We have no say over where we are born. In my case it was King’s Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. There are also other “givens” at the time of our birth such as eye color and numbers of fingers and toes. Luckily for me, I do not live in a time or a culture in which my place in society was also assigned to me at birth. Even so, childhood can be a period during which one has little say over many things: When to go to bed, what to wear, what friends one may have. But at some point… usually when the child leaves home and heads off on their own… one takes control of the trajectory of one’s life. But even that control is not absolute in that society and life sometimes present us with issues with which we must deal, whether or not we want to do so. Sometimes those issues can even cause us to wind up in a wheelchair, in debt or in jail; nonetheless, the mistakes and accidents of our life do not have to completely determine the rest of our journey: Even if we can’t dance, we can at least limp. Even if we can’t limp, we can crawl. There are often other possibilities that do not immediately occur to us. Quite often our problem is our refusal to find another way to continue the trip: Yes, 2+2 = 4… but so does 3+1. In order for us to find happiness in our life’s journey a shift in our thinking needs to occur.
One of the hardest things in life can be to come to the realization that the way in which we currently do something… especially how we think and react… does not have to be our only option. We may have been involuntarily launched onto our life’s journey, but as we age we can determine the route that our journey will take, even when life forces us to take detours. Sometimes those detours can confuse us, leaving us lost on a road that we do not recognize. In order to figure out where we are going, especially if the evidence of our life has shown us that our current approach is not working, it may be necessary for us to find a different way. And therein lies the dilemma for many: What way? And how to find it?
When I ask a person in such a confused state, “What is it that you want?” they are sometimes unable to articulate the longing that they feel inside; in such instances I have them do the following exercise: Take a large pad of paper, divide it in half vertically and at the top of the two columns write “+” in one and “-“ in the other. Then I tell them to think of these two columns in terms of their life: What do they want in their journey, where do they want their life to go, as well what do they want no part of. I suggest that they tuck these two questions into the back of their mind and think about them when they are driving to work, taking a shower, and cooking a meal, and when a thought occurs to them relating to one of these columns to jot it down in that column. I also tell them that when the plus-column thought comes don’t get all practical and immediately say, “No, that won’t work” or “No, I could never do that” or “I don’t have the money.” Don’t automatically talk ourselves out of a dream! Just because we don’t have a million dollars in the bank doesn’t mean that we can’t gradually gather pennies; and pennies add up, becoming something greater than any one of them.
This first part of this exercise is about brainstorming, about letting the heart inform the mind about our deepest desires. As time goes by there will be something in the plus column to which our heart responds with excitement. When that occurs, instead of telling ourselves why we “can’t”, begin to play with positive questions: “How could I bring this about? What tiny steps can I take which will take me in that direction?” Tiny steps, although they may be tiny, still take us somewhere. So don’t dismiss the pennies.
My own involvement in this exercise is leading me to Hilo, Hawaii in June of 2019. When I tell this to local people their eyes widen and I can hear what they are not saying: “I never knew you were so wealthy!” The fact is that I can be poor in Georgia or poor in Hawaii, and since June of 2004 every spare penny is serving to enable my Hawaiian poverty to come about! Within the first half hour of my first trip to Hawaii in 2004 my heart exploded with the recognition of “home”, an experience so powerful that I have spent the subsequent 12 years thus far moving my life, in ways large and small, towards the Big Island. While we may have no say over where we are born, where we come to rest can be another matter! I can’t help that I wasn’t born Hawaiian, but having recognized what my heart and soul love and need, my pennies can lead me home!