Discovering Our Greatness: Part I Enjoying our Truest Selves


If we made a list of the people we feel are great individuals, our choices would reveal as much about ourselves as the people we choose. We respect qualities in great persons that we ourselves value, that we ourselves hold and uphold. When we see people express great courage, compassion, creativity, generosity, or other qualities we esteem, it resonates; we feel something noble enlivened within. The seed of that quality of greatness is already within us.

This is one of the wonderful insights from Dr. Melanie Brown’s book Attaining Personal Greatness that got me thinking about the topic of “greatness.” Many of the insights in this post are from her book.

Many of us experience a desire for greatness and sense that we have much greater depths of greatness within us. But what is greatness? Often, especially when young, we equate greatness with being rich and famous. But then we realize that there are famous or rich people who are not necessarily GREAT people. And we realize there are people we know—perhaps a parent, grandparent, friend or teacher—who are great individuals, but not necessarily rich and famous.

What it is that makes us say about someone: now THAT is a great human being? Are there some qualities that we might all recognize as superb human characteristics? And more importantly, how can we unfold our own greatness?

One quality Melanie Brown discusses is that of enjoyment: great people tend to enjoy what they are doing. For example, she quotes Nobel Prize winning geneticist Barbara McClintock: “I did [my research] because it was FUN! I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning! I never thought of it as science!” Whether it is researching or writing, styling hair or composing music or solving computer problems, waiting on tables or teaching, great persons express a flow, a sense of being at play, versus a begrudging, grinding away attitude. Essentially, their work is their play.

When a person is awake to their natural gifts and interests, they follow and develop what fascinates them most. Their commitment, even when involving hard work at times, is fundamentally enthusiastic.

One of my relatives comes to mind as an example. She works in the field of development (fundraising) for a large university and loves getting to know people. She is GREAT at her job because she is fascinated by people and their life stories, and people sense her genuine interest in them. Her success naturally follows because she thoroughly enjoys what she does and fulfills a meaningful purpose.

I think of my sister, a gifted elementary school teacher who is dedicated to developing in her young students a delight and enthusiasm for learning. She introduces to them things she enjoys: for example, creative expression in the arts and language; a love of the natural world; wisdom, including showing respect for all people. She is deeply fulfilled by her work, and she is highly regarded by her colleagues.

Both of these persons have listened to their deepest, most authentic callings. They have nourished their natural gifts and pursued what is interesting and meaningful to them.

How do we tune into and develop our natural gifts?

An apt phrase comes to mind that my father used. When the noise of our internal environment is turned down and we become more silent, we sense our quiet inner guidance—what my father called our “spiritual radar.” Maharishi called this our “fine feeling level,” where the subtlest aspect of our intellect and feelings meet.

When we sense and heed that quiet inner guidance, something clicks—we feel a sense of rightness, of strength, even joy. A verse by the poet Rumi describes this: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

I have heard many women who practice TM share that they find themselves becoming “more” themselves. The experience of restful alertness, inner silence and release of deep fatigue and stress allows them to blossom into their truest self, which is their best self. We are better able to listen to the quiet biddings of our own self, rather than being seduced by what society and the media dictate. Instead of compromising our inherent gifts and blindly pursuing monetary gain or fame, we follow our natural calling. We discover that there is intrinsic fulfillment in doing what we love, which is the ultimate affluence, the best kind of riches.

This quality of being true to our deepest self, our truest, best self, is something that unfolds as we meditate. With regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, we stabilize the ability to spontaneously function from more powerful depths of our awareness where we are connected to springs of creative intelligence. And when we are creative, our authentic self blossoms. We feel a quiet exhilaration that lets us know we are on the right track.

So creativity is another fundamental quality of greatness. I discussed this topic in some depth in an earlier post, “Creativity is Sharing, An Overflowing of Fullness,” so I will only mention a couple of key points here. I said this about creativity: “Creativity includes art, but it is much broader and deeper. It is our essential nature. It is sharing what we love with others we love. It is about overflowing from inner fullness.”

Creativity is central to who we are. The great writer Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote: “I believe that true identity is found in creative activity springing from within…. Spirituality and creativity are akin. There is an exhilaration rooted deep within us that is a lifeline to God…the energy goes through us and out to others.”

And creativity is not something limited to a few rare individuals. It is intrinsic to all human beings. Maharishi said, Every individual has an infinite potential of creativity…. The genius of man is hidden in the silence of his awareness in that settled state of his mind, from where every thought emerges. The nature of this state is bliss-consciousness.

If we reflect upon our own experience and consider research on some of the most creative people, we see that inspiration comes from inner silence. Melanie Brown summarizes findings by psychologist Barry Ruback: “You can get more ideas by being quiet than by talking. It’s the silence before and after talking that counts.”

Dr. Brown explains that through the inner experience of silence, “one starts to hear one’s own true voice beyond all the…chatter and noise…of the day.”

When we are engaged in any kind of creative activity—perhaps writing a poem, organizing a party, approaching a customer, finding a way to reach a difficult student—more creativity is found when we are settled in the quiet depths of our awareness rather than within an unsettled, anxious awareness. It is within a soft, settled, yet fresh awareness that creative ideas come: ideas coalesce in new patterns and subtle impulses of inspiration emerge.

Elaine St. James, author of the Simplify Your Life book series, writes, “In a quiet moment we can get an intuitive insight that can change our entire life and the lives of the people around us in incredibly positive ways.”

In his book The Creative Process Brewster Ghiselin notes, “Silence is…sustaining, not an emptiness. It is a substantial profundity of being.” His anthology underscores this point through insights gathered from creative giants such as Albert Einstein, Mozart, Amy Lowell, Katherine Anne Porter and others.

But greatness is not only about creativity and doing what we enjoy. It is the great person who attends to duty and necessity with noble qualities such as compassion and care. For example, in one of his books, Rabbi Harold Kushner describes a sales clerk who puts in long, tiring hours on her feet. “[This] saleswoman… sanctifies her otherwise ordinary job by being especially sensitive and compassionate to the mastectomy patients who come to her store.”

(The fact that this rabbi was impressed by this woman is evidence of his own greatness. Melanie Brown notes that great people tend to see greatness in others and quotes G.K. Chesterton: “There is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.”)

Another person comes to my mind: the busy assistant principal of an inner city middle school who shared with me how she also takes care of her elderly mother and grandchildren. She told me how very much she values doing the TM practice twice a day, rising at four in the morning before tending to her family, and then before leaving school in the afternoon. This gives her the strength to carry on, and still nurture students at school and family at home with care, despite her very difficult schedule.

Duty and necessity may present situations where we cannot always choose what we would enjoy doing the most in our occupations, and yet we can still experience inner fulfillment and greatness. I know of a very bright woman who was not able to choose a career that expresses her full range of intelligence and talents. To help support her family, for decades she has worked in a grocery store, including unloading trucks in the early morning hours. She came to learn TM because she was experiencing depression related to menopause. She shares that after learning TM, she noticed her depression dissolve. She also noticed increased energy so she was able to continue following her exercise program and other interests, such as an in-depth knowledge of natural nutrition. As a result, even after decades of hard physical work, she looks at least 20 years younger than her age and glows with radiant health. I have never once heard her complain about her challenging job; rather, she shares her interest in meaningful knowledge, and gentle humor. With her positive attitude and grace, she demonstrates that greatness is ultimately an inner quality.

A sense of lightness, grace, even playfulness unfolds when we are rested, when anxiety dissolves—whether we are engaged in doing what we love, or what duty necessitates. As we grow in inner fullness, it overflows to others.

So greatness goes beyond outer success and accomplishment. Greatness, as Melanie Brown points out, is not so much about what we DO as who we ARE.

In “great” individuals, we sense something that goes beyond their activities and achievements—something in their character. One word that captures some of those inner qualities of greatness is integrity.

In Part II of this series on Greatness we will discuss “integrity,” along with the quality of being at home in the world and an accompanying reverence for life.


Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Science of Being and Art of Living

Melanie Brown, Attaining Personal Greatness: One Book for Life, William Morrow and Company

Quotes by Barbara McClintock, Barry Ruback, Elaine St. James, Brewster Ghiselin, and G.K. Chesterton are from Melanie Brown’s book, above.

Silence is the Universal Refuge: A Conversation between Rev. Roger Wm. Johnson, Ph.D. and Cynthia E. Johnson, in George Ellis’s A Symphony of Silence

Harold S. Kushner, How Good Do We Have to Be?, Little, Brown and Company

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, retrieved from

Rumi, “Moving Water,” translated by Coleman Barks

About the Author

Cynthia Johnson is a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation program. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and is a mother, wife and writer. She is a contributor to the book A Symphony of Silence: An Enlightened Vision (1st and 2nd editions) by George Ellis.

More Posts by Cynthia E.