How I stopped avoiding my calling and learned to love the thesaurus

The Journey by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

It’s around 6:00 a.m. as I stumble down the stairs trying not to become entangled with the small herd of cats eager for their breakfast. I push the button on the coffee pot as I pass by, open a can of cat food, distribute it among the six bowls on the floor and watch as they begin to devour it.

I pour a steaming mug of coffee, settle in at the table and open my journal. As I pull out my pen, our oldest cat, Chocolate, leaps onto the open page, head butting my hand to make sure she’s gotten my attention. What a wonderful wake up call she and the other cats are. My interactions with them are a direct indicator of how fully aware I am. If I shoo Chocolate off of my journal to get down to the serious business of writing, I know I am in my “doing” mode, believing what’s most important is to get stuff accomplished. And if I fail to take time to connect with the cats, I’m pretty sure I’m doing the same thing with humans. If I pause to play with Chocolate, as I do this morning, I know that I am in the flow, in touch with the best part of myself, connected with the web of life and all that it contains.

I typically sit down to journal with no topic in mind. Just start my hand moving and see what comes out of the pen. And today it’s callings, more specifically, my calling. I probably should have expected this. Gregg Levoy’s book, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, lays on my bedside table. In it I read, “Generally, people won’t pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so.” At the Jubilee! celebration on Sunday morning Howard Hanger tells me, “A job is something you do for money. A calling is something you do for your heart.”

My true calling: I’ve known it since grade school when I was fascinated by words and phrases that would roll effortlessly off my tongue. And it’s that thing that I spent the first 40 years of my life avoiding: taking my writing seriously. Even though I was drawn to jobs that required a certain amount of writing (I wrote proposals, articles for business journals, features for textbooks and teachers’ ancillary materials), when it came time to reveal my deepest thoughts and feelings, I crawfished like crazy. But as Levoy says, “Callings keep surfacing until we deal with them.”

And as the words cascade into my journal this morning and I cut through the babble of my mind, it is clear: my calling is to write. I am compelled to do so. Any other path would be a breach of my integrity. I am duty-bound to put my knowledge, thoughts, feelings, intuitions and inklings out into the world—for myself and in service to others.

For my writing is often a journey of discovery. I learn things about myself that I was not conscious of. I get to examine my thoughts and beliefs and decide if they serve me. I have the opportunity to separate truth from fiction. I am able to comprehend why a planned action might (or might not) be in order.

And I write in service to others. I write to remind folks that they possess great personal power, that they have the capacity to live the lives they’ve always dreamed of. I write to reveal the innumerable possibilities that life offers, far beyond the choices promoted by the current dominant culture. I write that change—personal and societal—is possible and actually underway right now. I write to help create a shift in the cultural paradigm—to one of greater love, connection, honesty, integrity, generosity, responsibility, respect and courage. I write in support of spiritual warriors, men and women who are willing to share their unique gifts in service of a better world regardless of the consequences.

As I am called, you are also called. When you pay attention to your heart and not just your mind, when you discern the messages that life offers you, when you make contact with your deepest dream for yourself, you know. You know who you’re called to be. You know what you’re here to do . . . don’t you?

(Published in the Asheville Citizen-Times, August 9, 2003)

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