There are special times in our lives when we can truly benefit from reflection and introspection. This may be at the beginning of a new year, following a loss of a relationship or job, or simply when we are feeling stuck or blocked from moving forward in our lives. During these times it’s easy to beat ourselves up for what we could have or should have done differently. We certainly can learn from the past, but putting ourselves down serves no purpose, except to hold us back from moving forward. So, we need to ask, what’s next in my life?
As the years move swiftly by, I find myself more and more aware of the finiteness of my life. I ponder questions like, when it’s all over what are the things I will be most proud of? Did I engage with the best of who I am? Did I love enough, laugh enough, give enough? Did I dance enough to my own music, or only follow someone else’s lead?
I do this review from the perspective of this moment forward. In other words, what is done is done. I can’t change the past. Nor can I program the future. But I can have a lot of influence on what’s ahead of me. I begin by asking what I really want, what it is that I most desire for my life.
Clearing the path
When I recently – very unexpectedly – lost my 94 year-old friend Mae I’d been caring for, a wise friend said to me, “we are never prepared for the inevitable.” How true. When things are going along well we get set in our routines with the assumption that things will continue on for a good while longer. And then we are caught off guard. Sometimes this may be a dramatic change that didn’t even seem inevitable at the time, such as a relationship, job or financial loss. Whatever the circumstance a period of grieving and reflecting inward allows for the process of letting go, just as nature does, to provide space for new seeds to be planted and nurtured for future growth to blossom and allow for an opening of the pathway to what’s next for our lives.
I’ve recently been drawn to the word “vocation,” which comes from a Latin word meaning “to be called,” or “a calling.” This word may convey many things: an occupation or profession, a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career, a divine call to service, or the vocation of marriage and parenting.
While in the process of letting go of the old and starting anew it’s helpful to ask yourself what is your calling. What are you being called to do in this precious life you are living? How are you using, or how can you better express your gifts and talents? Your deepest identity can be reflected in your calling. This can be revealed in what you desire most in life, what you care about, what moves you, touches you and what you are drawn to. This is not a selfish desire, but one that is filled with possibility, joy and delight.
There is a still small voice of our true self deep within that is constantly calling for our attention asking us to live from the fullness of our being. Clearing the channels to hear this voice requires us to uncover and move through barriers such as fear or heartbreak that hold us back from hearing this message.
Life doing you
Parker Palmer, an author, educator and activist, shares that a sure sign of a vocation is something so compelling that you “can’t not do it.” Rather than asking what you’re supposed to do with your life, he suggests asking, “What is your life trying to do with you?” This resonates with me, as I often have succumbed to callings I never guessed I would be engaged in – and later reflected on how it enriched my life or prepared me for something else.
Meditative and contemplative practices can be invaluable in helping us uncover our true reality and calling. Palmer suggests that contemplation can be anything we do that can penetrate beneath the ego and programming of our life and help us touch reality. This can be experienced in everyday life: anything that can help us become more awake, aware and alive, and help you notice when feelings of joy, love and compassion or empathy are present.
As I let go of one of my callings of caring for my beloved Mae and prepare to welcome in what’s next, I plan to listen more to that small voice inside and focus more on the things I “can’t not do.” How about you?