Image: Pastel and ink on paper • “Soul Singer” • Katy Ward

A friend once told me: “the worst mistake anyone can make in life is to build someone else’s “ideal scene.” The “ideal scene” is the dreamed-up version of your life, where every part is a personal 10 out of ten: health, relationships, fun, spirituality, and so on.

At the time, I agreed. It takes a lot of inner and outer exploration to know what YOU want life to like, instead of the life your fears and ‘shoulds’ create for you. How awful to spend your life building “success” that was actually your dad’s dream for you, or the dream impressed by TV dramas? 

But now… I don’t think that’s the worst mistake. I found my own dreams can be a scarier sinkhole even than someone else’s. If I build someone else’s dream life by mistake, then I’ll have a mid-life crisis and sort it out before I die.

But when I’m building my own “ideal scene,” the scariest thing is being so sure about building it that I miss actually living.

Katy Ward • Ink on paper

How much LIFE has passed me by while I mildly-obsess about “designing my perfect life?”

That’s what Pixar’s new movie Soul is about. A man is lost in an unhappy life and soured relationships because his “ideal scene” has eluded him. Convinced he’ll begin living once he gets the jazz gig he’s always wanted, he aches… All while the fall leaves are blowing, his pizza tastes amazing, and his hair stylist has a phenomenal life story.

But he never experiences any of it.

sTheory 2:What is the fear that drives some of us to clutch our purpose and dreams so tightly? 

The idea of Purpose is popular nowadays. We want to believe we have a purpose, we want to feel useful and surrounded by a bigger story. There’s less existential crisis that way. 

Where did this idea of Purpose come from? Cavemen weren’t talking about it. In fact none of the Shakespeare plays mention “wherefore could be my purpose in this wide world?” They were more interested in ‘fate’ and relationships.

What if we humans are so used to having a universally accepted religion/mythology that our modern world of endless choices is horribly uncomfortable? So, we made up “purpose” to fill in the space of “what do I DO with myself now?”

Or what if, during the Industrial Revolution, we grew so accustomed to “usefulness” that we started to believe we were made for one specific use case? Like Heinz Ketchup labels or tricycle brakes.

Amelia Brown for Unsplash

Why is it uncomfortable to not have a “usefulness” or a purpose?

At one point in Soul, a guru-like character from “the great before” (before life) laughs at the idea of “passion” and “purpose.” 

“Oh, you [humans] and your passions.

Your purposes. Your meanings of life. (SIGHS) So basic.”

The case of the movie is that humans only purpose is to enjoy the thrill of living, like a child does. As if the common denominator in our happiness and fulfillment is not that a singular purpose is present, it’s our own aliveness. 

Then, chapter after chapter of life unfolds where our sails billow out with one purpose after another. The key is to head full-on into every experience, just because it’s an experience.

Soul made me reflect on the strain my own imagined purpose puts on my present experience: 

  • How many people have I stopped talking to just one question away from a meaningful connection?
  • How many people do I love who don’t know it?
  • How many incredible experiences are unavailable to me when I’m sure what happiness does and doesn’t look like for me?

, of Even our globe-warming habits come from the assumption that a happy life only looks like “X.” THIS car, job, food, or entertainment. THESE single-use forks and straws and relationships. 

What if the whole time we go about getting those things, our soul is like a little kid reaching out to really experience them? And we miss another bit of our purpose then, and then, and then?

In 2021, the world reopening could feel like Christmas morning… like it’s happening for the first time. We cherish our things because we have only one of each we use again and again, and we absorb new experiences because we’ve had cabin fever for a year, dammit. 

I’d love to walk into a room of people and marvel at how much communication is happening at once, reverberating off of every person and posture and word. If I can remember how to meet new people, that part will be really fantastic.

Reset Purpose / Return to Living

There’s a powerful story about a man who decided to release the reins of his life entirely and see what happens when he fully engaged in what he was given:

“I didn’t want to be in charge of my life; I wanted to be free to soar far beyond myself. I began to see this as a great experiment. What would happen to me if I just inwardly surrendered my resistance and let the flow of life be in charge? 

The rules of the experiment were very simple: If life brought events in front of me, I would treat them as if they came to take me beyond myself. If my personal self complained, I would use each opportunity to simply let him go and surrender to what life was presenting me. 

This was the birth of what I came to call “the surrender experiment,” and I was totally prepared to see where it would take me.”

Michael A. Singer, The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection

The best part of the story (and it’s a story worth reading)… is that many of the things he dreamed about came about anyway, and he didn’t have to miss the living part.

Toa Heftiba for Unsplash

This is the hardest habit to break, though: the habit of going about life not actually living it. Either we hyper-focus on forcing a certain direction (and we always feel behind), or we fall asleep in a rhythm that we don’t even feel anymore. 

The habit weakens each time we notice a thing we never noticed before, and stop a second longer to savor how it feels.

To never miss the living part in 2021. 🎉 🥂

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