What Are You Hungry For?
Everything changed on September 11th. A door slammed shut, and I couldn’t go back. None of us could. It was a monstrous time; with lessons so huge a novel could barely address them. A blog post seems pathetically unworthy, but it’s where this one started for me. I’m just following the story.
A month after the towers fell, my Boeing-747 sped off the runway at JFK; the looped image of careening planes seared permanently behind my eyelids. The Cowboy Pilot thrust heavily forward, veering hard to the left, wings sharply tilted; there was too much ground, not enough sky. People gasped and my nails clawed into the sticky blue flesh of the armrest. My feet pushed against the dark carpet in a futile attempt to override the pilot’s control. Eventually, we leveled and the Cowboy pointed the fear-filled plane west for the five-hour ride to California.
It happened in a split second, no warning. It could have been us falling cruelly out of the sky a month before. I leaned my forehead against the window and recalled my mother’s friend Judy. “If I died today, I’ve had a well-lived life.” She’d said it last summer while we sipped a mojito with our bare feet dug into the sand. I watched her, soft eyes resting on the waves washing in and out, and believed that she had. At the time I worried that she was, in fact, dying, but now I think it was a wisdom offering for me to store until I needed it.
I looked out the window at the patchwork land below and asked, “If I died today, have I lived a fully realized life?” I worked for a magazine. It was my job to launch motivational platitudes like “step outside of your comfort zone,” “dreams are just unrealized truths” and “be the person your were born to be.” What in the hell was I doing to reach my dreams? I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, wanting to rip open the door and leap from the plane.
If I died today, I’d be pissed.
That was my awakening, the moment when I understood I hadn’t really built much of anything, just moved blocks from one pile back to the other. I was angry at the time I thought I’d wasted, and now that I knew, I wanted everything to change that instant. I wanted to de-board in San Francisco a new person.
Some of these epiphanies come with a plan attached, but usually, like with mine, they just slam the door on the things you know and leave you standing bewildered on the edge of the tarmac. I was haunted by the question
“If I died today, have I lived a fully realized life?”
It took me almost six years to figure out what that meant, make the tough necessary changes, and begin to build something more fulfilling.
Our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s are littered with closing doors. And as we’re falling off our axis, alone in the dark, some neighbor is whispering the words “midlife crisis” and pointing a crooked finger in our direction. Well, they’re right, sort of.
When you look up the word crisis in the dictionary you’ll see exactly what you expect: “a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger.” But it’s the second definition that I find intriguing: “a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.”
This is the time when we need to become keenly observant, and curious. Alongside all closures, there are openings, where deeply felt longings surface, and we begin to see clearly the face of our gifts. I chased after my “gifts” until I fell down frustrated and exhausted. It’s not something we can think our way into.
The second half of our life, the part that opens up once the big wooden door to the first half slams shut, can only be lived from an integrated place where we use all of our resources to navigate: our bodies, nature, signs and most of all Spirit.
My life didn’t start moving until I shared my questions with those wiser than I – God, Spirit, Guadalupe, Grandmother Moon – I posed them imploringly to anyone who would listen. “What are my gifts? How can I be of service to the world?” When I took my brain out of the equation, as counter intuitive as that sounds, I started to get answers.
Sublet your house, leave San Francisco, and write a book. End your 18-year career to get a degree as an Integral Coach. Join Toastmasters because one day you will have to be a good public speaker. Write a blog and give back what you have learned.
These were not subtle hints; they were loud, clear and sometimes irrational messages. Over time, I’ve stopped questioning their validity, stopped commenting on the number of “weird” coincidences in my life, and have rearranged things dramatically to honor them. These are the “difficult and important decisions that must be made” in order to live our gifts, our calling. Fighting it doesn’t work – it only makes us sick, addicted, exhausted and depressed until we realize they are our soul’s destiny; And it’s our duty to honor them.
Since launching this blog six weeks ago, I’ve heard two sets of questions about Calling: first, how do you know? And second, what happens if you want to make changes but current circumstance won’t allow a full scrap-and-restart? Ask yourself: what is calling you? What can you do that is of service to others? What do you hear, but ignore? If you can’t make big changes now, ask: what small steps can I take today? What skill sets can I develop? What (and who) can I clear out of my life to make room for what’s coming? Ask before bed each night and write down your dreams in the morning. There is so much to explore, so many avenues of conversation. Start asking.
As I was gutting and rebuilding I kept asking why. Why me? Why this? Why now? When I changed it to “how can I serve?” I started hearing responses. I’d been on the road for seven hours, driving to my new home in Virginia, when I heard the most recent and alarming request yet:
“Feed the people. They’re starving.”
What? I asked into the empty car. It repeated itself, and I scribbled as much as I could on the side of a paper bag in the passenger seat. I listened and wrote and drove in silence. What people? How am I going to feed them? Literally feed them? Why are they starving? What do they need? What can I do? It felt like an extraordinarily BIG request.
This may sound as bizarre to you as it was to me. I wanted to talk back, tell the voice in the car that I didn’t really understand what it wanted of me, and that I was a little skeptical of the Bruce Almighty request. Who am I to feed the people? But it’s not up to me.
A lot has changed since that plane ride west; I don’t know how this chapter will unfold. What I do know is that we are starving — for connection and meaning. Our food is living a deeply fulfilled life. Feed the people. I’m going to do my best to show up and ask nutritious questions, because the feeding will come from us all.
What are you hungry for?
Click here for an exercise to help you listen for your calling.
Click here to learn more about your life calling and James Hillman’s Souls’ Code .