I have been paying for this website for over a year now. I have known what I wanted to call it for roughly seven years. I have struggled to decide how or when to move forward, and I think I know enough of myself to understand why. I have spent far too much emotional energy, precious mental capacity and even deep spiritual excavating trying to name 'the dream.' I see my life experience, my relationships, my past failures and successes and know in every part there is good, yet I keep looking to name a purpose for my life. Someone said some things to me a couple of weeks ago. Honestly, the person does not know me at all, few interactions, a few emails, but because they have explored the wide-open world of social media, they feel an imagined intimacy that gives them a voice. Based on their feeling of knowing, they very deftly told me who I was and who I was not. I, like a deer in headlights, faced with their seeming certainty, said little and allowed my silence and lack of rebuttal to confirm their confident statements. I was caught off guard that someone who knows so little of my life, of me, would make such deliberate statements, but then again, I spent the good part of my life discounting my inner voice. Old patterns still playing out in my life, but there is something different now. I see the patterns, I've worked diligently to develop my inner observer and countless hours, days, weeks working towards a better understanding of my ego and how it rules the day when I am negligent in paying attention, being mindful. After a three-hour car ride, right after my conversation with this person, I was keenly aware of what was truth and what was projection. Not entirely, but in the big spaces in my soul, I recognize truth and have learned to walk my way back to it. The conversation has proven itself an excellent prompt for larger self-evaluation, and that is why I am writing here today.
I have used the criticisms to remind me of edges that need attention in my inner world that can often injure those in my outer world. I have also used them to remind myself of who I am, who I am not and what I know. I watched a friend win a prize, which for reference, would be the Grammy of the music world or the Oscar of the film world. It was well-deserved, and words from her acceptance hung in the air and followed me around the last couple of days. She voiced what we all feel throughout our lives, to varying degrees, and from varying sources, self-doubt. Then she bravely said, "I know exactly who I'm not and who I am and knowing what I know, I am all the more honored to be here." The clarity of knowing our truth and being able to hold tight to that thread even in the middle of the tangle of both well-meaning and toxic perspectives from others is liberation. Then, yesterday, Brené Brown shared a quote from Viola Davis bringing it all to a divine point for me. When speaking about criticism and whether or not to brace yourself by developing thick skin, Davis says, "I don't want that. Thick skin doesn't work anymore. I want to be transparent and translucent. For that to work, I won't own other people's shortcomings and criticisms." Amen.
In celebrating my amen to this truth, I am writing today. I am choosing transparency over the thick skin, not because I am not flawed, but because I am. Mother's Day moves me for many reasons, both joyful and sorrowful. But this year, I am reminding myself when I begin to let the insidious self-critique loose in my mind, I will pause and walk my way back to the truth. Part of this truth is - I am a life-giver. I have given life to my three biological children, and I have given life in myriad ways to those who have come and gone and come and stayed in my life. This reminding is not to puff up, but to create rest as I consider moving forward into this second half of life. Resting in having lived my purpose, my dream, over and over and over again, day after day, life after life, whether there be a book, a business, or a livelihood to show for it. Instead of reminding myself of the degrees I did not get, pursue or finish, I will rest in pain I have shared, or as Frederick Buechner writes, the pain I have traded. Rest in knowing that all along the way, from childhood to midlife, through foolishness and struggle, through hilarity and sublime content, I have given life.
That is what I want to do for the rest of my days. I would like to write about it here, but do not know if I will. That sticky wicket of having a paycheck still weighs on me daily, but when I can, when I have life to give, I hope to share it here with whoever stumbles upon it.
Jean Vanier's influence made its way into my life around the time I graduated college in 1990 and through a book titled, The Power of the Powerless, in which Henri Nouwen had written the forward. Just one of many seeds planted in my heart and life that would begin to blossom on the day this sweet child of mine was born.
It has been a remarkable 18 years and I can say, with Jean Vanier today, "Believe it or not, it has been this life together that has helped me become more human. Those (MH) I have lived with have helped me to recognize and accept my own weaknesses and vulnerability. I no longer have to pretend I am strong or clever or better than others. I am like everybody else, with my fragilities and my gifts...To some, it may sound strange for me to say that it is the weak, and those who have been excluded from society, who have been my teachers. I hope that I can reveal a bit of what I have learned and am still learning about being human, and about helping other to discover our common humanity." Jean Vanier - Becoming Human
I am privileged. I know that, I see the most glaring aspects of my privilege and yet I acknowledge that I couldn't begin to understand every nuance of it and it makes my life easier every single day. This inability to see it all, to understand it and be able to speak to it from a place of true humility often keeps me from speaking at all.
In what has been the evolution of what I would call my soul's awakening in the last several years I have found myself both wanting to speak and feeling inept to do so. That is the pitfall for me, the wanting to know what I should know, understand what I have experienced and communicate it with ease and confidence. So, I wait, thinking that some avenue of communicating will avail itself to me magically. I post on social media and it gives temporary relief from my bulging insides like that little thingy on the top of a pressure cooker. Unfortunately, the little spurts are not as thought through or thoughtful and they float off into the abyss that is the internet with little to no affect whatsoever. So, after weeks of telling myself that I must write, if for nothing more than my own sanity, we will write something.
I have pages and pages of writing, but little desire to go back and sort through it. Maybe I will, but for now, I will write what I am learning today, not what I learned ten years ago, although it is all the same down deep, all part of the perpetual learning and re-learning in this lovely humanity we all share.
I titled this Crisis of Purpose because I can't stop thinking about a comment that Elaine McMillion Sheldon made while being interviewed about her documentary on the heroin epidemic in Huntington, West Virginia. Sheldon, at the end of the interview in answering a question of whether or not there is hope in this situation, "In America and in West Virginia right now we are suffering with a lack of purpose and it doesn't help but fuel the need to numb that and I think we need to answer society's problems at large." It struck me and I couldn't stop thinking about it...I still can't. Her words are at the root of so much of what we are a part of today, specifically in America.
I believe we see it in our treatment of those who view the world differently, the attitude we have toward the earth and our responsibility for its care, as well as our flippant response to the insane mass killings of human beings on an almost weekly basis. Our obsession as a culture with winning and sport, even as we are being told over and over of the detrimental consequences of a human brain being smacked and slammed, even inside a helmet, and we are putting babies in full pads at 8 and 9 years old. We have such freedoms, such privilege and yet we have little or no purpose. It turns us inward, but not in a healthy way, in a self-absorbed way. We think killing elephants for trophies is no big deal, we see our children beginning the numbing from the earliest of ages with electronics that are literally reorienting their brains. All of these realities reflect that crisis of purpose.
For me, it feels relentless and impossible to change course, but I am reminded I am the only person I can change. I am the only human I control, so the question then becomes, what needs to change with me?
No matter how much one accumulates, consumes or owns, if there is no purpose, no understanding of how we are each a part of the tapestry of humanity, it will be empty. If your kid asked you today about your purpose, what would you say? This is not about elephants, or climate change or heroin, it is about meaning, purpose and care beyond filling the emptiness.
What I'm Thinking
“And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.”