“So what defines you?”
Someone asked me this question today in the context of a getting-to-know-you conversation, skipping right past all of the usual what-do-you-do, where-are-you-from, what-are-your-hobbies kind of questions right to this one. It made me stop and think.
What does define me? I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before.
Have you ever had one of those times when you’ve struggled and struggled and struggled to solve some problem, and when the answer finally appears, it’s so obvious that you can’t believe you didn’t see it before?
Yeah, me too. I had one of those moments yesterday. I’m thrilled to have an answer, but my initial reaction was still to say, “Well, DUH!”
You see, I’ve been struggling for a couple of years now to figure out what exactly it is that I want to do with my life. I have all of these disparate interests—writing, yoga, working with people one-on-one in some kind of coaching/spiritual direction/pastoral care/counseling role, perhaps some public teaching or speaking—but I haven’t been able to find the thread that tied all of these things together to form a cohesive whole. I knew without a doubt that this thread existed. I could feel it, but I couldn’t name it.
I was in the mood tonight for some feel-good fiction. I chose a book that’s been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for quite some time and discovered that it had a deeper message for me than I was expecting. The book I chose was Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber. The basic premise of the novel is that a group of four widows gets together one Valentine’s Day and wind up deciding to each make a list of twenty wishes of things they want to have or experience in life as a means of helping them move beyond their grief. Not only do the four women wind up changing a great deal through the process of making the lists and working toward their wishes, they also inspire people around them to try to the same exercise whenever people hear about their idea.
I came away from the book inspired by the idea of making my own list of twenty wishes. The only stipulation the women in the book made about their wishes was that the wishes could not be things they thought they “should” do (like exercise more or go to the dentist). These wishes were about adding joy and possibility to life, not doing chores.
“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.” ~C. G. Jung
I’ve spent years trying to ignore and/or outrun my shadow, but all that has done has made me considerably less good that I want to be—or imagine myself to be, in many cases. The times I got glimpses of my shadow were horrifying to me because what I saw was so ugly and because I was convinced that there was nothing I could do to change it.
Over the last few months, I’ve stopped running and started trying to face my shadow to see what is really in there. Being able to look at my shadow as a curious observer has not made it pleasant viewing by any means, but it has made me able to take a long, hard look without being driven to despair. I’m discovering that being more conscious of my shadow is allowing me to take steps to change the patterns that lead to that place.
I came across a post on Elephant Journal the other day by Ben Ralston titled The reason why most alternative healing doesn’t work: Secondary Gain. As a Reiki Master and general advocate of alternative healing arts, this title immediately caught my eye and generated an immediately indignant response.
However, the post turned out not to be one that was opposed to alternative healing at all. Instead, the author suggests that most of us have something that we gain from our illnesses and problems (known as secondary gains) and that until these gains are addressed, we are unable to heal. In fact, this can be the case for traditional allopathic treatments just as much as it is true for alternative therapies.
“You have to find something that you love enough to be able to take risks, jump over the hurdles and break through the brick walls that are always going to be placed in front of you. If you don’t have that kind of feeling for what it is you are doing, you’ll stop at the first giant hurdle.” ~George Lucas
I think he’s got the right idea. The path to any dream is filled with hurdles and challenges, and unless I love that dream enough to take whatever risks are necessary to make the dream a reality, I will never make it past the challenges in the way.
My challenge has always been trying to clarify which dreams I love enough to have that kind of passion for following. It seems like those should be easy to identify, but I find that (at least for me) the biggest dreams also seem to provoke the biggest fears. Fear then has this way of masking the dream even from my own view, so I can’t always tell which dreams spark the deepest love in me.
“All wisdom traditions insist upon a healthy mistrust of other people’s answers—or even the revealed experience of others. Yoga, at its truest, insists upon giving us not answers, but a way to find our own answers.” ~Stephen Cope
I love books of all kinds. I love to read them. I love to be surrounded by them. But scattered among the many beloved books in this world, there are those few that touch me so deeply that they absolutely take my breath away. These are the ones that make my heart sing as I find Truth shown in them in ways that help me more deeply recognize it. These are the ones that ignite my soul as I see myself and my world mirrored back to me in ways that allow me to see more clearly and more deeply.
I found another book of this kind in Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living. Continue reading