Vail Daily column: Are you listening to yourself?
Vail, CO Colorado
Have there been times in your life when you feel that you are just going through the motions – there’s no passion or purpose or sustainable meaning in your life? Is that feeling occasional or more of a persistent experience? Do the patterns and experiences of your life give you a strong sense of direction and intention, or have you too often found yourself wondering what’s it all about?
Please don’t misunderstand the questions. I am not suggesting that absolutely every moment and season of one’s life ought to be overflowing with meaning, purpose, direction and intention. Of course, there are times in everyone’s life where things just don’t seem be adding up, where there is confusion and a lack of focus. I’m not really wondering about those moments of ambiguity and ambivalence about life. I’m really wondering about that place for some where there is a nagging and persistent question that never goes away. I’m wondering about those for whom the restlessness and uneasiness is a constant companion.
I know what that experience is like. I have had a time in my life when I knew that there was something inconsistent and incongruent with the way I was living my life on the outside, and the way that I felt deeply inside with my own values, personal ethics, and my true heart hunger for significance and meaning. Adding to that confusion was the fact that I was actually working in a very worthwhile nonprofit organization that was doing a lot of good in the community. So, it was not that I was “doing a bad thing,” because in fact, I could very easily point to all the good things that my organization was doing in the larger world.
It was at that point in my rather upside-down life that a trusted friend gave me a book by Parker Palmer, “Let Your Life Speak.” The book, or rather the questions that I began to ask myself after reading the book, have made a profound difference in my life. Palmer’s work is not a “how to” book at all. It’s not one of those “10 easy steps to happiness” kinds of things. He simply (and profoundly) wonders if you are really listening to the life that wants to live in you. Sounds like one of those “psycho-babble” questions, doesn’t it? Well, since I’m a psychotherapist, what else would you expect?
The really profound part of that question is that it leads (if you’ll let it) to all sorts of wonderings and explorations of the self that most never take the time to have. He suggests that these type of wonderings “remind (us) of moments when it is clear if I have eyes to see – that the life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me.”
Palmer confesses that in his own life, which is influenced heavily by Quaker thought and practice, he always thought that the familiar Quaker phrase, “Let your life speak” really meant that one should let the highest truths, values and ideals guide one’s life, and that one should live up to those demanding standards in everything that one did. He found himself adopting all sorts of ideas about truth, integrity, and purpose that came from many wise and highly successful persons. And as a result, he plunged into a deep depression when he came to finally realize that he was not living his life at all, but only living a shell and image of what others thought he should be.
I understand the confusion and paralyzing recognition that Palmer describes when I, too, came to see that I was being what everyone else thought I should be. I know the feelings of “lost-ness” and panic when I came to realize that though I was “doing a good thing” I was not doing the right thing for me. These thoughts and feelings that occurred over a period of about a year led to some dramatic changes in my life. They led to a huge career decision, a geographical relocation, a re-direction in my life’s energies and focus.
I wonder how you have asked yourself these kinds of questions? Have you slowed down enough to consider the questions in your heart about the consistency and congruence in the way you’re actually living and what you say you believe about life? Have you thought about the course of your life, and at the end how you will evaluate your journey?
Randy J. Simmonds, Ph.D. is the clinical director of the Samaritan Center of the Rockies, a nonprofit counseling center in Edwards. Dr. Simmonds can be contacted at 970-926-8558. For more information about the Samaritan Center go to http://www.samaritan-vail.org
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