The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
The meaning of life is to give your gift away.
The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
Since the end of last year, I’ve been on a quest to simplify. I’d realized that my physical environment and day-to-day habits had gotten a bit too hectic and crowded, so I wanted to streamline.
I donated/gifted a lot of stuff, I repainted my dark blue living room a beautiful light-filled color, I streamlined my goals, took a break from blogging, and even have managed to (mostly) be less possessive about friendships (ie let them flow in and out without grasping).
It has been a breath of fresh air.
But, I forgot to clean out one major thing: my brain, my thinking and my constant quest to need to ‘understand’ everything, or at the very least to give my experiences a label.
I’m sure that most of us ‘seekers’ have the same bookshelf filled with volumes on spirituality, meditation, angels, Tolle, Osho, shamanism, Sufis, mystics, Toltecs, Buddha, tantra, chakras, and many, many more.
Am I forgetting anyone???
At a core level, these books have been such a gift – I’ve had countless insights reading them. I’m very grateful for this. But at a certain point, they are just a point of departure, and it’s time to move beyond them, to have real-life experiences, and to decipher things for ourselves, in our own unique way.
Though my physical space is clear, the ‘problem’ for me is that I haven’t stopped filling my brain with trying to define everything around me. And guess what? My head is exhausted and is completely cluttered.
When we rely on other people’s definitions, there is a filter between us and the experience. We are seeking to gain understanding and purity – to get to the Source. But in putting a label, or someone else’s definition, we are diminishing the purity of the experience that we sought from the very beginning.
For some reason, for some of us, there is great comfort in having some perception that we either ‘understand’ something or can at least define it. When something happens in your life and you can connect it to some ancient teaching, there is a sense of comfort or relief.
It’s like being comfortable with too much physical clutter in your house. It’s a barrier. It defines you. There is fear in letting it go, as though you will cease to exist. I keep re-reading the same books as a means to know myself more, but in at a certain point, continually referring back to them is more about fear of sitting with the (beautiful) emptiness, fully trusting what I already know, and finding my own way.
When we finish school (whatever level) there is a trust that you have at least enough basic knowledge to go out into the world, and that whatever you don’t know, you’ll figure out. I’ve been reading these books for years. I’ve re-read them. They have been read.
It’s like I’ve taken a sailing course (five times), I have the boat, I have the compass, I have the ropes (and even the life jacket – two of them – just in case), but I’m afraid to fully go out there and experience the water for myself.
In the back of my mind I’m thinking: Columbus would do it this way. Magellan would do it that way.
But how would I do it? Not that I even need to tell anyone my experience, I’d just be happy to have the experience without needing to put a label, qualification or story to it. Just be. What if the ocean is sometimes clear and serene and the next day it is one big fucking storm. Is that ok? Is that ‘normal’? Of course it is! Just look out in nature where these cycles happen every day and you don’t see a whale or dolphin batting an eye.
And so I’ve realized that I got rid of physical stuff and emotional stuff over the past few months, but I’m still defining my experiences through other’s traditions, perceptions or teachings.
I’m holding onto the books and the teachings like a pair of old pants that I don’t want to put in the thrift store pile. Noooooo! What if I need those one day?
But what if I’m just me, as I am with no need to define?
The one who has green juice for breakfast and a cupcake for dinner. The one who could care less about driving an old car but who likes to buy a pair of really nice shoes a couple times a year. The one who doesn’t speak to her own mother (I’m working on this) but whose friends know they can call any time day or night with a problem and I’ll be there.
I don’t see this book on my shelf because it lives in my heart. We each have our own book. No one can see it, but it has a lot of information for us if we trust its wisdom. It’s here every day, but sometimes I keep looking outside, the way perhaps other people define themselves by the car they drive, how skinny they are or their job title.
For many of us labels provide comfort, and continual spiritual seeking is still grasping and labeling and defining if you aren’t fully comfortable just being who you are. There is a place for this, but there is also taking it too far.
So today I’m taking another leap. I’ve already cleaned out the house, and many other things, and I’m leaping to a space of not seeking or needing to know.
Guess what I’ll be doing instead?
That’s right…just living this sometimes mundane, mostly extraordinarily magical life…with no need to define.
The words continue to come. They soothe. Like a suckling baby or a davening rabbi. Connecting to Life… to Mother… to Source.
But the words are not the thing. Just as the milk or the swaying is not the thing. We want what’s in the milk, or what’s in the dance. We want to inhabit the space that instinctually knows what’s on the other side of the longing. The origin. But we forget that that space is already inside of us. It’s not in someone else, it’s in us. In you. In me. Even if someone else holds the mirror, we are looking inward. And I believe that the point of Life (besides knowing and experiencing the truth of who you are and enjoying yourself along the way) is to remember.
Yes. Words are mere symbols, abstractions, representations on a page. H2O is not water. You have to feel the wetness, the liquid, the immersion.
Rumi said: “You are the whole ocean, why send out for a sip of dew?”
I find myself in the fragile, light-filled experience of union, of remembering. There is no language for this. No symbol. And I have only scratched the surface.
I am the seed, the soil, the sun and the garden that contains it. The four directions, the four seasons, the four elements. The entire ocean.
We all are.
It can be scary and painful to watch yourself expand. To understand that there is no end to you. To any of us. And when this is mirrored to you, it is simultaneously gorgeous and too much too handle. There is a physical ache and there is an internal light and beauty for which there is no limit and no symbol. Why no symbol? Because it’s where life Originated – so there can be no abstraction. It’s going through your entire life only to find yourself laughing, because you’re back at the very beginning. The place you long for has been here all along.
Is this what the butterfly feels like? To know yourself as a worm, only to constrict yourself into a cocoon, only to fight your way out, to then realize you actually have wings? Can the worm, squirming along the forest floor imagine itself flying high above the trees? Union with the heavens?
This is not a dream. It is not only possible – it happens every day. There is a butterfly right outside your door, sitting in your garden. And there’s one on top of your heart, waiting to take flight.
We’ve just forgotten.
Photo by Jill Lurie
Painting by Gloria West
Writers (and red-headed Leos) often have one last thing to say, so even though I thought my previous post would be the last one of the year, I guess have one more in me, so here goes.
I’ve been struggling with something that has been bugging me for some time. What is it?
Basically, I’ve felt really lost as to the ultimate purpose for my writing. We live in a society that is very goal oriented. We like to map things out, have something to work towards, and we especially like to place success as something outside of ourselves. I’ve struggled with this. Because the truth is that I’m simply not motivated by money or the idea of fame. This might sound hard to believe, or bizarre, or ridiculous, but it’s true. Would I like my picture on the cover of the LA Times, or for my book to sell tons of copies. Of course! Who wouldn’t? But, ultimately, that’s not why I do what I do.
These thoughts have been spinning around in my head as I continue to (somewhat) promote my first book of poems, as well as put the finishing touches on my second poetry collection (which includes some 90 new verses), and put the final edits on the first draft of a novel I began a few years ago.
If I’m not really motivated by money or fame, then why on earth am I bothering to go to all the effort to put all this out there? Why spend the time writing, editing and publishing these projects if traditional modes of success don’t match what’s truly important to me?
I had a moment of clarity early this afternoon after spending much of today and yesterday in the garden. I should back track to say that as much as I adore being in the garden, I’ve sort of neglected my own yard for the past few months. Why? If the garden is such a source of peace, joy and inspiration for me, why on earth would I deny myself such pleasure?
I think that I’ve been so preoccupied with anticipating and projecting what ‘all of this means’ in terms of how to define ‘success’ that I’ve been missing the thing that has literally been staring at me the entire time. What is it?
It’s the understanding that none of it really matters unless you have something in your life that you love doing.
The hours I spent in the garden were so blissful that I totally forgot about anything else. A true communion occurs when I’m with the plants, a connection to something ancient, and to something so much greater than myself. I wasn’t worrying if I should send my book to another magazine editor, or how many hits my blog gets. It was just me – anonymously – in the garden. Hair messy, clothes completely covered in dirt, and completely happy. No amount of money or outward recognition can take the place of that.
At its core, I also feel this way about writing. And the true reason why I share my writing, besides the fact that I love doing it, is the hope that somehow something I’ve written can positively touch someone else. It sounds idealistic and simple, but it’s true.
So, in reflecting on this year, what I’m really thinking about most, is connecting with my two passions, gardening and writing, just for the pure pleasure they evoke inside of me. Not for a blog post, not for a Facebook photo, not for the current or next book that may or may not ever ‘hit it big.’ Just for me.
And my wish and hope for anyone reading this is that regardless of outward success, you find and do whatever it is that brings you true joy, which usually happens anonymously, when no one else is looking. It’s the swimmer in the water, it’s the painter with his brushes, it’s the dancer putting on her well-worn shoes and it’s the baker gathering her wares.
I don’t know how all of this will translate in 2012, but I am so grateful have spent some precious hours in the sun and in the soil, remembering what is truly important. I’ll be using that as a guide as the new year brings unknown blessings, and opportunities; things I may miss if I’m too busy looking in the wrong place.
It’s funny how you can take something for granted, like an understanding of something as vast and bold as LOVE, and in one moment, have it revealed to you in a completely new way.
This is what happened to me a couple of weeks ago, when I was sitting at home, sunlight streaming through the window, creating a prism effect on my wall.
I finally understood that at its core, more than anything else: love is an energy.
It’s not an expression. It’s not a feeling. It’s not a description. In its purest form, it is a source of power, strength and connection that moves from one being to another. It’s what binds two people together, regardless of being male or female, friends or lovers. It’s the energy of the sun that fosters life on this planet. It’s what makes bees continue to forage flowers, even when their hives are already full of honey. It’s what makes something taste delicious, beyond the sum of its ingredients. It’s what allows your heart to know something before your mind understands.
I’m thinking of this now more than ever, as people are running around, feeling obligated to spend money on material things as a means to show love. More than anything else, when you tell someone you love them, on a true soul level, and you really mean it, that is the most powerful, generous, healing, ancient gift you can ever give – or receive.