This is what my 19-year-old daughter said on her way to bed last night.
She noticed that she was feeling off, a little sad. And because she’s used to doing self-inquiry she asked herself what she was believing in that moment to cause her to feel this way, because she wanted to feel better.
This is often how it works for all of us: we notice we feel crappy. And then our minds go to work on trying to figure out what’s wrong (with us, our life, other people…) that is causing us to feel this way. So that we can fix it.
It seems so simple, so logical.
Here’s the thing and it’s kind of a big thing: it’s never that something is wrong. It’s not possible for something to be wrong, in fact; that’s only a story that you’re telling. (I know this is kind of a big claim and so I want to give it its own blog post in the near future … )
So what is causing this bad feeling? … What you are thinking and believing about you, your life, others. That bad feeling is actually an indication that what you are thinking is a problem, isn’t.
Isn’t that amazing?! You might have to read it again to take it in, because like most things with this work, it’s simple and yet since we’ve been believing something else for so long, we can’t wrap our heads around it. So it appears complex.
[Side note: as you do this work more and more, life becomes simpler and simpler. Thank goodness.]
You can think of it as a built-in guidance system that works through your emotions:
If you feel bad, it’s not because there’s something to feel bad about, it’s because there’s nothing to feel bad about but you are looking at it as though there is.
And this is good news, because we can do something about that. <insert celebration emoji> We can learn to look at what we thought was one-sided, one-dimensional, and see, in truth, its many sides. (I’ve come to see each situation as a prism … so many beautiful sides, each reflecting light.)
We can identify what we’re believing and see that the opposite is at least as true, if not truer.
So back to Bella wishing she had a guarantee that what she is trying to do will be successful. This is the thought she noticed she was believing that was making her feel sad and antsy.
You see, she isn’t following the traditional path that most high school graduates follow: she’s not going to college or university. The thing she’s most passionate about in life is music. She’s been this way since she was just wee, always singing and dancing. A born performer.
So she’s exploring this world of singer-songwriter: she’s sought out mentors, she’s writing grant applications for arts funding, she’s booking gigs to play when she can, she’s written more than enough songs for an album and keeps writing usually one a week on average.
In other words, she’s taking her chosen path seriously, and isn’t naive enough to think that just because she wants to do it, that it will be easy to be successful. She’s also had waaay too many well-meaning adults tell her how hard this path is and doesn’t she want something more secure, less risky?
Like a guarantee of success? A college degree, a guaranteed job and income?
Hmm, seems like a good idea.
We’ve talked a lot about this, her and I, and in the end it amounts to really just one thing: do we want to live our lives out of fear (which is to say, the mind) and to go for the guaranteed path or do we want to see if there's a different place to live from?
Could it actually be that our passions are there for a reason and we just have to have the faith to follow them without the guarantee of success?
Could it be that listening to this calling is the courageous act, that choosing the thing that doesn’t have a guarantee means that we’re reflecting how reality actually is? … We have ideas appear in the mind — images, often — of what we could be, do, create, and we follow them, despite not knowing how it will turn out, if those images will manifest into reality.
In other words, life doesn’t have guarantees anyway. Like Bella noticed, maybe life isn’t linear. Isn’t supposed to be linear.
We just tell the story of how this job is a guarantee of money coming in and money equals security etc. etc. as if this is what the main goal of life. Just get stable. End of story.
It reminds me of that lovely saying, "Ships are safe in the harbour, but that's not what ships are made for."
But so many of us live from this place of fear even if we don't recognize it as such. Isn't this just the way we're supposed to do it? Isn't it called "being responsible?"
This is the other option: rather than listening to what calls us through our excitement and our joy is to notice what most other people are doing and do that.
I call it being a sheep.
Which is not to say that doing what other people are doing necessarily means we are being a sheep, but if we move towards things out of fear of following our own inner voice — fear that we can’t trust that — so we don’t bother to ask ourselves what would work for us, then … sheep.
So what is our responsibility then, if not to seek out a sure path?
I asked Bella to notice if she chose this passion for music or if she’s just the one noticing that it’s there. In other words, did she decide that she loved music, or does she just love it?
This is how I know that our personal passions and interests are there for a reason. We didn’t choose them. They are just ours to uniquely follow and express, wherever they may lead (a job, a hobby) … And it doesn’t mean we don’t get a job at some point if we need to.
The famed mythologist Joseph Campbell told us to “follow your bliss.” You may have heard this quote. It’s a nice little sound bite and yet he meant something so much more by it. He studied the world’s ancient cultures -- rites, religions, rituals -- and concluded something so profound and I think its wisdom has been largely lost:
Following your bliss means not the ‘do what I want to do when I want to do it’ kind of thing but rather, follow what lights you up.
We didn’t put that passion or interest there, we are just the stewards of it. We are the ones who notice all of the things that don’t light us up and then … YES, THIS! We are responsible for following this, this flame that leads us, if we will let it.
Byron Katie talks about “following the simple instructions.”
It’s amazing for some of us to think that the instructions could be to follow what we love, what’s in our hearts to do, after we’ve been conditioned from a young age that life is often/mostly about doing what we don’t want to do. This shows discipline, hard work!
Whatever you do, DO NOT trust yourself ... says the mind all of the time. You might have noticed. Following our bliss means we're not exercising discipline. Right?
Discipline shares its root with “disciple” … to follow, to learn. It doesn’t say anything about learning what we don’t want to learn.
For me, being disciplined is to follow the simple instructions, to follow our bliss.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
So said Helen Keller who went on to say, “Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of [humans] as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”
Yep. True. Katie likes to say, "Don't be careful, you could hurt yourself." And you can see this for yourself in self-inquiry.
Whatever you think you must do or must not do in search of a guarantee, I invite you to question it. You might be amazed at what you find.