[this piece was originally published in the Huffington Post]
I notice that many people want to teach about or speak about or write about something, but think they can’t do that until they’ve mastered that thing.
It sounds something like this: “I want to help women who struggle with overeating, but how can I do that when I still struggle with overeating sometimes myself?”
“I want to help moms and dads create more order in their busy lives, but can I really do that when I get slayed by overwhelm and chaos in my own life sometimes?”
Or it sounds like this:
“I’m a consultant to small businesses, but my own business is struggling now. I feel like a total fraud.”
I want to invite you to think about it differently. The old model, the patriarchal model, the hierarchical model taught you this: There are students, and there are teachers. Put yourself in the role of teacher and that means you’ve got all the answers. You are the authority. And, naturally, you’ve got it down yourself.
Here’s the new model, the post-patriarchal model, the model for our age: There is a sea of souls. Each soul is called to particular questions. Those questions will be asked again and again, explored, traversed over and over, through the life experiences of the person who houses that soul. Their struggles, their trials, their big “aha”s and awakenings, are diverse explorations of their soul’s few key questions. They are refractions of the questions the soul keeps circling, keeps being in conversation with.
For a soul that is drawn to the question “How do we heal?” there will be many experiences of wounding, and sickness, and healing, and not healing — in their own life, in the lives of their loved ones. Again and again, the plot of life will come to them with these experiences.
And for a soul that is drawn to the question “What is trustworthy? Where can I trust?” there will be again and again experiences of the dance with trust. Experiences of betrayal and of abandonment, experiences of the ground falling out beneath them, experiences that push them to dig deeper and deeper to find the very meaning of trust.
Along the way, if it has the opportunity to have any choice about the kind of work it does each day, the personality, the soul’s bodysuit, will feel pulled to make its career an exploration of these questions, too. The soul is hungry to answer its questions and wants to use all the energies of its fleshy self — mental, physical, creative energies — to dive into its questions.
That is why, in part, work can feel soul-full or soul-less — because the soul shows up most fully for work that speaks to the questions it is here to explore. The soul shows up for work that touches upon the themes it came here to dance with, to encircle, again and again.
So along the way the person whose soul questions are about healing will find themselves drawn to do work that has something to do with healing. Depending on their life circumstances and the nuance of their specific questions, that call may take shape as helping an ocean heal from an oil spill or helping elderly women heal from loss. It might take shape as helping oceans heal from oil spills and then, in the next decade, helping elderly women heal from loss. It might show up in helping to develop medications that heal, or as volunteering for a local meditation organization. The soul will find a theatre, a play, for dancing with its questions.
Much of the time, it’s hard to see from a distance what questions a soul is really exploring through its career. A professor of 19th-century literature who wrote his dissertation on the representation of war in 19th-century novels might really be exploring his soul’s questions about violence and peace — questions his soul is also circling as he tries to make sense of the violent bullying he experienced as a child.
Most of the time, the conscious mind doesn’t know this is why it’s drawn to particular work. It just feels the pull. It makes up reasons sometimes, to help itself feel comfortable, rational. And most of the time, the conscious mind doesn’t see the thread between the experiences that show up in our personal lives. We are too busy reacting, looking at those life events through the prism of ego’s desires, experiencing them mostly in terms of the comfort or discomfort they bring. But it is possible if you look and listen closely, to recognize the big questions that your soul is here to dance with.
And so, as it turns out, when we are doing the work we are most called to do, we are not asked to “have it down perfectly.” We are not asked to be beyond the struggles we teach about. We are, whether we like it or not, living the questions. Circling them again and again. Struggling with them in the very core of our lives.
And so it goes.
photo credit: Joshua Fuller