"Look at every path closely and deliberately... Then ask yourself and yourself alone one question: Does this path have heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use… You can only be real on YOUR path."
- Leo Buscaglia
Might it be that many of us are falling short of living with deep meaning and purpose? If you are not sure if this applies to you, consider Leo Buscaglia’s question in the quote, above: Does your life path have heart? In other words, do your daily pursuits fill you with a deep sense of meaning and purpose? If not BEWARE… for in the words of poet, Mary Oliver, you may be running the risk of “breathing just a little and calling it a life”. Why? Because you may be forfeiting the opportunity to awaken by discovering and bringing your own unique gift(s) to the world. So, take a moment to return to Oliver’s question by seriously considering: Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?
Why Are We Here?
It’s possible to spend years—decades even—trying to figure out why we are here. Responses to this question sometimes come through thinking and analysis, but they can also arise, serendipitously, from deep within, when we quiet our thinking, trusting our hands and hearts—instead of our heads—for insights.
When was the last time you created something with clay? Can you remember what you made? In this exploration (inspired by Lucia Capacchione), instead of making something out of clay, the challenge is to surrender to clay, allowing it to reveal something to you about why you are here.
Begin by holding a lump of clay in your hands, feeling its weight, texture and temperature. Then, as a means of centering yourself, bring your attention to your breathing. With each inhalation, receive Earth’s energy through the soles of your feet and then invite this energy to expand throughout your body; and with each exhalation, allow any residual tension and anxiety in your body, to drain out through your feet.
Next, gently moisten the clay with warm water; and then close your eyes and explore the clay with you hands, noting contours, depressions, bumps, as well as wet and dry places.
As you do this, become curious and begin to connect with the clay. Don’t think about what to create; instead, simply allow your hands and heart to come into relationship with the clay. At first, it may be that your hands want to pound the clay or squeeze it or poke it or mold it in some unexpected way. Don’t judge… Just be… Keep breathing… Stay open.
Allow the clay to guide your hands in ways that simply feel right. Give up control and see yourself as someone who is just along for the ride. Don’t think… just feel. As you surrender deeper into this process, see if you can say to yourself : “This clay is me and I am open to whatever is revealed.”
Continue in this receptive manner for as long as you wish; and, then, when you sense that you are finished, open your eyes and take in your creation, paying attention to the feelings that arise and to any messages that might be encoded in your creation.
The first time I engaged with clay in this intimate manner I was surprised—when I opened my eyes—to behold a ghoulish figure with a hollow center. As I took in my creation, I felt an existential emptiness at my own core.
A week later, I felt a call to return to clay. So, once again, I took a wet lump of clay into my hands. Then, focusing on my breath, I closed my eyes and surrendered, allowing my hands to be guided by the clay. On the surface, it may have appeared to an onlooker that I was actively DOING something; but, in truth, my own experience was that of BEINGNESS—i.e., of being a witness to the interplay between the clay and my hands and heart.
Eventually, when I opened my eyes, I was surprised to see a figure with a center in the shape of an open bowl that, to me, conjured generosity. In effect, the hollow center of my earlier creation had morphed, serendipitously, into a representation of abundance. It was as if the clay was showing me that I could choose how to be in the world—e.g., I could become entrapped in a story of hollowness and inadequacy or I could live into a story of connection and abundance.
So, what’s your STORY for why you are here? Rather than responding to this question from your head, have a go at exploring it with your hands and your heart by taking a lump of clay into your hands, closing your eyes, and opening to whatever is revealed to you…
"Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am."
- Parker Palmer
A deeper journey into self-discovery becomes possible when we set aside our routine indoor lives, with the resolve to spend several days alone in the natural world. Such a journey is often referred to as a Vision Quest. The setting for the quest is in the wilds—e.g., in a remote wilderness, a desolate desert or an isolated mountaintop.
Place yourself in the position of someone embarking on such a quest. You are crossing a threshold into the wild unknown, leaving behind your familiar, patterned life. You go without food and just one bottle of water.
Author and Vision Quest guide, Bill Plotkin, describes your mission in this way: “As a seeker, you wander with your senses open and alert, allowing your intuition to lead you right or left, upstream or downstream, sun-wise or earth-wise. You might be moved to crawl into a cave, dance on a knoll, swim to the center of a lake, rub your cheeks against a tree or roll in tall grass. You might gurgle back to a babbling brook or sing a duet with a songbird. Just as likely, you might enter into conversation with the energies that you encounter in a flower, a lizard, a rock, a wisp of wind or a crescent moon.”
Through your meanderings, you will be rekindling the innocence and wakefulness of your original innocent self—your childhood self—renewing your sensitivity to wonder and surprise… surrendering to the wild, so that the person you most truly are might find you.
As time passes, you let go of all certainties, all notions of right or wrong, all shoulds. Again Plotkin: “By trusting in your unknowing, your old standards of progress dissolve and you become eligible to be chosen by new, larger standards, those that come not from your mind, or your old story, or other people, but from the depths of your soul.”
Ultimately, dying is at the center of your quest—a dying to your old ways of being—a shedding of your old skin, as a necessary prelude to your rebirth.
Your quest comes to an end when you choose a particular spot on the land for the creation of your purpose circle. You will define this circle using material objects that represent specific values or teachers or texts or animal spirits or human ancestors that are meaningful to you. The objects are placed with an awareness of the cardinal directions so that, in the end, a kind of quadrated circle is created.
As you enter your purpose circle, on the final evening of your quest, you experience yourself as anchored in the universe; and, acknowledging this, you declare: “I am here to align the totality of me with the totality of the world. I’m here to discover my true place, my particular way of belonging to the world.” Then, you settle in with the firm intention to remain there, within the circle, until dawn. What you do will arise and come forth through you. Plotkin once again:
Cry for love and caring; cry for loneliness. Cry for helplessness, fear, and doubt. Cry for a vision for your people… As you lie in the dust like any wretch… may the cry that goes out from you spring from your deepest longing to complete yourself and your world… Ask the powers not for what you want but for what you need...When you have completed your timeless, patient work, you may decide to consecrate your circle with prayers, offerings, or songs, remembering to thank the forces represented by this power place for allowing you to make your last stand here.
Your vision quest concludes when you cross the threshold back into your community. You return, not to tell of your quest, but, instead, to metabolize and make sense of what you have seen, felt, heard and learned, so that your journey of awakening might bloom and deepen.
You will come at a turning point in the trail
to a wall of flame
After the hard climb and the exhausted dreaming
you will come to a place
where he with whom you have walked this far
will stop, will stand
beside you on the treacherous steep path
& stare as you shiver at the moving wall, the flame
that blocks your vision of what comes after.
And that one
who you thought would accompany you always,
who held your face
tenderly a little while in his hands—
who pressed the palms of his hands into drenched grass
& washed from your cheeks the soot, the tear tracks—
he is telling you now
that all that stands between you
and everything you have known since the beginning
is this: this wall. Between yourself
& the Beloved, between yourself & your joy,
the riverbank swelling with wildflowers, the shaft
of sunlight on the rock, the song.
Will you pass through it now, will you let it consume
whatever solidness this is
you call your life and send
you out, a tremor of heat,
a radiance, a changed
"For me, it’s not like a clear message that I receive each day and ZAP! I hear the call. Instead, it’s more about deep listening and surrendering."