On a good day, many of us will find it difficult to bring into reality our dream vocation, our right-livelihood or what some call our “true calling.” But, the majority of us retreat into predictable routines — even preferring the stale office cubicles of our dreadful employer(s) — to the unknown as if these ruts were sacred rituals that could ward off even scarier changes in financially stressful times. It’s as if our inner critic, the energy within that’s determined to keep us small and safe, has access to CNN’s ticker tape news.
Our thoughts are overworking, 24/7, constantly alerting us to current tragedies and warning us of impending catastrophes. As fears arise, the only voices we seem able to hear — outside of us and in our minds — are reasons to play it safe: “Be warned, now’s a treacherous time to follow your heart” or “Only a fool would risk starting their own business in the 21st-century!”
Whether the pundits are right about there being a recession or not, my work, according to Rudyard Kipling: “[is] to keep my head, especially when all about me are losing theirs.”
Here are some ways I keep, or better yet, “clear” my head:
MEDITATE DAILY: I realize not everyone is going to come aboard with me on this Choo-choo train. But this practice, (sometimes 10-25-minutes in the morning), helps me dump the detritus of my most futile thoughts. This practice is quite a vacation from thinking. And, when I’m in fear and worry, I really need a break from my catastrophic thoughts. My favorite techniques for meditation came from learning from my colleague in the mid-1980s, Jon Kabat-Zinn.
While I was counseling stressed-out families whose loved-ones just survived heart attacks at U. Mass Medical Center, Kabat-Zinn was teaching these survivors — Type-Triple A-personalities—how to relax and release their obsessive thinking. For “how to” specifics, see Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s link: Mindfulness Practices. I find that even bringing little gaps of “non-thinking” through mindful-breathing can give me a much deeper gift of rest and renewal than gulping down my third iced-mocha.
TRACK HISTORY OF SUCCESSFUL CHANGE: Pretend you’re a scrapbook-aficionado looking through the pages of your life from age 20 until now. How often did you say, “This too shall pass?” Did it? How frequently did the worst things that happened only get worse? Were there times that the unbearably awful seemed to remain permanently awful? Have you ever actually experienced anything or any emotion consistently? Even Christopher Reeve said Things shifted drastically after accepting the pain and pace of recovery.
EMBRACE CHOICES: This one was the most difficult for me because to receive the gift of freedom I had to be open to seeing my role in its creation. Some people call this being radically self-responsible. But, how can you embrace “choice” in your life today?
Whatever you’re tempted to complain about, add the word choice to the front of the sentence. For instance, “I have to go pick up the kids from soccer, take them to baseball practice and then get a root canal.” In place of the words “I have to,” say, “I choose to,” or if you’re really ready to see “shift happen” in a drastic way, say “I get to.” This may sound glib or even sarcastic; but the point is: Be willing to see that you might be the creator of your experience—something we can first start doing by shifting our language from the passive-martyr to the active-artist in our lives.
NOTE: Resist the urge to think you’re not choosing when you decide to resign yourself to your professional rut. Consider who benefits when you quit taking small steps in service of realizing your dreams.
DON’T LET THE PAST TURN TO STONE: When I was on a meditation retreat the other day the instructor said: “Don’t reify your past experience as if it were your present and predictable future.” So often we want to know what’s ahead of us so we can brace ourselves or be the first one to say, “I’m on top of it!” But most of us are just like a dim fog-light on a bicycle at night; we can only see three yards in front of us. If we’re fixated on NOT getting caught off-guard and into another nasty accident—like the last time we got hurt when we were 17 — then we’ll never experience what arises in the moment.
It’s almost impossible to focus on “what’s calling to us here and now” when we’re in a panic. Try seeing what it would be like to just notice that, in fact, you have everything you need right now to be skillful. As Japanese Zen Master Suzuki Roshi asked his students, “Is anything in this moment, right here, really lacking?”
REMAIN OPEN TO CHANGES IN YOURSELF: The other day, I heard Christiane Northrup, MD, one of my favorite medical doctors, speak about midlife-change. She said, “Lots of times, when we ask the universe for clarity, we have to be willing to have our whole house swept clean!” She then said, “Many of us pray for our highest good and don’t even understand what such a request might require of us.” We may need to be willing to go wherever we’re meant to go for life-altering transformation (i.e., toward a less “Me-and-Mine”-centered world). Not that “the Universe” is Nurse Ratched, waiting to teach us how to live without joy — but, you get the picture. Dr. Northrup went on to say that “being willing to go where we’ll grow most often means moving out of our past identity, rigid role, and ego comfort zones.”
Growth doesn’t have to be awful but it does require a willingness to work with whatever comes up and whatever our context demands of us. Ask yourself this question: “Am I willing to be (and do) something other than I used to be (and do)?” Several laws within the world of Quantum Physics — e.g., The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle — prove that when one part of us shifts in our system, all that moves around us gets to shift, too.
ARE YOUR DREAMS OF THE PIPE VARIETY? How do you know that your professional dreams are realistic or right sized? A dream for your life calling is realistic when it fits smoothly into the larger picture of your life.
Does your “heart’s calling” further your vision for your life or would it be a great escape—some kind of Tahiti Syndrome? Is it compatible with the other goals and time commitments in your life? Is it flexible enough to allow for the unexpected? If the answer isn’t clear when you ask these questions, another good test whether or not this is “pipe dream,” is to notice how you feel when you state out loud your mission for your right work. What goes on inside you when you see yourself living this fuller life you want to be living?
I say, “Recession or no recession, don’t wait for a better tomorrow to start creating truly enlivening work in the present.” As former Supreme Court Justice Howard Thurman says, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive!”
Don’t let resistance to your creative calling win. “Remember,” says Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, “Hitler wanted to be an artist. Apparently, it was easier to start World War II than stare at a blank canvas.”