Purpose Part 2: Listening

For the sense of being which in calm hours rises, we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from things, from space, from light, from time, from man, but one with them, and proceeds obviously from the same source whence their life and being also proceed.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

I recently wrote a post about finding purpose and discussed ways I began to discover who I was and what I wanted. It has been rewarding to hone in but I’m learning that’s just the beginning. Now that I have the what, my focus is on the how. How do I express myself and bring my desires into being? There are dozens of books on the subject of goal setting, effective execution, etc. and I will likely get to those subjects in time. For now, I’d like to talk about an important step I had to take even before I could do any of that.

I had to figure out how to hear myself. What was true? Should I follow my gut reaction? Was that intuition or something else? I had to learn to listen and I don’t mean the kind of listening you do with earbuds. I mean listening to your whole being with every resource you can bring to bear until you are intimate with yourself…every second, every minute, every hour, every day. That’s the goal. Idealistic? Sure. Impossible? I wouldn’t be striving for it if I thought so. I’m coming to recognize my voice and I gotta tell ya – it ain’t the voice that tells me what I should be doing to avoid being afraid, or the voice that over-analyses everything trying to prove nothing will work, or the voice that encourages me to chase what is logical but certainly not aligned with me. The more I recognize myself, the more I begin to trust me and the more confident I am in acting on my truth. I listen. I listen to what’s in my heart-space and here are a few of my go-to methods for doing it:

  • Meditation and quiet moments. No-brainer, right? I went about meditation a bit differently from the way I’d heard it was done. When I first began, I didn’t try to shut my brain up. Instead, I tried to hear what was going on up there. It helped me recognize mind chatter and allowed me to become much more familiar with my thought patterns. Shortly thereafter, I was able to more easily see actual insights. These days the latter is what I’m after, along with much needed peace, but if I have a restless morning, I don’t berate myself. I figure it’s just my mind needing some attention so I simply listen as I did when I first began. Check out Calm if you’re interested in starting a practice.

Be still and know by Aaron Burden

Be still and know by Aaron Burden

  • Morning Pages. This has got to be the single coolest thing I discovered from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s basically a 3-page stream of consciousness written at an ungodly hour in the morning. Waking up 30-45 minutes earlier than I normally would to do a brain dump might sound like one of Dante’s 9 levels of hell but it is incredibly helpful for so many reasons. First, it allows me to offload heavy and negative thoughts (I have two young kids so many times, I pick them all back up again during the day but that’s a different post). Second, it helps me sort through all the to-do’s that clutter up the mind and distract. Third, and this may just be me, but writing when I first wake up allows me to tap into something that is long gone when I’m in the throes of the afternoon hours. It’s something that is far less inhibited and far more intuitive and often some really creative things come up – ideas, solutions hidden in plain sight, etc. Finally, I can see what’s really important. I may write very clearly and passionately about a particular subject or it may come up often – all indicators that I should think about it more or do something about it.

  • Do what you love. This is not a big grandiose statement proclaiming that there is one thing to which you must commit your entire existence. In fact, taking the approach of over-analyzing every interest, every personality trait, every insight to discover the one big thing I was supposed to do had me on a treadmill for like 15 years. I’m simply suggesting grabbing the forgotten paint brush, taking an improv class, or playing around with that Excel spreadsheet (okay, I was trying to be democratic with that last one). These things clue you in to what you WANT to be doing, without the opportunity to give yourself all kinds of reasons why you can’t do it or why it won’t work. they are a great way to perform listening maintenance. Julia Cameron also presented the concept of an Artist’s Date in The Artist’s Way based on a similar idea of keeping tabs on yourself by doing things you really enjoy. My dates have included rummaging through JoAnn Fabrics and the paper aisle at Target, visiting the museum, taking a staycation in the country, and meditating at a Buddhist Zen Center, for example. It’s all good and it will all keep you moving in the right direction.

  • Read or listen to something uplifting. This is so easy to do with all the content available out there and can remind you of what’s important to you. I often do this while walking, which somehow gives me a bit of extra brain power to figure things out too.

  • Talk it out. Anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with my mother. It is wonderful to talk with someone who knows you better than you know yourself, who wraps everything they send your way in love, and who has the benefit of having some major life experience. I also have beautiful friends that are there for me when I need them too. Talking, laughing, sharing, and figuring it all out in the process is kind of our birthright as women. It’s useful plus it’s just good for the soul.

  • Daydream and visualize. I did this at work a lot (shhhh…don’t tell anyone). I allowed my mind to roam free and explore the future I wanted. What does a day in your life look like 5 or 10 years from now or even longer? What do your now adult children say about you? If you can manage to quiet the self-limiting talk, this can be so enjoyable and informative and is a great way to keep tuning in.

  • Make it a routine. These things have become so dear to me that I’ve made them spiritual practices I do every day (ideally in the morning) and marry with some sort of physical activity and a bit of day planning. When I practice them routinely, everything just seems to go better. I am more organized, I take steps in the right direction, I’m easier and more at peace. Perhaps it’s the magic of the Universe or the practicalities of being more disciplined but regardless, its good.

A quick note on time. Here’s what I know. We tend to make time for what we find most important. We all have our shit and while we may talk about how we just don’t have time to implement something that will allow us to tune in, I think we all know better. So rather than offer up that, ehem, excuse (just saying), give me some suggestions that might work. Is it zenning on the way to class in the morning? Ditching the coffee break for a journaling session? Or something else? I’ll start. I have two small children and making space for myself doesn’t work out perfectly every day. I take time when I can. Often, I meditate while breastfeeding or listen to something on Audible while walking with my tiniest bean in an Ergo. I go to sleep with the kiddies so I can get up before them and do my thing. And, like it or not, my house isn’t always the cleanest. Many times my morning routine takes the whole damn day and that’s okay too.

Each step along my path has become a little act of faith. Each one, a declaration that I know who I am and trust the truth of myself. They add up and they all point to a willingness to work in concert with universal truth. I encourage you to listen to you. Your heart knows what you want and where you want to go and, I believe, the Universe knows how to get you there, even when you can’t see it. Whether the steps are clear or taken in the dark, the destination is the same. You’ll arrive and so will I and we’ll have tea together. J

Love in all things,

April Eileen