Living from the Ground Up

I’m someone who likes to make a plan, set long-range goals, and hold to meticulously crafted overarching visions, but as I’m learning, sometimes life just needs to be figured out as we go.

In other words, living a life that makes getting out of bed each morning more an occasion for jubilee than a descent into drudgery requires a fair amount building from scratch, piecing together raw, unrelated materials, and flying by the seat of my pants.  The 10,000 foot view is great, but if that’s the only place I’m spending my time, I’m probably missing out on a vast array of creative opportunities, unpredictable misadventures, and bizarre detours that spring from the ground up, and if given the chance, could create something entirely unexpected, wonderfully weird, and oddly delightful.

Still, I have often been tempted to hold on to a lifeless goal, vision, or aspiration, even after it’s clear it’s no longer working.

Perhaps my best example of this is how hard I clung to my grand vision of earning my PhD and becoming an academic, even after it had become a miserable endeavor.  But I loved learning, and this is what I had always imagined for myself.  How could I give up now?  The day it became clear, I was walking in the woods, deep in the process of applying for doctoral programs after graduating from a grueling MA program a few months before.  As I passed through the trees, I noticed a sudden and strange feeling: the glorious absence of anxiety (and the sublime freedom that filled the vacuum it left behind), something I hadn’t felt in years.  In that moment, I knew I wanted peaceful walks in the woods more than I wanted a PhD, and that was that.

In an instant, my top-down approach collapsed.  The gap between the theoretical vision I held for my life and my actual life reality had become too wide.  And for a time after that, I had no big goal, no guiding vision beyond restoring my relationship with my body, spirit, and inner wisdom.  I was living bottom-up instead of top-down, allowing a new vision to rise up from there.

In my experience, living this way requires intuitive flexibility, attention to the small stuff, and responsiveness to my life as it actually is, rather than my theoretical ideas for what it should be.  It requires starting with the seemingly random and chaotic sparks of interest, alignment, and desire and allowing them to inform or even create the big vision from time to time.

All of this reminds me that life is an unfolding creation rather than an unchanging assignment.  So these are the questions I’m asking of my visions, goals, and intentions in 2018: are they organic and dynamic or rigid and stagnant?  Are they life-giving and expanding or life-constricting and confining?  Do they show up as obligations or as invitations?  Do they allow space for unexpected variables, surprising detours, and extended pauses?

If this sounds interesting to you, here are some ideas and practices to play with:

  • Think of your big vision and aspiration and instead of focusing on what it would look like to achieve it, notice what it would feel like.  What would it give you?  Why do you really want it?  How would it change your life, and how would that feel?  Notice and tap into that feeling or energy and ask yourself: What small thing or action step fills me with that same feeling or energy?  Maybe it’s related to the vision or goal, and maybe it’s not.  Let it surprise you.
  • Carve out an empty block of time – 5 minutes, an hour, an afternoon – to play with no goal in mind.  Ask yourself: What would feel delicious?  What would feel like freedom?  What is pulling you forward?  And see what arises.  Do that thing.  And perhaps challenge yourself to allow more of this thing into your life, even if it doesn’t directly move you toward a particular goal or objective.

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