universe without having any idea for how long we’re going to be here. But whether longer or shorter, our appearance sends rings through the surface of the universe. Anything we do, or withhold from doing; anything we say, or choose to be silent about; all our actions and our inaction – all this has an impact on other people’s lives and on the world around us. Sometimes the rings we have sent, endure long after we disappear, like an echo.

There’s no doubt that our existence sends rings of impact, just like a stone which hits the surface of water. We can’t do anything about it and we can’t choose to not have an impact. What we can do is to try to have an impact that is intended.

Right after reading this text, take a moment and ask yourself: How aware am I of the impact my present actions and words have on this world and on other people? What kind of rings am I sending right now? What kind of rings I wish to send? Do I affect other people’s lives or my environment in a way that is intended by me? Is there anything I wish to change in my actions? What do I choose to change right now?

Ask these questions often to remind yourself that your life is a journey, and use the answers as your map.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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About the Author:

licensed clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, researcher, peer-reviewed ACT trainer

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