IMAGE: Cherry Blossom Pathos – the white cherry blossom, harbinger of spring and Japanese symbol of the pathos of the ephemeral, mono no aware. (Prints available.)
When I was a little girl, my family observed what we then called both the “Alex Trebek Effect” or the “George Willis Effect,” wherein anything we had recently thought about or discussed would pop up in the next episode of Jeopardy! or that Sunday’s sermon, and because we lived just down the street from our church, we joked that the Reverend George Willis must have had our house bugged or overheard our dinner conversations. These were personal variations of the Baader-Meinhof Effect or frequency illusion, which I talk about all the time because I think about it all the time.
There is a variation that I’ve observed more and more lately, which for lack of a more formal term I’ll describe as, “The universe shows you what you need to see when you need to see it, if you’re looking.” As someone who has done her fair share of soul-searching in the past few years, this effect has been getting stronger and stronger, and whether it is the product of divine intercession, mystical connections among minds over time, or just really good algorithms is pretty much irrelevant, as I think a lot of it depends on one’s awareness, receptiveness, and interpretation of what’s happening around us. Nevertheless, it is uncanny how often I will be struggling with a question or decision, open a social media feed to distract myself, and the answer pops up right in front of me, often from an unlikely source.
Earlier this year, I stumbled upon an article about ikigai, the Japanese concept for “a reason for being.” This is neither a new concept, nor even a new one to me, as there was a book published about it in English in 2017 that I still haven’t read and numerous other articles that I vaguely remember seeing before the one I did read, but I wasn’t ready for any of it yet. On a day when I was particularly struggling with the whole, “What am I even doing with my life?” question, I found myself staring at this Venn diagram and found I was ready, finally, to discover my purpose.
I went through a truly honest inventory of my skills, talents, education, experiences, and emotions, actually diagramming it all out, and it helped me enormously in determining how I would focus my energy for making money / supporting myself (for now), discovering in what directions I wanted to take my art career, and understanding how the rest of my life would support these aims without compromising my values. As promised, I felt at ease and an immediate peace, and whenever I am feeling adrift or frustrated I return to my plan to remember why I’m going this way. But I wasn’t prepared for the disparity between my life as I always imagined it and the life I was drawing out in the present and near future.
If you spend any time on Twitter at all (and if you do, you should follow me), you’ve probably noticed how many bios read like, “Wife, Mother to three children and two pugs, Author of The Hot Mom Diet” or “Financial Consultant, Husband, Father, Avid Cyclist, Blogger.” As I recently learned on Jeopardy! (right after we were talking about presidents and Twitter) Barack Obama‘s bio reads, “Dad, husband, President, citizen.” I had always assumed that by now that my bio would include some extra titles like “Mother” (at least to a cat again) or “Wife” maybe. It’s weird wrapping my mind around a reality that differs so dramatically from one of packing organic, sugar-free, ultra-nutritious lunches and planning vacations with someone whose shirts I lovingly arrange in rainbow order even though he constantly corrects the way I pronounce “milk.” I get sad about these absences often because I am so close with my parents and brother and always thought my adult life would include a family of my own making, but I also recognize that I make the choices that reinforce this difference every day – and I keep making them – as if in some subconscious or barely-whispered way I know I have a different purpose (for now) and I’m not where I need to be yet.
Morning Glories, Ercolano, Italy. (Prints available.)
I have been focusing more on my art and my future this year than ever before, and it’s all gradually, painstakingly starting to come together, though I know I am still light years away from where I’m trying to get. More than a few friends and would-be boyfriends have called me out for becoming a ghost or asked if everything is okay between us, and it’s hard to explain that I’m climbing the Everest of my ikigai right now and I’m afraid to stop moving. That is the only problem with discovering your calling and purpose in life – once you know it, it becomes a drive like a tidal wave tumbling you forward and refuses to be ignored.
I am going to try to reach out more and take breaks once in a while, maybe even start observing weekends again. I can feel myself proverbially running beyond my conditioning, and I worry I am going to wear myself out if I don’t rebuild the social ties and support structures that sustain me. But I also know I am going to redouble my efforts across the board, in a kind of creative and spiritual cross-training because I’m attempting to swim in time with a tsunami.
I am trying, all the time, to be more fully present and to be patient. It’s taken 36 years to figure out (or remember) who I am and why I’m here, so it’s okay to give myself time to breathe as I try to actualize it all. And I also must remember to enjoy it.