One of the most exciting things about simplifying is what comes after. Simplifying clears the way for this question:
What do I want?
After clearing your home or your mind or your schedule, there is this space that feels like a spectacular opening, an invitation. Sometimes, perhaps, what fills up that space is the understanding that we already have everything we want and now we can enjoy that more. And that is a beautiful thing.
But it is in our human nature to grow, and I think our desires can be the touchstones for that growth. So even if we have most of what we want, there is often something else.
Recently, while my daughters were launching themselves further into their grownup lives, I suggested this:
Take the job that scares and excites you.
Delve into the creative project that you aren’t quite ready for.
It’s exciting to see them growing into new things, becoming bigger versions of themselves. Though as parents we are not supposed to live vicariously through our children, it is hard to beat the feeling that comes from seeing your own children growing and thriving (just as there is no worse feeling than seeing them suffer, which also inevitably happens).
None of us is really ready for anything that challenges us, are we? At any stage of life, we are all sort of winging it, in a way.
Staying full of all sorts of clutter can be comfortable, like a cushion, a barrier between what we have now and what we don’t dare ask for. That thing we want that whispers to us- or heck, maybe it screams at us- we want to hush it- because it’s too big, too scary, too improbable, or others might not like it.
OR THIS: It’s so small, so simple that it seems it wouldn’t really make any difference anyhow, so why bother?
OR IT IS INTANGIBLE: Peace. Acceptance. Relief. Confidence. Courage. Connection. Faith. How do we ask for these? We name them.
Sometimes we get what we want instantly. Often there is much work to do to get there- but at least now we are on our way. Anything I’ve gotten that I’ve wanted, came after either writing down my desire ( my form of prayer, in a way) or saying it aloud. The words I WANT hold power. They add clarity, focus, priority.
Sometimes what we want is just to know what we want. Often we know what we don’t want. But that’s helpful too. It gets us to the place of knowing what we do want.
I went through a time of not being clear on what I wanted. I tried different things and though they felt worthwhile, none were quite It. I felt I was squandering my time and energy on too many different things. I guess this was my clutter, distracting me from having to put real effort into one chosen endeavor. It took time to get clear on what I wanted. Simplifying helped greatly. It took saying no to all the things that just weren’t cutting it- all the things that would keep me busy but not quite fulfill me.
Now I know what I want. First and foremost, I want to keep being grateful for the intangibles that I already have so much of: love, health, faith, time. I want to always be clear on what I already have and to enjoy and appreciate all of it.
I want some less important, but still worthwhile, things. Some I may get, and some I may not, and all of that is okay. Often, the act of striving is just as fulfilling as the act of getting.
I want to do well in the Moth Grandslam this summer and also be invited to the Moth Main stage, or some other big venue and I want to get comfortable with this idea. Okay, maybe not comfortable, exactly, but I at least want to be able to channel my nerves into something more like passion. I want to be absolutely satisfied with the way my book comes out. I want it published, well received, and to go on to write others (and it sure wouldn’t hurt to get the fellowship I applied for that would help me do this. It’s not required, but it would be sweet). And I want to know that the thing that fulfills me is adding some value somewhere, to someone else, at least sometimes. I want to keep reading good books.
I want to only crave healthy foods. I want to get clearer. I want to have the energy, every day, to do the things I want to do. I want to get better and better at living in the present moment . I want to stop the mind chatter that only seems to cease entirely when I am writing, meditating, practicing yoga, sleeping, or listening to others.
I want a new light for my dining room because I really don’t like the gold one that’s there (we’re allowed to want petty things too). I also want a pair of white pants that are the right length so I don’t have to go get them hemmed. And while I’m at it, I want to figure out why the time on my laptop keeps changing to the incorrect time, no matter how many times I reset it. I missed yoga class today because I thought it was an hour earlier than it actually is. I want to forgive myself for still sitting here in my pajamas at noon. I thought it was eleven.
I want to let go of any regrets and judgements and worries. I want peace in every situation, every day. I know this is a stretch.
Wow, writing this makes me realize, once again, how much work I have to do and how far I am from much of this. I know I will never quite get there. I will never have all of this. But I want to know I am trying. I want to know I am moving forward. It is natural to need to move forward, to grow, to expand in some way. And on the days I take one step backward, because I procrastinate or I give in to doubt, or I simply choose the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, carelessly or impulsively, I want to notice. Even though noticing kind of sucks. It hurts.
The thing is, when we know what we want, it becomes painfully clear when we choose something that is not that. We know when we’ve chosen in the direction that is away from our desires and it just feels all wrong, like heading east when we wanted to head west. Like disappointing ourselves. Our desires, our goals, at least the reasonably healthy ones, are a reliable compass.
Simplifying begs the question, what next? What do I want? What do I really want? It’s the best question in the world to ask, I think. It’s the one that is always worth asking.
Not knowing is unsettling, like flapping in the wind, like living by inertia as time ticks away.
Even if the answer is the faintest of whispers, or scary or unlikely or very, very difficult, it could be the answer that is worth so much. A gift that helps us navigate the denseness of day to day life. It is the answer that only comes when we dare to ask the question.
What do I want?