“It’s a long and rugged road
and we don’t now where it’s headed
But we know it’s going to get us where we’re going
And when we find what we’re looking for
we’ll drop these bags and search no more
‘Cuz it’s going to feel like heaven when we’re home
It’s going to feel like heaven when we’re home.”
– From the song Heaven When We’re Home, by the Wailin’ Jennys
Last week, I found home in Florida, and, like the song says, it felt like heaven.
No, I’m not planning to move there any time soon (I’m not sure this Canadian girl could handle the humidity), but I found home nonetheless.
That home was in front of 175 people teaching a workshop on Holding Space through Grief and Trauma (see above photo). I taught the whole workshop, from 9 to 3:30, without any notes (other than my Powerpoint slides) – because this is my home. This is my work. This is the lifeblood that runs through my veins. The next day I taught two half-day workshops on The Circle Way and it was the same.
I know this material and these stories so well, have spoken and written about them so many times, that notes are no longer necessary. I can stand in front of 175 strangers and feel energized and a little nervous but still perfectly at home.
Some people call it a divine assignment, some people call it a calling, some call it your life’s purpose. In some Indigenous cultures, it’s referred to as your “original medicine” – the unique gift that you and only you can offer toward the healing of the world.
Whatever you call it, when you find it, you feel like you have finally come home.
Here’s what I know about finding it:
- Home is a lot more beautiful when you’ve taken a journey away from it. I spent many years doing work that didn’t feel like home, but that was all part of the quest that helped me find it. The more work I did that didn’t feel like “my work” the more clear I became about what I was looking for. A few days ago, I heard a chef on The Chef’s Table say that he’s known he’d be a chef since he was 14 years old. I’m intrigued by that kind of clarity, but that’s not the journey that was meant for me. There’s no way I could have imagined the work I do now when I was 14 – I had to take the long journey to get here.
- The quest for home will take you through “alien lands”. I couldn’t say it better than Parker Palmer does: “Most of us arrive at a sense of self and vocation only after a long journey through alien lands. But this journey bears no resemblance to the trouble-free ‘travel packages’ sold by the tourism industry. It is more akin to the ancient tradition of pilgrimage – “a transformative journey to a sacred centre” full of hardships, darkness, and peril.” There are many out there who are selling very tempting “trouble-free travel packages”, but what you’ll get from them is an empty shell of what you’re really meant to find in your life. Take the “road less traveled”. It’s risky, but it’s real.
- The path through the “darkness and peril” builds your resilience and helps you to eventually see the light. It was when I learned to surrender to the darkness and begin to see the purpose and meaning of it that I finally started to find the clarity I was seeking. I can only teach about topics like grief and trauma and the liminal space because I learned to navigate those worlds myself, and I could only learn to navigate them when I stopped resisting them. Wherever you are now, there is meaning in it and there are lessons to be learned from even the hardest moments.
- It all matters. Even those long years of doing work that didn’t feel connected to me mattered. I honed my communication skills writing speeches for politicians and government officials. I learned storytelling traveling to developing countries and telling the stories of the non-profit organization I worked for. I learned how to create enough content for a full day workshop when I was teaching courses in Writing for Public Relations at the university. It may not have been the content I wanted to speak or write about, but those were the skills I needed for what I now do.
- A true purpose includes generosity and responsibility toward others. If you live a self-absorbed life, you will be forever searching for the meaning of it. Look beyond yourself to find your purpose. “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”. ― Viktor E. Frankl
- Many will never understand your quest or your purpose. Last week, crossing the border into the U.S., I was held up for an hour (and nearly refused entry), trying to explain my work to a confused border agent who couldn’t find an appropriate category in his big binder full of visa information. I get the same kind of confusion from lawyers, accountants, friends, family, etc. I used to think I just needed the right “elevator speech”, but no matter what I tried, there were always people who gave me confused looks. I gave up on the elevator speech and simply learned to accept that the work I’ve been called to doesn’t fit well with cocktail party small talk or border crossings.
- The right people will get it. It doesn’t take long to figure out whether a seat mate on the airplane, a participant at a workshop, or another parent on the soccer field is on a similar quest as I am on. If I speak words like “holding space” or “The Circle Way” and their eyes light up, I know we’ll be able to have a meaningful conversation. In Florida, those 175 people, who mostly support children in grief and trauma, stayed with me through every word. When that happens, it doesn’t really matter how many confused looks there were until that point.
- It will take a lot out of you and it will give a lot back. Whenever I finish doing work that really matters – like that workshop in Florida – I am both exhausted and invigorated. Though it flows with ease when I am doing the right work, it is far from easy. It’s true that I didn’t need notes up there, but that’s because I was sharing from such a deep and intimate place of my own stories of grief and trauma that notes are unnecessary. My heart was being poured out in front of 175 people. I do it out of pure love, but I know that this kind of work must be followed by a few days of rest and solitude.
- Desire is a guide even when you try to deny it. I had a lot of baggage around my desire to stand in front of a crowd of people speaking of things that were important to me. “It must be my pride that yearns for the spotlight,” I convinced myself. I needed to be more humble than that. I should be happy being in the background. But as much as I tried to deny it, it’s where I felt called to be and now, because I learned to silence those voices that told me I was wrong to want it, I can stand there and feel at home. “To have a desire in life literally means to keep your star in sight, to follow a glimmer, a beacon, a disappearing will-o’-the-wisp over the horizon into some place you cannot yet fully imagine. A deeply held desire is a star that is particularly your own, it might disappear for awhile, but when the skies clear we catch sight of it again and recognize the glimmer.” – David Whyte
- When you find it, it’s even better than you imagined it would be. I have had lots of discouraging days along this journey, lots of times when I thought I was deluding myself, and lots of times when I started looking for other work because it was all taking far too long. But now? I can hardly believe how lucky I am. I have moments of pure joy that are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Who knew that speaking on topics like grief and trauma could be so invigorating? Just as I surrendered to and learned from the darkness and the grief, I am surrendering to and learning from the light and the joy.
After the workshops were finished, I stayed in Florida a few extra days to spend some focused time creating the content for my Holding Space Coach/Facilitator Program, and once again, in my little Airbnb room close to the ocean, writing in solitude, I was home. Because my calling is not to stand in front of a room of hundreds – my calling is to teach, in whatever form it takes, this work that feeds my soul and invites me to feed other souls.
“I’m not a teacher: only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead – ahead of myself as well as you.” – George Bernard Shaw
I hope that you find it too – the place that calls you, the work that whispers to you in your quietest moments. I hope that your own long journey is worth it and that you relish the joy that and healing that can come when you find home.
* * * *
If you need some inspiration, here are a few books that inspired me along the way:
– Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation – by Parker Palmer
– Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity – by David Whyte
– Flow: The Psychology of Ultimate Experience – by Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi
– Man’s Search for Meaning – by Viktor E. Frankl
– Body of Work: Finding the Thread that Ties Your Story Together, by Pam Slim
– Making a Living Without a Job: Winning Ways for Creating Work you Love – by Barbara Winter
* * * *
One of my upcoming retreats might also help you find it:
1. Openhearted Writing Circle, June 11 – a day retreat in Winnipeg, Manitoba. There is still space available.
2. Nourish: A retreat for your body, mind, and spirit. Together with my friend and yoga teacher Joy, I’ll be co-hosting a holistic retreat in Manitoba, August 18-20.
3. Holding Space for Yourself, Oct. 12-15 at Welcome to the BIG House, Queensland, Australia
4. Holding Space for Others, Oct. 18-22 at Welcome to the BIG House, Queensland, Australia
5. Space for an Open Heart, Oct. 27-29 at Kawai Purapura, Auckland, New Zealand
Last week, I was elbow deep in paint and knee deep in clutter. I was continuing the redecorating work I started in the summer (when I painted and decorated my daughters’ three bedrooms), and at the same time was de-cluttering nearly 17 years worth of accumulated stuff in my bedroom and the two bathrooms in the house.
Inspired by the KonMari method, I was asking myself, each time I pulled something out of a closet or cupboard, “does this spark joy?” Only when the answer was a clear yes did it make it back onto the shelf. There were 6 huge bags full of giveaways and an equal number full of garbage in the three rooms.
I am still a little dumbfounded by how much I carried out of those rooms. I don’t actually like shopping (especially for clothes), so how could I possibly have accumulated so many things that I don’t really enjoy wearing? I’ve always told myself that I’m at least being an ethical consumer by buying mostly second-hand clothes, but that doesn’t justify having so much!
Now that its done…. OH MY! I am SO in love with this spaciousness! I feel lighter, more free, and more agile (kind of like that pelican I just hung on the wall). I can look into my closet or dresser drawer and see instantly what I’m looking for. No more digging for treasures and forgetting what’s hidden at the back of the closet. I want to spend more time in my own spaces and have been working less often in coffee shops. And at the end of the day, it’s so easy to find a space for what needs to be put away because there is no clutter in the way. (Now I just have to tackle the rest of the house and put in the effort to keep it this way!)
I keep asking myself – if this much spaciousness feels so good, then WHY do I keep burying myself in clutter that doesn’t bring me any joy?
In fact, why has clutter become an epidemic in so many places where people have access to privilege and affluence? Just look around you (if you live in such a place) and you’ll see, sprouting all over our cities, football-field-sized yards full of storage rental spaces. And then look on the internet and you’ll see a myriad of courses and books on decluttering and organizing. There are huge, multi-million dollar industries whose sole purpose in the world is to manage all of the excess stuff we have.
There’s a similar pattern in our calendars as in our closets. We fill every space until things are bulging out and we’re too overwhelmed to enjoy any of it. We tell ourselves that if we’re busy, we must be valuable, and so we pack things into our agendas. And we do even worse where our children are concerned – making sure they have a sporting event or music lesson every night of the week.
Why? What is this all about?
What I came up with, as I lugged garbage bags out of my house, is this…
We have bought into a collective story that tells us there is no value in emptiness.
When we feel empty, we try to fill the emptiness with things and activities and vices. When there is too much spaciousness in our lives, we doubt our value and feel uncomfortable, and we go seeking that which fills up the spaces.
We forget that spaciousness actually feels good.
Think about the last time you had nothing to do on a Saturday night. Didn’t it feel kind of luxurious to curl up with a good book?
What about the time you cleaned your fridge and those empty shelves looked so clean that you just stood there and stared for awhile?
And even when the emptiness feels uncomfortable – like when your friends all have active social calendars and you don’t – aren’t you at least a little aware that time alone is good for you because you’re learning to appreciate your own company more?
Spaciousness – in our calendars, in our closets, and in our lives – can be a very good thing. Spaciousness creates opportunities for reflection, for prayer, for art-making, for deep breathing, for meaningful conversation, for healing, for self-awareness, for wandering, for healthy grieving, and for simply staring out the window at the leaves fluttering on the trees.
When we have spaciousness in our relationships, we listen more intently, we don’t rush to fix, and we allow for richness and depth and hours of meaningful conversation. In the spaciousness, connection happens.
When we have spaciousness in our calendars, we become more aware of what we truly love to do, we learn to say no to that which distracts us from our purpose, and we take more time for reverence and mindfulness. In the spaciousness, joy happens.
When we have spaciousness in our homes, we don’t let our possessions control us, we find greater value in the things we truly love, and we create less stress in our lives. In the spaciousness, peacefulness happens.
When we have spaciousness in our lives, we learn to listen to the voice of Spirit within us, we create room for personal discovery, and we feel a deep sense of freedom. In the spaciousness, growth happens.
Make it a daily intention to create spaciousness in your life, and watch what happens when you do.
Vicki, in all her beloved nosiness, wants us to post pictures of our front doors. I’ll try to do that later, if I get there before dark after Nikki’s soccer practice, but in the meantime, I thought I’d paint a little word picture…
I stand on the doorstep on the all-weather carpeting Marcel installed a few years ago, in front of the door I painted green and then frowned at as it warped in the sun. Next to me is a pot of flowers Marcel was given when he finished his practicum teaching a few weeks ago. Just over the railing on the right is the flower bed that runs the length of the house and is enclosed by wooden logs. Poking out of the dirt, you can see bold shoots of green – hostas, irises, hens & chicks, and various other perrenials that I don’t know the names for but that don’t mind growing in a shady spot.
The lawn in front of the house is a little patchy under the massive elm tree that stands sentry in front of our house. This is the lawn I danced on with my children when it rained last summer. This is the lawn I’ve dug snow tunnels on. This is the lawn – just under that big ol’ tree – where I’ve taken pictures of the girls every year on the first day of school. This is the place where we hunt for lady bugs, watch bunnies hop across the yard, rake piles of leaves and then jump in them, spin circles with sleds in the snow, and have water fights after washing the car on hot summer afternoons.
At the edge of the lawn is a worn-looking pair of wooden lawn chairs with a built-in table between them. We inherited this from the neighbour who packed up and moved to the East Coast. It needed a coat of paint when we inherited it, but instead of painting, we sanded it down and went with the rough look. I like it better that way. It suits the place. It’s falling apart, but so far, Marcel has always managed to repair it and make it last just a little longer. We like to sit on those chairs at the end of a long summer day and watch the world go by. Sometimes we do it with the children, each of us sipping Slurpees or iced tea. And sometimes, Marcel and I sit there alone after the children are in bed and sip our glasses of wine in the stillness of the evening.
Across the street, behind three massive evergreen trees, and tucked in the middle of a fairly large housing co-op, is a rather bland-looking stuccoed wall with a wheelchair ramp wrapping around it and winding up the side. On the other side of this wall, our children have all, at separate times, spent many hours playing, laughing, making new friends, learning to trust adults that are not related to them, making crafts, and watching occasional Disney movies. It’s the day care – a place I at times resent because it’s gotten more of my children’s daytime hours than I have, and at times thank God for because it is close to home, convenient, friendly, and my children are safe and well-cared-for and offered training and inspiration there. (Remember the food-colouring and milk trick? It was learned there.) On that ramp at the side of the building, we’ve watched many children try out skateboarding tricks – with only minor mishaps so far.
Between that stuccoed wall and my house is a street that’s busier than I’d like it to be. My children can’t dash across it to the play structure in the housing co-op, or ride their bikes up and down the street. We’ve found ways to live with that, though, by using the sidewalk for bike rides and spending more time in the schoolyard and playground on the quiet street behind our house.
On the left, just on the other side of a large and unruly shrub, is a wide yard with a house perched in the middle. These are our neighbours M&J who just had a little baby boy. They’re moving away in a few months, to a newer suburb. We’re going to miss them – they’ve made great neighbours.
I don’t think I’ll give you the same tour of the backyard. It’s a bit of a sore-spot right now, with its rotting deck, falling-down fence, and weed-infested lawn. It needs some major work, but that’s not really in the cards for another year or two. For now, we’ll do most of our living in the front yard.
This is where I live – an ordinary home on an ordinary street in an ordinary suburb in an ordinary city. Nothing grand or elaborate. Nothing dream-worthy or idyllic. Nothing quaint or full of character. It’s just home. It’s where my daughters are growing up, where I’ve laughed a lot, cried a lot, dreamed a lot, ate a lot, painted a lot, written a lot, and loved a lot.
Just like I will never make the pages of Vogue, my home will never make the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. We’re both simple, ordinary, but mostly happy and well loved.
The water’s boiling for my tea, the house is quiet with the family all away at piano lessons, and I am curled up on my couch – home again. Another flight. Another magical lift-off moment. Another night spent in another hotel room. Another day spent in meetings and presentations (doesn’t it just SUCK when your presentation falls into the 2:00 in the afternoon slot when everyone in the room is beginning to drift off to sleep?) Another taxi ride (no Ethiopian cab driver this time). It’s good to go, but it’s always good to return.
In my job, I often end up in meetings and conferences full of a variety of church leaders from a variety of denominations. As is still the case in WAY too many of them, today I was once again a tiny minority in a room full of men. The only other woman in the room was there with her husband – she worked as his administrative assistant. It makes me sad that so many churches are still missing half the wisdom, half the giftings, half the blessings, and half the opportunities to learn by not allowing or encouraging women to lead. If you’d asked most of the men in the room today, I’m sure they would have said “oh, of course we let women lead” and yet the room full of men tells a different story. It makes me weary.
But that’s not a problem I’ll solve today. The water boiled. It’s time for tea.