Monday, September 10, 2007

What Do You Do When You Don't Know What to Do?

Lately, I've been hearing a slow, steady stream of questions from people I know ~ both in real life and on the internet. What do I want from life? What do I want to do? Where do I want to live? What is my passion? How do I find out what I want to do? What if I know what I want but I can't make it happen right now?

It's fantastic. Just when you feel like the whole world is sleeping and no one gives a damn at all, you realize that other people are asking themselves the same questions you are asking. There are people out there that are seeking more than the sleep~work~eat cycle. People whose lives don't revolve around mall recreation and the latest reality TV. People who want more than Stouffer's and Lean Cuisine. There are seekers, all around.

(Big Disclaimer: I don't pretend to have any of these questions figured out. I believe that the answers change over time, and that we have to be as receptive to that as we are to the desire to create meaningful lives.)

I'm not always sure what I want. I've pointed out many times that I am a conflicted human being. I will be outside hanging laundry, and I will think to myself that what I'd really like to be doing is reading a book. Except, if I was to put the laundry in the gas dryer and read my book, I'd be unhappy knowing that I hadn't hung the clothing on the line, which is in line with my values.

Aha! We're dealing with multiple wants here. Desires, and also values. Probably other things too, such as the needs of our families as well as the larger community, and also basic survival. As always, we seek balance.

I do think that we have to live in the moment, and that each moment is an opportunity to both savor our here and now and make little changes that bring about big changes. Many little changes effected in the present can affect the future.

For instance, I'm pretty sure we want to move. What was once something we talked about now and then as a possibility has become something we're actively trying for. We don't exactly know where we want to go, or when we will be able to go, but we have a few ideas, and we know of several places that we don't want to go (which is a good place to start).

In the meantime, I live here. Here isn't a terrible place, it just isn't exactly what we want. Still, it is my reality, and I can either spend the time that I am here miserable because I am thinking of everything I don't have, or content because I am thinking of the things about being here that are positive.

There is a lot that has to happen before we get from here to there, wherever there is. When we think of it as a whole it is easy to get so overwhelmed that we decide that staying here is far easier. It probably is easier, in terms of big change, but the trade-off is a little bit of death everyday.

You see, I can tune in and find what it is I love about being here, as long as I am secure in my belief that one day I will get to where I think I should be. Day by day I can live, and I can make the little changes that make me happy now and create my future. All of the things I need to do can make today brighter.

Most of all, and I think this applies to all of the big questions people ask, I can choose to eliminate the things that bog me down and bring me anxiety and anger. I can't create total happiness, as I am a human living in a world with many other humans, and we don't all want the same things, and sometimes what someone wants from me isn't something I can give. Absolute reality is that sometimes I am going to have to do things that I don't want to do. But most of the time I do have a choice, and it is up to me to choose wisely.

In the context of wanting to move and making little changes, I can start by eliminating possessions that I no longer need or want. I can do the (sometimes) hard work of letting go of things I don't need any longer. I can admit mistakes. I can acknowledge that I have changed. I can connect with the part of me that knows I don't need so much. Each day I will be a little freer, and also a step closer to being able to pack up and move.

I can also start to let go of the certain lifestyle we have now. I can let go of relationships that cause pain. I can practice living on less. I can change our focus and zoom in on the very local. I can expand my community even as I know I may very well leave it soon. Each change is positive now, regardless of where the path ends up taking us.

Maybe I want to write. I don't know. I've never given it serious thought or serious interest. I could decide to lock away the unformed desire in a box and tell myself that I can take it out again and give it a good examination when my children are older, or I've done my part to save the world, or when my life is just perfect. Except we all know that perfect never comes. So I can choose to write everyday (or at least whenever I have the opportunity), even if I never decide to seek publication. Here and now I can fulfill that need, and it may bring me toward a future I haven't imagined yet, or it may just satisfy me now.

I've decided that it is perfectly acceptable to not know what you want to do, or to have half-formed dreams and desires. The big picture can be fuzzy, and as long as you are consciously working on the present the days will bring that picture closer into focus. You get to know yourself better when you live in the present. You get to know this person, the person you are right now, and not just the person you think you might be in the future. You can have a relationship with yourself.

So, what do you do when you don't know what to do?

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