Updated: Mar 22, 2021
How to celebrate where you are when you have so much farther to go...
My first three posts seem to spin around the notion that I can somehow dissolve dualities by teasing out the presumptions that keep them in place. In reality, there is probably no way to find a state of being or knowing that is completely beyond duality. As Richard Rohr discusses in many of his talks, it is not possible (nor desirable) to abolish dualistic thinking, but the truth lies in not rushing into the either/or but in living in the both/and and seeing how we participate in each opposing camp.
So too does this straddling of simultaneous states exist when we talk about the issue of journey vs. destination. I have found myself nourished by my ambition in life - I like the way it pulls me towards checkpoints like a magnetic vacuum, gives me the stamina to desire, to combust energy and to think beyond the safety of my immediate carapace. But I also experience a light sense of torment knowing that when I attain a certain objective, I will most likely not bask in the self satisfaction for long. Will I ever feel that I finally made it?
My first Tarot reading when I bought my first deck (the Thoth one I still use for work) looked at the crossroads - or cross-section - of my various career objectives and ongoing projects. Despite being new to reading cards and undertaking my own relationship to their symbolism, an overarching narrative seemed to jump out of the spread with a mixture of joyous and bittersweet tidings...
What I foresaw is that when I accomplished what I wanted to achieve, I would feel no different. I wouldn't be happier, more confident or satisfied. I may have more money, more recognition and a more potent legacy, but the need to be revered, respected and admired would be something of a bottomless desire. As an only child, child actor and serial monogamist, this idea is all too familiar to me. Generally, when one is motivated by attention or approbation, the satisfaction achieved is only momentary before you need your next fix. So what else can motivate us to succeed?
What is success to each one of us individually - what does it look, feel and taste like and how will we know when we've gotten it? Is there a recognizable landmark to differentiate the journey? As an actor, I used to think that being in a Woody Allen movie was the measure of having made it. In light of the recent documentary, Allen vs Farrow, that looks differently to me now. I am not here to make a conclusive argument on that issue, I am simply using it to illustrate how the way we measure achievement can get wonky on us over time. It can be in flux or even turn on us with a snarky, coyote-like grin as we discover that getting there isn't what we thought it would be.
Yet as I said in my first post, to stop growing is to decay. We are simply not biologically wired to stay still. The hunger and impulse to survive (and thrive) propels us forward. The nagging need to make our lives purposeful allows activists to create societal change and cultural definers to write their books, make their films and sing their ballads. But if we can't enjoy our journeys on the way to leaving our marks, we will feel just as hollow when we arrive there as we did when we set out on our path.
This is where the both/and comes into play: by taking stock of where I am, of the valuable contributions I have already made and the sheer pleasure in being - in moving through the world moment to moment - there is a far better chance that when I meet my goals face to face, the contentment I long for will already be within me rather than grasped for just beyond my reach.
I don't remember what Google wormhole led me there, but a month back I came across a series of Youtube videos of many Hollywood actors essentially saying the same thing: having achieved what they thought they always wanted, they had never felt so empty. Because it didn't allow them to feel whole in the way they expected. This is probably why we fear our own success - because once we get it, and it doesn't make us as happy as we hoped it would, then what?!
That doesn't mean we resign ourselves to stagnation or complacency. In fact, I think it is the moment we cross the threshold of what we once considered (im)possible for us - I believe that is the moment of exhilaration. Taking the leap. Putting yourself out there, risking judgement or validation. Doing something that used to be terrifying for you. Overcoming shyness, self doubt and anxiety to get over yourself and try the thing you thought you might like to do, or at least, had a quiet suspicion that you could (maybe) do...
My favourite scene of any movie is in Sister Act 2 when Whoopi's choir is singing "Oh Happy Day" and she keeps luring the students out of their comfortable shells, to drop their cloaks of pride and inhibition and surpass the 'old guard' of their soul's habit (habit as in nun's outfit and modus operandi). When that slim young man in a cardigan steps forward, starts to belt it, walks into the crowd and finally reaches that impossibly high note that catches even the teacher off guard - my eyes well up just thinking about it. I cry every time.
This scene, and similar scenes, have always been my release. I don't cry easily but these are the moments in cinema, TV and books that hook me. It's the self overcoming. And it's not measurable in terms of defined accolades, a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize - it's not a certificate or a statue on the shelf. It may be. But not necessarily. It will look differently for everyone.
I told a client today that for her to charge $37 for her first offering, that she has so far given for free to gain experience, is the equivalent of a major leap forward, professionally and personally. It does not matter if other practitioners charge 100x more or if no one buys her service, what matters is that for her this feels like the next step and is a bit frightening. She intuitively came up with that price but stepping her foot over the threshold feels like a big deal. And the same tears want to return to my eyes. Because I know what it's like to put myself out there - again and again, really - I know the joy of breaking through and I also know the frustration of longing for that more than anything.
The next steps continue. The thresholds change. The landscape evolves and so do the landmarks of success. But our own personal, private, individual and yet universal moments of breaking through are the only destination points that will ever make our souls cry the happy tears. For some that may mean finally retiring and redecorating their living room. For others it's publishing their first book.
The one that gets me every time is singing in a higher octave than you thought you could. And knowing that, when we risk being vulnerable, when we accept the possibility of failure, there is no greater joy than to surprise yourself.