How to Find Your Thing

thinkerBased on the title of this post, you might think that it’s going to be a revelatory piece on sexual exploration. If it were, it would go something like this:

Step 1: Stick your hand down the front of your pants.
Step 2: Keep going until you find “your thing.”

Instead, what I really want to talk about is how to find your calling, or rather how to get your hands out of your pants long enough for “it” to find you.

Actually, I’m not even sure that’s true; I don’t think you have to find “it” or let “it” find you, because – from my own experience as someone who teeters perpetually on the edge of an existential crisis – “it” was never lost. It’s just that my thinking, analyzing, ruminating mind has never shut up long enough to actually hear what is calling.

You see, I’m a thinker. Much like Rodin’s famous piece of the same name, I like to sit around (mostly in pants, though) and ponder the meaning of life – both my life and the meaning of life in general. I think about a lot of stuff – from the relationship between reincarnation and epigenetics to what I’m going to eat for dinner. (If it’s Tuesday night, it’s pizza night.)

My favorite thing to think about, though, is: “What the hell am I doing with my life?”

As you can imagine, this is a colossal waste of time: first of all, I’m actually doing great stuff with my life! I have some of the most amazing friends, colleagues, and clients you could imagine. I’m teaching, connecting, mentoring, coaching, and writing. But the problem is that my brain has been searching for the meaning of my life for so long that sometimes it just doesn’t know when it’s got a good thing going.

That sense of being separated from my “thing” – my calling, you pervert – has been my life’s go-to feeling for so long that I’m not sure what it would feel like to function without it. Heck, I’m not even sure I have ever actually taken the time to learn the real language of what has been calling me! Instead, I’ve been walking around, like a stranger in France, claiming, “Je ne parle pas français,” when, in fact, I’ve been fluent in the language of my calling all along (which clearly has a French accent). However, I have never shut up the infernal chatter of my brain long enough to interpret what is being said.

Now, if you’ve been hanging in with me so far, my hunch is that you either have nothing better to do than to read my ramblings or you are seriously picking up what I am putting down. If the former is true: you’re right – this is the place to be. And if the latter is true: I’m going to guess that you resonate with this urgent, pervasive feeling that something is calling you and, yet, also feel like you have no idea what “it” is or how to figure “it” out.

For those of us plagued by that seemingly unquenchable yearning for a divinely guided and deliberately purposeful life, the truth is that we are receiving guidance all the time – through every hunch, sign, synchronicity, or that tingly feeling when we see a shirtless photo of Christian Bale. Our life has been speaking to us in the language of “our thing” all this time, but we’ve been too busy thinking about our thing and doubting that we’ll ever find it to notice that we’ve been receiving messages about it all along. We want the certainty and clarity of what’s calling us to be like a giant smack in the face and unless we get that smack, we feel unreconciled and adrift in longing. Oh, Christian. I’ll wait for you.

As Gregg Levoy says in the aptly titled, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, “There is such a thing as thinking too much about a calling.” Boy howdy. It’s this constant worrying, wondering, yearning, poking, and pondering that pulls me from being fully present to what calls me, which ultimately means I end up missing it through the addiction to its pursuit. Ironic isn’t it? The very pursuit of “finding our thing” can paradoxically distract us from ever connecting with our heart’s desire.

So how do we stop the lurid siren song of our busy, maddening minds?Excellent question. I am so glad you asked. Have a cookie.

The first thing we can do is clear up some of the long-standing cultural misconceptions that “your thing” has to be how you make money in the world. I mean, just because I’ve got mad pole-dancing skills doesn’t mean I have to become a stripper. (Or does it?) Your thing may not be a way of “doing” in the world at all, but rather a way of being in the world. Maybe you want to be more peaceful, more loving, more connected, or more forgiving. Maybe you want to learn how to listen more and talk less. (Weird.) Maybe you want to be, as Rumi says, “A Mighty Kindness” in the world. Or hike more. Make music. Carve wood. Save the orangutans. Or just be a better pole-dancer. (Pole-dancing orangutan? Why not?)

When it comes to hearing – really, truly hearing what calls us – money (or more specifically the fear of not having it) is what stops us dead in our tracks. In the words of the great pop star Jessie J. “It’s not about the money money money.” Look, I’m not saying you can’t earn a lot of money doing what you love. But if your brain is anything like mine, the moment you latch onto the idea that “calling=cash,” you beat, bludgeon, and choke the living daylights out of your passion. And there’s no faster way to kill passion than to put a price tag on it.

Speaking of passion…the other problem we encounter on our quest to find “our thing” is that our culture has slowly poisoned us with its idea of our One True Love – not only in the bedroom, but also when it comes to our calling. From a very young age we are told that we have A calling, as in one, singular thing that calls to us. And that calling should be something we do every day that will earn us a boat-load of money AND bring us great joy. (If that were the case – I’d be the first Cheese Billionaire of the World.) However, for those of us Renaissance men or women who have multiple and varied interests and desires that range from fantasy baseball leaguing to Hummel figurine collecting to mid-century antiquing, putting this Baby in a corner by telling her that she has to have A calling is like telling me I have to eat the same meal every day for the rest of my life. Sure, I might think that I love pizza that much, but the reality is that even I would get sick of pizza eventually. (No I wouldn’t, baby. I love you. I’m just trying to make a point.)

When we carry around the notion that we have A calling, we may stifle the opportunity to live a richly fulfilling and meaningful life by getting locked into our narrow, artificial cultural constructs of “career” and “earning”. Or, more likely, we end up feeling like a miserable failure because we haven’t found that One True Love that we were told exists and therefore something is wrong with us as a result. There’s nothing wrong with us. As Auntie Mame says, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

Life is a banquet and your thing doesn’t have to come off of some prix fixe menu of socially-acceptable and financially-viable callings pre-approved for us by God herself. Lawyer. Doctor. Financial Advisor. Human Resources Manager. Sometimes what calls to your soul is a smorgasbord of being and doing in the world that cannot be confined to a title on a business card. (Or it can. I do call myself Chief Mischief Maker, which says both nothing and everything all at once.) Your existence and how you make your way in the world is so much bigger than that. And yet, your whole life you are told you have to choose. And it should be something you love. And you have to make a living doing it. And you have to choose that thing when you are a teenager. Let’s be clear, when I was a teenager, all I could really think about was if Ty Osborne likes me likes me or just likes me? (I’m still not sure of the answer.)

Truth be told, it’s no wonder that what calls to us is falling on deaf ears. What a tremendous amount of pressure to put on our life’s purpose. No wonder we keep seeking. We’ve been brainwashed into believing that what we were built to do or be in this world is singular, extraordinary, culturally-ordained, and lucrative. As such, nothing can ever live up to the outside world’s projection of our interior life of longing. And honestly, that just sucks. 

In the end, when it comes to finding your thing, remember that there is no “there” there. A calling comes to offer you direction and motivation, not a destination. A calling is an invitation to experience the divine in all her forms, not an expectation that you shut yourself off from all other life experiences once you find it. “Your thing” is neither singular nor elusive. It is neither unknowable nor unique. Your life is speaking to you constantly and it is your job to listen – to quiet the roaring voices in your head that sound suspiciously like your parents and your tenth-grade teacher – and instead tune into that small tugging in your belly and that quiet sparkle up your spine.

As our favorite Sufi mystic, Rumi, says,

What in your life is calling you,
When all the noise is silenced,
The meetings adjourned…
The lists laid aside,
And the Wild Iris blooms
By itself In the dark forest…
What still pulls on your soul?

Let yourself be led. And if what you want to do with your life leads to putting a hand down your pants, well then who am I to stop you?

We Shall Be a Mighty Kindness

Zero Circle

Be helpless, dumbfounded,

Unable to say yes or no.

Then a stretcher will come from grace

To gather us up.

We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty

If we say we can, we’re lying.

If we say No, we don’t see it,

That No will behead us

And shut tight our window onto spirit.

So let us rather not be sure of anything,

Beside ourselves, and only that, so

Miraculous beings come running to help.

Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,

We shall be saying finally,

With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.

When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,

We shall be a mighty kindness.


We Shall Be a Mighty Kindness

snow-721952_1920-2-2Occasionally in life, I will encounter someone whose entire being seems to radiate a sort of profound kindness that envelopes me and makes me feel wholly seen, deeply held, and completely loved. When I am around them, I feel clever. Interesting. Attractive. Maybe even a little bit shy. I feel that in their eyes I can do no wrong and that everything good in the world is possible.

Perhaps you’ve met someone like that. Perhaps you are like that. I believe that person – who exudes love like a rare, intoxicating and exotic perfume – is what Rumi might deem a Mighty Kindness.

True Confession: I want to be like that. I want to be a Mighty Kindness. I want to see the world as full of possibility and hope and be a beacon of love that guides people home. Back to themselves. Back to the love that is borne in the very marrow of their being. Back to truth.

In fact, ever since I first heard those words nearly six years ago now, I have proclaimed to anyone who will listen – and even those who won’t – “I want to be a Mighty Kindness in the world.”

Honestly, I’m not even sure what that means or what it would take to be a Mighty Kindness – although, Rumi does seem to lay it out for us, almost like a recipe:

Be Helpless: Check.

Dumbfounded: You know it!

Unable to say yes or no: Are you kidding? It’s a wonder I’m even wearing pants right now!

And honestly, I’m not even sure why I want to be a Mighty Kindness in the world. Other than the fact that I think it is desperately needed. That kindness is the essential ingredient for turning the tide of casual indifference, senseless barbarism, and overwhelming suffering that is making this planet a lonely and inhospitable place to be.

Oh right. That.

So, what does it take to be a mighty kindness in the world? How can a world that seems so sure of everything – a world where judgment is so immediate and accountability is so absent, a world where politicians argue over constitutional rights while children die in the streets and veterans rot in jails – how can this world surrender to the truth and beauty of not knowing anything at all in order to become a mighty kindness that heals us all?

Because that is the truth: when we show up confident in our opinion, controlling in our actions, closed off from compromise, unwilling, unbending, unseeing, we cut ourselves off from possibility and growth. We cut ourselves off from spirit, God, source, love… We cut ourselves off from kindness itself. We cannot see the suffering of the world, because we cannot connect to the source of love within us that helps us see the truth of others. We lose access to, as author Jean Fain calls them, “our compassion glasses.” We become suffering itself and kindness can find no purchase when we are in this state – this state that acts as a teflon shield to our humanity.

I believe the opposite of kindness isn’t cruelty. I believe it is indifference. Cruelty indicates an active barbarism that certainly exists in the world and for which kindness would certainly be curative. However, I do not believe that cruelty is our true affliction as a people. It is indifference that ails us as a nation. As a world. The more seemingly connected we become through bits and bytes and wires,  the more we seem to cultivate a blind indifference to the suffering in our world – the suffering within ourselves. Perhaps it is because of an overwhelming sense of the enormity of the task at hand. Perhaps it is a perceptual blindness, where we end up sleepwalking through life, collar upturned, eyes cast down, not seeing the man begging for his life on the street corner. Perhaps we have become too dull-eyed, separated from life and from love by a thin pane of glass.

But it is hard to be indifferent when you are eye to eye with a hungry soul, starving for food and affection. It is hard to be indifferent when you are sitting in a prison, bearing witness to the result of years of intergenerational racism, poverty, and abuse.  It is hard to be indifferent when you see a freezing and frightened dog on the side of the street. It is getting harder and harder to ignore the accumulated effect of our indifference when it winds up as more than a meme or a trending topic on Facebook and instead ends up on our doorstep. And so we are slowly waking up to the harsh consequences of indifference. We are waking up to the quiet pinging of our compassion that is growing into a thrumming wave of yearning to fix what is broken all around us and within us.

But compassion is  not enough and it is nothing without kindness. Compassion is a recognition of suffering in the world, whereas kindness is the transcendence of our own self-interest in favor of easing the suffering of others. Kindness is compassion in action. It is the expression of compassion in the world, not only for ourselves, but for others.

I believe that kindness is the lodestone of our moral compass, and without it? We risk becoming directionless in our values and in our character.

I believe that kindness is the keystone of our principles as a nation and without it, we cannot bear up our brothers and sisters who so desperately need our help.

I believe that kindness is a state of grace and without it, we will shut our window tight onto spirit.

Kindness is our healing.

It is our salvation.

It is our restitution.

The good news is that kindness is free. It has no capital. It is not quantifiable. It cannot be bartered or sold. And yet it is also the most valuable commodity on earth. And it’s abundant, if, and only if, we overcome indifference.

So I ask again what does it take to become a mighty kindness? What do we do? How do we come together and create real and lasting change when the task seems so enormous?

We start by recognizing that kindness is not a random act, but rather a deliberate act of revolution – a resolution to overthrow the callous cruelty and sleepy indifference in the world; to cast aside our hubris, lay down our certainty, and reserve our judgements; to fall back in love with the tenderness of the world, the tenderness inside each of us.

We must put down our screens, roll down our windows, and open our eyes to what we have created in our sleep. We must allow ourselves the discomfort of witnessing the discomfort in others to the point that we are moved to act, in whatever way – no matter how small. We must let ourselves fall in love with the magic of creation to the point where we are once again mute and overwhelmed by its beauty.

We must live the question, “How can I bring more kindness into the world?” and let spirit – not our mind – lead us to the answer. It is our minds that make us believe the ugliness of our separation from one another, but spirit that reminds us that we are in fact connected to all.  When we have surrendered to the beauty of that connection, we shall be a Mighty Kindness.

And it will be grand.

This reflection was originally written and delivered by Jessica Steward at the Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Avenue, Portland, Maine on Sunday, February 21st. The service, “Spark of Kindness: The Simple Beauty of a Benevolent Heart,” was designed by Jessica Steward and Craig Werth, both students at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine.

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