It’s happened to all of us. Things are going along pretty well, and then something shifts unexpectedly. And then something else happens. And then something else. And life feels more and more out of control. Someplace deep down inside, you know who you are. You have done your “work.” You have done your best to live consciously and with intention. Yet life is changing in ways you never expected. And sometimes you get lost in all that is going on and forget who you really are and why you’re here.
It’s OK. Take a deep breath. Life happens. I’ve found myself in this scenario more than once in recent months—most recently just a few weeks ago. And then, quite by surprise, I heard a voice inside of me quietly yet firmly ask: What do you allow to define who you are? What determines how you are showing up right now?
Earlier that day while out for a mid-afternoon walk, a neighbor stopped me for a friendly chat. After a few minutes, there was a pause in our conversation, yet I knew the conversation wasn’t over. She became serious. “You work with leaders. You write books. You work in different countries. How can we fix our country?”
Her question was sincere and filled with exasperation. I could tell that she, like all of us, longed for a simple answer. A formula. A few steps that could make things alright again.
In that moment, I didn’t know what to say. I felt powerless and was quickly caught up in her feelings. Probably because that same exasperation was so close to the surface in me as well. I replied uncomfortably, saying something like, “There is unfortunately no quick fix. It’s so complex.” Not a very satisfying answer for either of us. Soon I went on my way, both of us feeling somewhat depressed and lost.
It was as I kept walking, admittedly slower and heavier of heart, that the voice inside me surprised me: What do you allow to define who you are?
In that moment, I remembered what I teach—that I’m here for a reason. We all are. We are here to fully engage in life, yet not be defined by it. How we define who we are and how we choose to show up in the world is our choice.
Fully Engaged Yet Not Entangled
As soon as I heard that question inside, something shifted. It brought me back to one of the tenets of Transformational Presence: Be fully engaged in life, yet not entangled. There will always be circumstances and situations around us—some comfortable, some challenging. It’s up to us to engage with those situations to the degree that feels appropriate, yet not allow ourselves to be pulled into them to the point that we can no longer serve. It’s a practice.
Mother Teresa reminded us:
I alone cannot change the world,
but I can cast a stone across the water
to create many ripples.
I alone cannot change what is happening in my country or in the world. I do not have a formula or a way to “fix” things in a few steps as my neighbor hoped. However, I can remember who I am and why I’m here—my soul mission. I can choose to show up in my best self of the moment. For me, that means that I can be fully present with “what is” without judgment. I can sense into the moment for what is needed as a next step, and respond. I can show up with fierce gentleness and ferocious love. When I remember this, life quickly gets simpler. I no longer feel overwhelmed. Then I choose how I define my life. I choose how I show up. And from past experience, I know that when I show up in this way, I make a difference.
What about you? Why are you here? Who are you in your best self? What can you bring to the table, no matter the circumstance?
The more we can keep our focus on who we are and why we are here and live from that focus, the more we create a world that works. We are probably not going to create that world this week or this year. We may not see that world fully created in our lifetimes. However, we can take whatever step we can today. We can show up fully, stay present with what is happening, pay attention to what the situation is asking for next, and take that step.
You may have never heard of the American anthropologist, educator, and philosopher Loren Eiseley, yet you might have heard this beautiful parable.
The Starfish Story
by Loren Eiseley
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.
Then, smiling at the man, he said…..“I made a difference for that one.”
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