What is your sense of the life that you long to live? Is there within you some image, some feeling, some idea, some sensation that speaks to you of what you desire, what you would work for, what you hope to make of yourself?
For some, this image of desire is fleeting and hard to find. For many it arrives by disguise as inflated fantasies or fears, daydreams of being discovered as the next big rock star, fantasies of fighting on the front lines against evil, even nightmares of being chased by something repulsive. These fantasies might be overblown images attempting to get our attention to what in our lives desperately longs for attention, energy, and work. The repulsive monster could be the life-fulfilling project that you’ve avoided. The fight against evil might be simply engaging in an honest but confrontational conversation with a loved one. With these seemingly mundane activities, though, is a sense of being alive that calls uniquely to you.
When life feels like it is a shambles, chaotic, and spinning out of control, tapping into this sense of possibility can be redeeming. We can sense into how action or inaction leaves us feeling. A step may be terrifying for good reasons or misleading reasons, but does moving into terror fill life with color, excitement, and vitality? Does engaging in another angry diatribe leave you feeling drained, despairing, and overwhelmed? These senses of life can guide us to what feels meaningful and rich. When we don’t know where to go, we can tap into that life we hope to have, and imagine what next step can take us closer.
Sometimes sensing this possibility is painful, bringing up feelings of shame or self-abuse for failing to achieve something, or thoughts of it being impossible, or all the millions of genuine authentic-looking reasons that interfere with moving forward. All of these arise as traps to keep us locked within our own prisons of thought and expectation. A rich life is not one of untroubled happiness. Sometimes we have to shake things up a bit, step into conflict and mess, upend the gentle restrictions we’ve allowed into our lives.
That sense of possibility and desire helps. Knowing where I want to go helps me to get oriented and direct my actions toward enlivening purpose. My values and sense of life feed the engine of living that makes everything else easier. As humans, I think we can tolerate distress when we believe deeply that we are choosing to do so to promote something important to us. Hell is suffering without purpose.
Imagine in yourself there is some sense of purpose. Perhaps a word, a sensation, or an image, something stripped down to its barest essence. You might be gifted with a clear, comprehensible, coherent map of your destiny, but that is not necessary. Even a simple word like “peace” or a sense of energy and relaxation can trigger growth. We can let this carry us through distress when things get hard, and we can thread this quality through every moment of our lives if we are willing to choose it, over and over.