Into the Heart and Back Out Again
I spend a lot of time on planes. Not like the United 1K Black kind of time, but the 40 or so flights a year kind. When traveling, one of my favorite pass times is the people-watching. It reminds me of when I was much younger and I used to love to hang out at shopping malls. People in their doing and going are often them at their most unfiltered and unpresented. When we are between our places, between our house and Anthroplogie, between our office and that critical business meeting in Dallas, between our kids’ school and that last item we need to pick up at Target, it is often in our doing and going that who we are makes its way to the surface. There’s no time or no reason to down a quick cocktail, put on a layer of lip gloss, straighten our tie. We no longer live in a society where presenting yourself to strangers is a priority (probably for the best), instead we live in a time of noise-cancelling headphones, panjamas on planes and the disappearing drone of those ever present screens. When we are out and about, when we are on our way to something, our willingness to polish and perform subsides, and I see it all the time.
Our airport activity won’t make it onto Instagram.
Despite the cultural shifts that have made this possible, I think there may be something larger at play. I think that at the core of the human experience is journeying. Movement, risking that dangerous in-between that stands between the certainty of past and future, here and there, now and later. The present moment is always the product of leaving and finding.
We are always on the road.
If this is the case, then the question arises: where are we headed? The answers are as multitudinous as the answerers, but need not be a product of randomness or chance. A journey is almost always the product of a push or a pull. A push takes us out of the status quo driven be discomfort, anxiety, a sense of completion or restlessness. Pushes are—by definition—a reaction to what we know, without much clarity to where we are headed. We just need to go somewhere. Pushes can be dangerous when handled unreflectively, driving us from one storm into the next. I see this in airports all the time.
“I don’t care where this plane is going, I’ve just got to get out of Chicago before the storm hits!”
“Sir, this flight is headed to Albuquerque and your intended destination is Newark.”
“I don’t care! Get me out of Chicago!”
It’s possible Albuquerque will be lovely this time of year. It’s possible that something winsome and rich and unexpected will happen. My readers who bias toward spontaneity will attest to all the wonderful possibilities implicit in an unplanned push. But there is also the very real possibility that the best way to get to Newark is to stick around Chicago for awhile. Sometimes our journeying requires us to stay present with the storm long enough to get where we’re going. This is the risk of a push. It may drive us from one unwanted discomfort to another one or worse.
In contrast, and rarely seen outside of airports, is PULL. Sometimes (and not nearly often enough in our attentive journeying) are we drawn to somewhere. So many of us set resolutions and goals—particularly this time of year—but we have very little sense of where all of this goes. A question I ask people often in my professional role when new goals or plans are proposed is simply this, “What are we trying to solve for?” I know we’re going to get on three different planes, have multiple transfers and have to take a transport across the George Washington Bridge… but for what? Say we actually got to our destination, say we met our goal, say we stuck with our workout plan, stuck with our slippery resolutions, what then? What’s the upside of having a small waist, lower credit card debt, a few extra books read in 2017? Where will this journey take us? What are we trying to solve for?
When I ask people this question, I’m either met with blank stares (less often) or outright resistance. We as humans are quick to defend our ill-considered aspirations. We protect our right to move regardless if we don’t know the benefits of where we are moving to. This is the risk of PULL. It too, is often ill-conceived (and is often a PUSH in masquerade). We have an intermediate stop clear in our minds: lose 30 pounds. But we have no idea what that stop would mean for us and why it’s so important. What would a 30 pound lighter version of us do differently? Is there something that 30 pounds is keeping us from that is beneficial for us, for the world, for people we love? Yes, I know the TODAY show says that this is your year, and Oprah really wants you to buy Weight Watchers, but if we illuminated the cultural curators of rightness and were forced to set our destinations purely out a our own sense of empassioned direction… where would we go?
This question, the question of the grand destinations of human journeying has been near the heart of my life’s work. I’ve spent so many years watching people move from one place to the next, one stasis to another, and unfortunately in many cases, with very little real difference between one and the next. The skinny version of us and the chubby version of us don’t seem to have made much real progress on anything other than spending a lot of money buying new jeans.
So, I offer you an invitation. To a different kind of a journey. Or maybe the journey that sits under all the others: a journey into the heart and back out again. What do I mean? Two things:
- Know what you are solving for. To understand your driving motivations, to see patterns and themes in your experiences and choices that are sending you on paths you didn’t intend, and to help you see the clear line that exists for every human life between what happens on their most mundane days and the life of meaning that feels so desperately trapped within them. This is a spiritual work, not merely a psychological one. It requires a taking stock of ancient wisdom that in our day has been shrunken down into bumper stickers, and it requires a courageous (and perhaps light-hearted) dive into your own desires, perspectives, biases, assumptions and stories.
- Set your next destination. Too often in our therapy-laden culture, interior work like I am alluding to above is segregated from the real days of life that surround it. “Finding your passion,” “Remembering your spirit,” and “Trusting your heart,” all infamous sayings, have historically had nothing to do with how you wake up on Tuesday, how you parent your children, whether your pursue that next promotion or how you relate to the neighbors around the cul-de-sac. To call this tragic is an understatement. The divorce between our internal lives and external lives is so severe that most don’t even recognize it. But I see its results. Our practical lives become more automatonic: keeping schedules, meeting deadlines, medicating literally and figuratively, telling the same stories over and over. Our inner lives become a soup of fantasy and regret, remixing stories of all of our coulda/shouldas with their counterpart what-if flights into dreamlives and imagined escapes promised by every fairly-compensated marketing manager on the planet.
I invite you into the deeper journey. One into your very heart—a place of passion, wounds, resonant narrative, wants and the like—out through your daily habits, actions, personality quirks and rhythms of life and into a legitimate recognizable legacy of love embedded into your relationships, work and recreation.
We can stop wishing for the Instragram lives of our fantasies, stop promising that one day things will get better.
We can get better.
We can heal, and discover, and learn, and grow, and scrape away the old calloused dust. All it takes is tools, time and courage. As we enter a new year, I encourage you to challenge yourself to something different this time. A new kind of resolution.
Commit to new habits… You’ll miss the mark.
Commit to better choices… Your old drives will distract.
Commit to simplify… Complexity addictions die hard.
The promise of resolution so often fails us because we commit in the absolute. “I’m only going to take on new things that inspire me!” – Really? Does your boss know about that?
“I going to stop eating sweets after 5pm.” – Really? Has your adrenal system agreed to this?
“I’m going get up every morning and meditate.” – Really? How about the morning after you work until 11pm. Or the morning after that? Or how about after you’ve skipped 4 in a row and then can’t remember why you started.
Instead, I challenge you to resolve to take a journey. An attentiveness journey. One that involves looking and acting. Watching and shifting. One that is free of absolutes but rich in challenge. A journey to attend to the way of the heart and the life it creates. Let’s do it together.