Getting what you want requires you to do nothing. Really? To be sure, by ‘nothing’ I actually mean ‘nothingNESS’…which translates to ‘empty space’…which is where discovery and creation happen.
Imagine your favorite painting. Now, imagine the artist sitting down to paint it, on a canvas already covered in paint! Without a clean canvas, it would be difficult for the artist to paint a fresh vision.
Your life, the rest of it anyway, awaits you like that canvas. Only your canvas may be quite cluttered already with paint and debris. Much of it was not even put there by you, but by other people. Anyone who has ever had an agenda for what you should do with your life has taken up space on your canvas.
Sometimes it’s ok when that happens. If you have a particularly gifted family member or mentor who sees beautiful, tangible possibilities in you, and can gently guide your hand along the canvas to create an outline, how lucky you are!
If you are like most people however, the folks splashing paint onto your canvas, or trying to steer your hand while you paint, are at best amateurs, or, at worst, blinded by their own unfulfilled desires.
You may now wonder, “If my canvas is all mucked over with other people’s projections and expectations of me, can I just clear off space and start fresh?” Yes! Dr. Brene Brown describes it like this, “It’s about creating a clearing…opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.”
It sounds easy (and it is!) to create empty space to dream and plan a future where you get all you want…but you will face resistance…internally and externally. Since our culture has a bias in favor of certainty and absolutes, you and many others have been influenced to think a certain way.
“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty,” says Anne Lamott. She describes the process like this, “What silences our intuitive voice is our need for certainty. Most of us are not very good at not knowing.” It is counter-culture to leave openings, unknowns…or ‘hanging chads’ if you will. And you may remember what a ruckus that debacle caused!
I believe every one of us suffers from this cultural tendency, but I guess no one suffers more than our youth. I imagine if I had been comfortable with knowing my dream career and lifestyle was unknown and would require inquiry and experiments, I would have found my calling a lot sooner.
In grade school our class did a career exercise and my profession of choice at the time was to be a roller-skating star. Instead of asking me, “What appeals to you about that profession?” or, “What skills might you need to learn to be that?” or, “Who can you think of that is doing something similar that you could talk to?” I was instead encouraged to choose a ‘real’ profession. How uninspiring! I began to get the notion that growing up was not going to be all that much fun. Pressuring myself to choose a ‘real’ or known path, made me less and less excited about my future, and, therefore less and less connected with my curiosity.
No surprise that after graduating from college I failed miserably at multiple careers. Finally after several years I met a mentor. He was the first grownup to ever say, “You can do anything you want. It’s simple. When you learn what you love to do, you take steps and follow procedures to create a profession or a business out of it.” I didn’t even know there were steps and procedures for creating a lifestyle and career that you want. Apparently it’s a well-kept secret!
Rather than prompting me to choose a ‘real’ profession, my teachers and advisors would have done better to help me stay curious, investigate many options and do small seed projects to test out my ideas and learn business skills before committing to a long-term career course, or worse, becoming resigned about my future altogether.
My mentor was right about the process being simple, but I met with resistance (and still do!). Combining a lifestyle that makes me happy with work that gives my life meaning requires going through a lot of creativity. In other words, it requires faith. I needed to continue to clear away clutter of my own judgments about what I ‘should’ be doing with my life. ‘I should be earning more money.’ ‘I should be spending more time with my kids.’ ‘I should be spending less time with my kids.’ And on and on it went!
What I learned from my father who is an artist is that every painting starts with a vision, then a rough sketch, then paint is applied. Each new color is an experiment. Similarly, every sculpture starts with a vision, then becomes a mockette, or a scaled down version of the finished product, etc. Artists know creating requires suspension of criticism because it prohibits discovery. During the time of greatest creativity and transformation in my life, my thoughts could also turn greatly critical.
Searching for fulfillment and purpose is a meaningful endeavor, but how can we stay awake and connected to the search despite all the forces working to shut down possibilities and faith in our creativity?
In “The Alchemist” the main character Santiago goes to great lengths to fulfill his ‘personal legend’. Again and again he makes great sacrifices and risks great danger and discomfort to stay in search mode. He has to continually clear away distractions and fight the pull to conform and choose a small, predictable life. He does not stop until he is sure he has reached the end of the journey. Paradoxically, the end is not so far from the beginning…but he has seen other worlds in the meantime and so he is changed…back to himself and the life he is meant to lead.
Brown has a more technical definition of Santiago’s journey, “Intuition is not a single way of knowing-it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith, and reason.”
If you are confused about your life’s meaning or what is your purpose, I commend you! At least that means you are still in the ‘search’ process…and therefore you have possibilities and pivot room for creativity…which equals potential for more and more fulfillment, and more and more of what you want in your life.
For me, I don’t need to be a Roller-skating Star after all…I am lucky have found a great sense of usefulness in my work and personal life, but I do love my weekends rollerblading at the Veloway or along the Mission Bay boardwalk when vacationing in San Diego!
Nothingness: empty space
Uncertain: not exactly known or decided, not definite or fixed, not sure, having some doubt about something, not definitely known
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