Out of Africa–On Purpose

IMG_4815This is my final post of a series of lingering thoughts from my recent trip to Mozambique, Africa. This post is on finding my life’s purpose.

I don’t know that I’m any closer to figuring out what to do with what’s left of my life, yet perhaps this experience has made things a little clearer. I know I like to help those who need it. I realized that whatever it is I am doing, I have to enjoy it–no more endless, meaningless drudgery with no connection to who I am. I was reminded that I still abhor the bureaucracy and bullshit that gets in the way of progress and putting talents to good use.

I discovered that I really enjoy the consultant or advisor role, and the fact that in a short-term contract, volunteer or otherwise, there is a beginning and an end. I am not entrenched in the organizational culture, and that allows me to approach the issues and situation with fresh eyes.

I enjoyed the structure and challenges of the work, the commitment to a purpose, but without the attachment to that purpose. I realize that once I’m gone it is out of my hands…and that feels good and freeing somehow.

I re-discovered that unfamiliarity brings out the best in me and helps me tune in to my inner voice that has all the answers.

I will close by paraphrasing a few relevant and meaningful thoughts that I heard recently from Deepak Chopra that have been bouncing around in me ever since:

Fear and desire can cloud our intuition. But beyond that is the source of all intuition. The law of detachment helps us embrace the unknown. Uncertainty is essential in our path to freedom….it reinforces our need to trust ourselves. Uncertainty is living from within, able to trust our inner being. No barriers, no limitations. Into the field of all possibilities. The intuitive heart knows. Listen closely. It will always lead you in the direction of your soul’s purpose.

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Life Lessons From the Road

I often see things more clearly from the road—when I’m travelling or away from home. It gives me perspective and helps me better appreciate what I have. I seem to be more intuitive and better able to listen. And my recent trip was no exception.

My wife Deborah and I drove East along the Northern shore of the St. Lawrence river last week to see the whales, something she has always wanted to do. From Ottawa, it is about an 800 km. journey through Montreal and Quebec City, and then through the hills to the mouth of the Saguenay river which runs into the St. Lawrence. Whales, dolphins, and other marine life make the annual trip from the warm waters of the Carribean to feed on a huge buffet of krill.

Even before I left, that intuitiveness began to kick in. I am not mechanically inclined, but as I was leaving to meet my wife in Montreal, something told me that my brakes were not quite right. And I listened. Turns out the front brakes were shot and had to be replaced.

Two hours later, I arrived in Montreal. I picked up Deborah, and we made our way around the city, on our way to Quebec city. There was heavy traffic and lots of distractions. We came to a major fork in the road, and suddenly I realized I was in the wrong lane. I made a stupid, split-second decision to stop and switch to the right lane. A huge tractor trailer was barreling up behind me, and the right lane was thick with cars whizzing by. I managed to somehow just get out of the way of the tractor trailer, and into the right lane between cars. There was perhaps a two second window for me to make the move without causing a serious crash. I pissed off a few drivers, but I just made it. There was no time to think, just act. And I did. But that little maneuver had nothing to do with me. I know that something intervened.

I had not made any reservations anywhere, and really had no idea where we would end up and when. Deborah loves this kind of spontaneous trip, but this is something I usually have a really hard time with. I am a planner, and I always like to know where I’m going. It was very unsettling, but I did it anyway. I trusted that things would work out OK. There is a freedom in the not knowing, but it takes awhile to not be so afraid of it. And here’s how the accomodation part played out…

We came upon a beautiful little hotel in the heart of Quebec City, and they just happened to have one room left. We would never have found it if everything had been completely planned out. On the second day, we drove beyond the usual whale watching destination (Tadoussac) to the middle of nowhere. But we had heard that there was a gorgeous little campsite, right on the river. They were full, but we had chatted a little earlier with a very nice woman who just happened to be related to someone who ran the campsite. She phoned ahead, and somehow got a spot for us. We pulled in, checked with the person in charge, and wandered over to our site, which opened up through the trees to a small clearing. It was completely isolated from the rest of the site, overlooking the river. And by some miracle (of not planning), we had this little spot all to ourselves.

As we looked out over the river, a whale broke the surface of the water, and we heard the ‘whoosh’ as he cleared out his blowhole. And then another. This went on for hours, and then into the night. These magnificent creatures—so graceful, elegant, and majestic—and there we were somehow with them. There was something very peaceful about the experience. I felt very small in the overall scheme of things, yet somehow connected to something much, much bigger. Nature has a way of doing that.

The next day we went out in a small zodiac to get even closer to them. There were whales, dolphins, and seals all around us at times, coming to the surface, diving back down, gracefully doing what they were meant to do. Just being themselves, as nature intended, and allowing us the occasional glimpse into their world. Whales don’t know how to be be anything other than whales. I wondered what it might be like if I could be the same way. Just being who I am, without all the other things that I allow to get in the way.

We headed for home the following day, stopping in Montreal to visit with her family on the way home. I have trouble with this when traveling because I just want to get to where I’m going. But I surrendered. Well sort of, for a couple of hours. After visiting with her brother, John, she went to visit her aunt while I went looking for a bookstore with John. I had no idea where we were going and became agitated (once again) as we looked around for a bookstore. And then I thought to myself, who cares about the bookstore, and tried to just enjoy the drive with him. I began to let go of the burning need for a destination. We never found the bookstore, but by then it really didn’t seem to matter.

Leaving Montreal we drove through some very unsettled weather. I was anxious—my default state. And I knew it. But this time I tried to just allow the anxiety to happen instead of fighting it. And Deborah gave me some room. And then it passed.

As we neared home, there was a massive dark cloud on the left, and clear skies on the right. Yin and yan like as my wife put it.  And we drove right through the heart of it, together, as the rays of the sun pierced the clouds, an awesome light display of nature’s finest. A metaphor in some way for our marriage perhaps.

Lately I have been somewhat negative about our marriage, focussing more on the struggles and difficulties, and less on the good stuff. Deborah asked me to think a little more carefully about my words. She asked me to just try to enjoy our time together, like we did before we were married. I chose to listen instead of resist. And I remembered what a cool and joyful person she is. She gives me a soft place to land. I think it will be better now.

She also pointed out aspects of my personality that I have never been able to recognize in myself. I spread joy to those around me, apparently. I don’t see it, but I will take her word for it. And I am grateful to have a partner who cares enough, and is interested enough to help me see what I am unable to see in myself. Perhaps therein lies the potential magic of relationships…they allow you to see who you are, who you can be, and they give you the opportunity to work out the issues that are holding you back.

Over the last few days on the road I have been able to practice what I have read and written so much about over the last year or two. I’m not sure that practice will make perfect, but it definitely moves me closer towards the person I want to become.

The road reminds me of how little I really control in the big picture, and how exhausting the need to control can be.

It gives me perspective, as it always does, helping me to appreciate what I have. It reminds me how important it is to be in the moment. It reminds me that once I have set my intention, to let the universe work out the details and to have faith that things will work out somehow. It reminds of the extreme importance of attitude and gratitude.

And the road reminds me, yet again, that there are massive, unknown forces at work out there that are conspiring to help me. “The mysterious guidance that comes when we surrender,” as Anda so eloquently commented below.

I just need to get out of the way and let them work their magic.

Letting Go (part 2)

Since I posted the piece about my son being out in he world earlier this week, this idea of letting go has been swirling around in my head. Not just letting go of him, but everything that holds me back, that does not serve me.

Letting go of my need to know. Letting go of my need to control. Letting go of my attachment to outcome. Letting go of years of accumulated pain.

Once I really start poking around, I realize that I try to maintain an iron grip on many things. I’ve been doing it all my life, so I’ve become very good at it. And you know what else? It’s really freaking exhausting!

And as so often happens, the wisdom comes, if I am open and paying attention. Here are a few nuggets that have come my way in the last few days. Precisely when I need it.

Eckhart Tolle believes we create and maintain problems because they give us a sense of identity.

Thomas Merton says that we spend our whole life climbing up the ladder of supposed success, and when we get to the top of the  ladder we realize it is leaning against the wrong wall—and there is nothing at the top. To get back to the place of inherent abundance, you have to let go of all of the false agendas, unreal goals, and passing self-images. The spiritual life is more about unlearning than learning, because the deepest you already knows.

Then this from Richard Rohr.

“To let go of something is to admit it. You have to own it. Letting go is different than turning it against yourself; different than projecting it onto others. Letting go means that the denied, repressed, rejected parts of yourself, which are nonetheless true, are seen for what they are; but you refuse to turn them against yourself or against others. You refuse to let any negative storyline or self-serving agenda define your life.

This is a very, very different way of living; it implies that you see your mistakes, your dark side, but you do not identify with either your superiority or your inferiority.

You are a conduit, and your only job is not to stop the flow. What comes around will also go around. The art of letting go is really the secret of happiness and freedom.”

Neil Donald Walsch says you must be willing to lose it all before you can have it all. What does this mean? It means that until you can let go of everything, you will find it hard to hold onto anything. Detachment is the key.

And this meditation mantra from Deepak Chopra: “I forgive; I release; I let go of anything and anyone that keeps me from my highest good.”

And finally this from Lao Tzu…which says so much in very few words: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

Thanks for the wisdom and inspiration. Time now to practice. Time to let go and make room for something new.