How To Find Your Life’s Calling In Everyday Living
“Joy is being willing for things to be as they are.” ~ Charlotte Joko Beck
Every afternoon, at 3:15 p.m. Central Time, I have an appointment to meet my mom on Zoom. It’s 4:15 p.m. where she is, on the East Coast, and timed to happen after she’s gone to any activities going on in her building and visits with friends — and it’s right before dinner.
There are days when I think, “I don’t have time. I have so much to do.” But, then I do it anyway, scheduling my own work appointments, errands, and daily 4-mile walk, around this time. And, as soon as we connect, and I see her smile that I’m there, I know that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Nothing else is as important.
I even recently took my mom with me, via Zoom, on a road trip to L.A. We were sometimes off on the side of the road in the middle of the desert, where she got to see the mountains, cacti, and tumbleweeds of the desert. Often, we tried to be in a town with good cell coverage. On one call, I took her via my iPad into a silver and turquoise Native American jewelry store in the middle of the Arizona desert. I had just been in the store before I went on Zoom and came back in, saying to the owner, “You don’t mind if I show my mom the store, do you?” “Of course not!” he said. I pointed the screen, with my mom smiling, and the camera at the storekeeper and his partner, as they both called out and waved, “Hi Mom!” That was a great laugh for all of us, especially for my mom. She loved these Zoom sessions and told me that she felt like she, herself, was on a trip.
We started the video calls when the pandemic first began, and she wasn’t able to have any visitors. We bought a device to allow us to video chat through the television. It was a real lifesaver during the lockdown in New York, and I don’t mean that as an exaggeration. Many of the elderly suffered severe depression related to social isolation at that time. My mom didn’t, knowing that her private aid, who became her close friend, would be there and that she would get to visit with her family through her television.
Showing up as I was called to do
This past fall, my mom ended up in the hospital for a month in a crisis “life or death” situation. I left my home, flew to New York, nearly two thousand miles away, moved into my mom’s assisted-living apartment, took off from my work, and put aside all of the creative projects I’d been working on. It was an intense month of helping her to stay positive during her time in the hospital while having to push back against the attending physician who had given up on her.
In between visits, I spent my time speaking with friends who were medical experts and who were supporting and advising me about the next steps to take. Because of limited visiting hours due to Covid, I had time before my visits that were focused on receiving that guidance and support from friends. I also walked every day to take care of my physical and mental health. Those moments away from my phone and the computer allowed me to process the ever-changing information and to gather up the positive energy that I needed to bring with me to my visits with my mom.
After visiting hours, I would often have dinner with a friend for the support I needed to keep me level-headed and would then go back to my mom’s apartment to fall asleep in front of some show on TV. I had no idea what was happening in the world outside of our bubble. It took every bit of focus to fight against the power of the doctor who tried, daily, to get us to give up on my mom. After we insisted that the specialist take over my mom’s medical care, her health began to improve quickly. She was ready to leave the hospital for physical rehabilitation within days, something we were told, over and over, would likely never happen. My mom is now medically stable, happily enjoying her new friends in a new community. And she just celebrated her 93rd birthday!
What I really gave up
During the time I was with my mom through her medical ordeal, it became clear to me that, although I had temporarily given up everything that had felt like it gave my life some sort of meaning, this was really the true purpose of my life during that period of time. It was where I was most needed, and nothing else was important at that moment. Now that the crisis has passed, I’ve been able to get back to much of what I had been working on before. But my perspective is different. Those projects don’t define me; nor are they the “meaning” of my life. They’re important to me, and I want to do them, but, if they ended, I’d find something else to take their place.
The meaning of my life, my dharma, is doing what’s needed in each moment.
During the pandemic, many have had to give up what they believed to be their passion and what they thought was the purpose of their lives. Many felt lost and useless and like they were spinning their wheels. But perhaps we can all look at what we think we lost and what didn’t get done through a different lens.
Seeing diversions as opportunities
In the fall of 2020, after seven months of the pandemic, I wrote the blog, Your Passionate Path Is Not Blocked: Maybe You’re Being Called to Follow Your True Dharma Right Now. As I wrote at that time, “Maybe this ‘diversion’ [of the pandemic] that we’ve had from our path of passion, this ‘detour,’ is really an opportunity for each of us to dig deeper to find our true dharma. We are challenged right now, when the world is at its darkest and needs us the most. It may not be the path you were on before 2020 began. It may not be the path you will continue on when things open up again.
“Or it might be the exact path that you discover is the right one for you. Perhaps, you will discover your calling after you were kind of floundering around, trying to discover it before. “But, right here, right now, in this moment, whatever gift you have to give — your smile, your energy, your kindness, your shoulder, your donations, your ability to communicate, your problem-solving — your voting, your helping others to vote safely, your taking time to educate yourself about civics, and then help others to learn about it, your compassion, your help in preventing the spread of a pandemic — you are being called upon to use any of these or all of these gifts right now, when we need it the most to bring light into to the darkness.
“This is the path of the peaceful warrior, and we are all being called upon to follow that path right now. This is passion; this is purpose; this is dharma. It’s not glamorous. But anyone who has truly done the hard work of following their passion knows living a passionate life is rarely glamorous.”
The world really isn’t on our shoulders
In his book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman discusses how most of us “go around thinking of ourselves as fairly central to the unfolding of the universe,” but that it’s quite a relief to realize that this isn’t so. He points out that the grandiosity that we give to our own lives “sets the bar much too high. It suggests that in order to count as having been ‘well spent,’ your life needs to involve deeply impressive accomplishments, or that it should have a lasting impact on future generations…clearly, it can’t just be ordinary.” Burkeman goes on to tell us, “You almost certainly won’t put a dent in the universe.”
And, he points out, “This realization isn’t merely calming but liberating, because once you’re no longer burdened by such an unrealistic definition of a ‘life well spent,’ you’re freed to consider the possibility that a far wider variety of things might qualify as meaningful ways to use your finite time….[and] that many of the things you’re already doing with it are more meaningful than you’d supposed, [even though] until now, you’d subconsciously been devaluing them, on the grounds that they weren’t ‘significant’ enough.”
I’m now in the practice of taking a breath and reminding myself to follow, without expectations and ideas of grandiosity, the ways that I find myself being called by the world to live my dharma.
As I wrote in that prior blog, I’m asking of myself, “How can I bring light into my life today?” and “How can I bring light into the world today?” Often, the answer is in the most mundane of actions and, often, what is needed changes. And for now, I continue to go to sleep at night with the gratitude of having had another 3:15 p.m. Zoom session with my mom that day.
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