Recently I was rocked by the news that one of my best friends (and his entire family for that matter) had just dodged the proverbial bullet as he survived a heart attack ominously named “The Widow maker.” It felt like one more in a long line of messages that the universe was sending to tell me that it’s not too late. It’s not to late to make a change, to make sure that I’m connected with my true values. Not connected with my learned values and societal expectations, but with my true essence, my inner calling to live in alignment with my true self.
Our sense of self is so often tied to our mental constructs. I am a Dodgers fan. I am pro-choice. I’m overweight. I am successful. I am a loser. But none of those are who you are. I promise that you are not a teacher. You are not a baseball player. You are not a Christian. You are not a liberal. You are not Peruvian or Vietnamese. You are not tall, or smart, or quiet or wealthy. You are what’s inside. You are your essence.
Who are you…really? When asked, we often describe ourselves in one of the following three ways:
- We describe our physical composition. – I am a collection of cells, tissues, organs, and systems, or I’m a human being.
- We recite a convenient yet completely ambiguous description of some sort of ethereal being. – I am a spiritual being living a human experience.
- We read off laundry list of roles that we have assigned to ourselves or let others assign to us. – I am a teacher. I’m a musician. I’m an athlete. I’m a father. I’m Scottish. I’m vegan.
But there’s so much more to “us,” isn’t there? I think, at least I hope, that most of us feel something deep within ourselves? Something pushing us or calling us to become what we were intended to become, not something that we fell into by pure chance. Something richer, more fulfilling. Something happier.
Think about this for a minute. Yes, we are cells and tissues, and organs, and systems. But where within us would I find feelings of longing or love? Of disdain or unbridled passion? Of trust or betrayal? Where would we find our aspirations, our fears, our dreams, or the idea that somehow my life should be different than what it is? Those feelings can’t possibly be found in cells or tissues or organs or systems.
In Rob Bell’s incredibly enlightening and entertaining film, Everything Is Spiritual, he describes my thoughts above in a far more engaging and effective way than I did. He talks about a gift that he was given by his uncle; an old boat. He went on to explain that if the boat was in disrepair, he might need to replaced the hull on this old boat over the winter time. But in the coming summer it would still be the boat that his uncle had given him. If he replaced the deck the following winter, it would still be the same boat come summertime, only stronger, and with a nicer finish. Over time the entire boat may be completely replaced with new wood and fabric, new hoses and wires, new hardware, new everything. So when he’s all done restoring the boat, if he took his friends out on the water, would he still say, “Yeah…This is the boat that my uncle gave me.” That is the essence of the boat. In fact, it’s the essence of the gift of the boat.
When we were young we had less noise in our lives. We could (and did) more easily connect with our essence, with our soul. When were young we all want to be doctors or veterinarians or astronauts. Looking past the career titles…that really means that our younger spirits are called to explore, to be adventurous, to help mankind and all living things. It’s in our nature. Seven-year-olds don’t aspire to be doctors so they can drive a German sport sedan and brag to their fiends about their trip to Dubai. They want to help. They want to explore. They want to live in alignment with their calling.
But as we get older, as we succumb to the ceaseless pressures of a society that puts profit above people, our essence, along with our dreams tend to fade until we can no longer hear the innocent truths we used to feel calling us. The farther we get from our true selves the more tension and noise and angst we live with. This can elevate to the point that many of us turn to medication or more dangerous vices in hopes of easing the stresses and anxieties of the lives we’re choosing to live. Then, before we know it, days turn into months and then into decades.
Without awareness of this tendency, we’ll likely continue to just brush our true calling under the rug where a lot of us keep the rest of our hopes and dreams. We’ll still feel ’em from time-to-time…between trips to the grocery store, binging the next season of Survivor, or driving to this weekend’s soccer tournament. But that’s where they’ll sit until we make them…and ourselves…a priority. It’s an “Out of sight, out of mind” sort of thing.
How we process our feelings and give them the attention that they warrant is a key function of the joy that we feel and the pain that we avoid? But if we’re not making the time to find and feel a deeper connection with ourselves, we’re likely feeling unfulfilled, unseen, and unappreciated in our lives. We’re probably feeling like we’re flailing, scurrying, trading our lives as human-beings for a life of human-doings.
If you’ve ever felt those emotions then you know that they are as real as the air that we breath. Not so much the thoughts, but those feelings and emotions…that is our essence. If we were to change jobs, get a divorce, become disfigured in a horrible accident…who we are doesn’t change.
What is resonating with you? What is vibrating inside of you? Don’t be confused with the noise that is vibrating around you, bombarding you and saturating you. That noise is all about profit, greed, ego. In order to hear the voice that inside, we need to hear the silence first. Like a kink in a garden hose, if we ignore the kink it will become permanent. It will always be difficult for the water to pass through, just like it will be difficult for us to connect with our true selves. But if you notice early enough that the hose is kinked and you tend to it faithfully the water will flow freely today…and it will continue to. We need to create the environment that is quiet enough and still enough and we need to be there long enough to un-kink the hose.
How do you find time to sit peacefully with yourself and listen? To un-kink your hose? Or do you? And if you do have a routine of checking in with yourself, how much time do you spend each day…each week…just being. How much time do you simply allowing the stillness to exist? Do you schedule a time and a place sit in a stillness that is quiet enough to let the essence of who you are rise up from your unconscious to your conscious mind. Yes. I know. That sounds like total hippie, tree-hugger nonsense. So call me a hippie tree-hugger.
Out of necessity, I created my own little Zen space my bedroom. I’ve got a yoga mat on the floor, a really pleasant smelling candle (that I hardly ever light) and I splurged and bought a really nice Bluetooth speaker to play peaceful sounds while I’m meditating. These are my tools. They’ve helped me create a mind-quieting environment that’s now part of my daily routine. I’ve committed to spending 10 minutes every morning and 10 minutes every night (I call them Sun Salutations) to practicing being still and present.
But now that peace is starting to overflow into more of my day. It feels really healthy. Even if I’m simply running into my room to hang up some clean clothes…I see it; my Zen space. I smell it, and now I even feel it by just entering my room. Then…the more often I check in, the easier it is to create that environment, that connection, elsewhere. In the shower or a parking lot or even at my work desk. Just about anywhere. It just takes commitment and a bit of practice.
Now if you can visualize what your Zen space, your mindfulness practice, when is it going to be the right time to start? To find your essence, to connect, to listen to, and to follow your inner self? To remember you passion, or to find it for the first time? To give yourself permission to see your dreams again? Is it going to be next week, or maybe you can make a New Year’s resolution? Wait…Yeah. I can almost hear it now. “Yep…That’s it! I’m just going to wait until my kids are old enough to move out, then I can really check in with myself and make the shift, make the changes I really should have made a long time ago.”
Is that what we should be teaching your kids? Grind and grind and grind through what are often the healthiest and most resource rich times in our lives, constantly pushing back what we’ve always dreamed of, so we can keep chasing someone else’s agenda?
Let’s lead ’em by example while we still can.
It’s not too late to un-kink your hose and let the water of your life flow freely.