Issue # 5: Spring 1998 © 1998 Neil F. Neimark, M.D.
Key #1: Develop a rich inner life by following your true longing.
In our last issue, we learned from the gardener John Florios, how to make the world a more beautiful place. I know that his story inspired us all to begin the process of examining our own lives and taking new steps towards living more passionately. Our ability to live more passionately demands that we follow what is most precious to us, that we discover our own unique gifts. In so doing, we unlock our own inner reservoir of vitality, health and creativity which forms the very essence of our healing system and our will to live.
In this issue, we will explore the possibilities for healing found in the first key for unlocking our healing system: "Develop a rich inner life by following your true longing."DEVELOP A RICH INNER LIFE
All forms of healing (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) ultimately require us to wrestle with the question of who we are and what we were put on this world to do. Healing, in its essence, is a search for meaning in our lives, a search for what makes each one of us utterly unique and unrepeatable. Healing demands that we open to our fullness of expression, our authenticity and seek out the essence and purpose of our being. This search for meaning demands a willingness to openly examine the choices we make in our lives and the actions we take or fail to take. Our search for meaning is, in effect, a journey into our inner life.
The great writer Marcel Proust said: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." With "new eyes" we can begin to find new meaning in our lives. We can begin to make the invisible, visible. We can begin to see the success in our failures, the growth in overcoming physical, emotional and financial setbacks, the serenity in accepting our limitations.
Remember the wonderful story of the three bricklayers being interviewed outside a newly built cathedral? The first one, when asked, "What are you doing here?", replies, "Can't you see? I'm sweating and toiling and building this cathedral, brick by brick." The second bricklayer, when asked the same question, replies, "Can't you see? I am laying these bricks day after day so that I can make a living to put food on the table for my family." Then the third bricklayer, when asked the same question, humbly replies, "Can't you see? I am helping to build a cathedral where those who are in need can come to find help."
Three different men performing the same task day after day, each one of them having a very different "inner life". I am always in awe at how a simple change in the inner life of each of these three bricklayers so dramatically changes the sense of purpose and value in each of their outer lives. This is what we mean by seeing the world with "new eyes". We see that it is a change in meaning which is life sustaining and healing. This change in meaning always involves our "inner life". So the first step in accessing our internal resources for healing involves developing a rich inner life. But, how do we do that? We must first learn to follow our true longing.FOLLOW YOUR TRUE LONGING
What is our true longing? Our true longing is what is most precious to us, what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Following our true longing is not about following what the poet David Whyte calls our "surface desires" (money, power, beauty, fame, sex, etc.). Rather it is about following our deeper desires, our deeper yearnings to love and be loved; to help make the world a more beautiful place because we are here and a part of this profound life we have been given. Our true longing lies both within and beyond the external "things" of life. It is about the meaning behind what we do in the external world. Our true longing allows us to bring an element of soulfulness and purpose to the daily work of our lives.THE ANGEL EXERCISE
One technique to help us get in touch with our true longing is called "the angel exercise". You can do it with me here. It's very simple.
Imagine that an angel has just come down from heaven bringing you news that you have just inherited a celestial jackpot. You now have all the money you will ever need to live comfortably, eat well, provide for your loved ones and entertain yourself. NOW, what will you do with the rest of your life?
What will you do to bring greater joy, beauty and aliveness into your life? What will bring you a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and contribution? What will help you to feel you belong in the world? What kind of life will you make for yourself? Where will your inner longing take you? How will you make the world a more beautiful place? Will you? What kind of work will you do knowing you never need to work again? Will you "escape" to some remote island? For how long? Where will your passion take you? Take just 5 minutes, and write down the details of the life you will live.
In this exercise, you need only follow your deeper desire, your true longing and trust that it will lead you in the direction of your greatest healing, your greatest aliveness. I am not telling you to give up your day job and run from the responsibilities of life, but rather to find a deeper sense of purpose and loving kindness with which to carry out your daily duties. This can only happen when there is some congruity between your daily work and your true longing. I know too many lawyers who are ill because they always wanted to be musicians. I know too many teachers who are ill because they always wanted to be writers.DON'T ABANDON YOUR DEEPER DESIRES
We cannot abandon our deeper desires and longings in the pursuit of "making a living". We need to weave our deeper desires and our true longings into the daily fabric of our lives. Developing a rich inner life requires us to balance our responsibilities in the outer world with the life-enhancing forces of our inner longing.
This is hard work. It demands honesty. We sell ourselves short and sometimes we oversell ourselves. We do what we're supposed to do, the right thing, the sensible thing. This is not the path to a rich inner life. We do not want to hurt the ones we love or say good-bye to those people who do not accept us for who we are. But following our true longing demands an honesty and a level of self-disclosure that puts us at risk for hurting and losing the very ones we most love. If we fail to honestly reveal ourselves out of fear of hurting others, or rejection, or being hurt, we will fail to find the strength, awareness and guidance that following our inner longing provides.GIVE YOUR BODY A "LIVE" MESSAGE
By saying yes to our inner life and deeper desires, we give our body a "live" message. When we repetitively neglect ourselves in the name of pleasing others, we tell our bodies that we are "worth less" than others. Research in the field of mind/body medicine tells us that all our thoughts and feelings are chemical. In fact, every thought and feeling we have is translated in the body into neuropeptides, which are the chemical messengers of thought and feeling. Deepak Chopra M.D., the Aryuvedic physician and writer, tells us that every cell in our body has receptors for neuropeptides and that our body literally "eavesdrops" on our every thought and feeling.
So what happens when we tell our bodies we are "worth-less" than others? Our bodies eavesdrop on those thoughts, and there is literally an opening for dis-"ease". When we pursue our deeper desires and weave them responsibly into our daily lives, we give our bodies a "live" message. We reaffirm the value and worthiness of our lives, and we have an opportunity for healing both physically and emotionally.TRUST YOUR DEEPER CALLING
The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda describes what it is like to give ourselves over to our longing. When he first started to write poetry, he was an amateur. He had no idea how to write. But he followed his longing, putting one word after another, trusting the deeper calling within him. This poem speaks of his struggle to sculpt his very own life, to follow his deeper longing:
"And something ignited in my soul, fever or unremembered wings, and I went my own way. Deciphering that burning fire. And I wrote the first bare line, bare without substance. Pure foolishness. Pure wisdom of one who knows nothing. And suddenly I saw the heavens unfastened and open."
When we give ourselves over to our longing and affirm life, we see the heavens unfastened and open. In that giving over, lies our healing. The most life affirming step we can take is to give ourselves over to our longing, our purpose, to open up to our preciousness, our uniqueness, our very own life, and in so doing, help to make the world a more beautiful place.
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