The Life Spark

spark of life1Sometimes clients come to me for therapy saying that they are bored. They might say that they are depressed, anxious, dissatisfied or despairing. They see these as problems that need to be solved. I see them a little differently; I see hope. When someone feels boredom, it lets me know that they can tell when things are not working, that there is some vitality missing. Boredom, dissatisfaction, despair – feeling these means we are still in contact with that authentic place within us that lets us know if we are living a life that is worth living or not. When someone loses touch with this place, that is much harder to address.

The Question

The key is whether or not your life is working for you. Are you living a life worth living to you? When we get right down to it, what matters is not what other people think and, to an extent, not even what we think. You probably have some version of a mental list of all of the things that you think will make a good life for you. That list may contain a number of great things such as someone to love, good work, kids, money, a house, security, fun etc. What matters, however, is your lived experience of your life. All of your best ideas matter not a bit if your life does not work for you. The only relevant question in this regards is not if your life is fun or pleasurable but, Does your life light you up or not?

This question should be profound and life changing but we, in this culture, are sheltered from the full impact of it. We want to answer yes to the question about whether our lives our vital and engaging to us, but we can accept a no answer. In our society, a no to this question is not a call to action but just a verification of how adult life really is after we grow out of our childish fantasies. You might feel bad if your answer is no, but what can you do? That is just how real life is, right? You are free to accept this position that real life cannot be vitally meaningful and you will be well supported if you do.

However, I would urge you to question this. I might differ from a lot of people on this, but I think living an authentic life that we truly love is more important then almost anything else, certainly more important than a good job and security (if that is even possible). I would rather be homeless (which I have been) than live a life at odds with my soul. I do not want to give a false impression that I live a perfect life without compromise: I am lost and found with regularity just like the rest of us. But this core value is what guides me.

Where this Path Takes You

There are some good reasons why this is not a core value for our society: there are some potential steep costs if you take on this way of life. This path might contain money, some sense of security and the esteem of others, but it might not. If you follow the path of your deepest desire, you have to go where it takes you. It will not always be fun, pleasurable, safe or comfortable, but then again, whose life is? You are going to suffer and have problems no matter what you do, so you might as well make the game worthy of you.

It is all about if we really want to wake up in this life. Whatever spiritual beliefs you may or may not have, this is your one shot at this life. You are going to die. It seems to me that we often give up before we really give life our best shot. It is as if we accept the stories from others that a life that really matters to us is not possible without finding out for ourselves. It is not an easy path, this one of paying attention to our authentic selves, and it is certainly not safe, but it is the only path that is really alive.

What Enlivens

In my therapy practice, when I work with someone, the main thing I try to pay attention to is, What makes this person come alive? Sometimes it is glaringly obvious and it seems as though suddenly a ray of sun is hitting my client’s face as they speak. The whole room seems to light up and I know we have hit gold. Other times it is not so easy to see these enlivened places. I know the spark is there, but it is obscured. Maybe they have ignored that small, vital voice for so long that they do not even remember what it sounds like anymore.

Is it really so surprising that so many of us are out of touch with what truly enlivens us? Our interests and loves are often not really seen and, even less often, encouraged when we were growing up. It seems to only get worse in our adult lives. The society we live in, our culture, the economy, our community are all forces of incredible pressures to think, be, act, appear and even dream in ways that might not really be our own. Are you living someone else’s idea of a good life and not your own?

So if you are bored, depressed, anxious, dissatisfied or despairing, that might just be good news. It means you can still tell when things are not working. It is helpful to know what offends your spirit. You know what does not work, and that is something.

So now, what makes you brighter? No one can answer that but you. You might have spent a long time ignoring what you know deep down. Go slow, it might now take some practice to get used to paying attention to what is really vital and alive for you. Do not doubt that it is there. It is your birthright and no matter how much you have turned your back on it, it is still there. You might not be able to define it, but you will know it. The more you listen and act on it, the more it will speak to you. What is important is not the size and power of your steps forward, but only that you take steps.

This question is one that only a very old man asks. Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long long paths, but I am not anywhere. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

—Carlos Castaneda