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When I was 17, anorexic, depressed and trying to figure things out – I read a book that would forever impact me and the way I expressed myself; White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I remember borrowing it from the library, but I ended up buying my own copy before I had finished reading the first few chapters. I needed to own this book, to highlight the beautiful passages and add bookmarks so I could re-read parts of it again and again.

“What can she possibly teach you, twenty seven names for tears?”– Janet Fitch, White Oleander

There was something about that phrase that resonated deeply with my depressed soul. Twenty seven names for tears. Twenty seven ways to be sad. Twenty seven different nuances of sorrow.

I believe that this book, is what planted the seed for my interest in razor-sharp, beautiful writing. And it was definitely this phrase that was the catalyst for my love for the english language and it’s endless synonyms.

But I digress.

Another concept with endless synonyms – and one that resonates more deeply with me now than tears – is this:

Dreams, desires, wishes, goals. Hungers, strategies, needs. Intentions, ambitions, plans, objectives, targets. Hopes, aims, cravings. Passion, core desired feelings, bucket list. 

Eighteen names for longing.

And with it comes the realisation that it doesn’t really matter what you call it.

What matters is that you ask yourself:

What do I really want? 

What do I really want?

In life? In the next couple of years? This year? This season? This month? This week? Today? Right now? What is it, in this world, that makes my heart sing, just by thinking about it? What is my soul longing for?

It’s easy to approach this investigation by way of over-analysing and thinking too much about the end result. Does it really matter what I want? Should I want less? Will this make me happy? Is it realistic? And it is even possible?

You are on to something, of course. Truth is, your life may not end up to be better if you achieve or get what you want. Maybe you won’t be happier if you go after the tangible things, maybe you won’t feel better if you make the achievements, and who knows if you will feel content when your dream comes true.

Maybe it truly is impossible. Or hopeless. Or unlikely.

And maybe it isn’t meant for you, maybe you don’t have what it takes, maybe, maybe, maybe.

But don’t let this stop you from dreaming!

Not knowing where you’ll end up is what makes it an adventure. 

Also, there is another very good reason for not focusing too much on the outcome of your dreams and goals, and rather keep your eyes on the process of dreaming, wanting, needing, longing. Because…

The beauty of going after what you really want isn’t to get it. It’s to really want something. [Tweet this!]

I believe it’s the wanting that makes us feel alive, it’s the longing that gives us forward motion.

Longing builds momentum, it feeds action, it creates opportunities, it gives you something to get up and get out for. Wanting lights a flame in your heart, it’s the moment that you first want something that ignites you.

Longing is what gives us the moment of holy “YESSSSSS” that give births to universes inside.

With longing, comes a whole range of fears and questions. Here are the three most common of them:

Q: Help! I don’t know what my passion is!

A: If I could have a dollar for every time someone e-mails me with this question, I would be very rich. And I’ll hire someone to answer all the questions, because I always answer in the same way.

Blogs and the rise of the entrepreneurial self-help industry has created a whole new wave of people desperate to figure out what their passion is. The popular belief is this: If only I can find my passion, I will be able to quit my job, start a business and live happily ever after. 

Don’t shoot the messenger, but this is (sadly) not true.

Who said that everyone has a burning passion? And that everyone should have one? And who said that you need a burning passion to quit your job, to start a business and/or to be happy?

If you are one of those who “can’t find” your “passion”, I suggest that you start investigating your beliefs around the concept of having a “passion” in the first place. What does that even mean? Does everyone need “a passion”? Is your need for a “passion” a constructed need influenced by marketing? Did you need a passion before you read somewhere that you should have a passion?

It could very well be that the very belief you have that “I should know my passion and I don’t” is creating desperation and fear that is bringing you further away from feeling what you really really want.

Q: But what if I there’s nothing I really want?

A: Darling, I know the feeling. I too, used to live very far removed from my own wants, needs and desires. Somewhere along the lines of growing up, getting an education and believing that I wasn’t worth shit as a human being – I shut off the part of myself that was able to feel passion, and went for a high-status, soul-sucking and (to me) very dry and boring career in law.

If you are feeling like I did – dead on the inside, flat, grey, cold, indifferent – and very far away from wanting, I suggest that you start to get to know this part of yourself very very gently. It can be very frightening to discover your needs and wants for the first time, especially if you know deep down that it will require a lot of changes in your life. Remember, however, that you don’t have to make the changes. The first step is just to become aware, and then you can make more educated decisions based on that.

Start slowly and safely with discovering the pulls in your daily life and get to know the mundane and every-day parts of yourself that wants something. Ask yourself, what colour do I want to wear today? Do I want something sweet or savoury for breakfast? What temperature do I want my shower to be today? Does my body want to move fast or slow today? When I go window shopping, what do I want to buy? Do I want to sleep on my belly or on my back? Don’t focus on the results of wanting, but on the feeling of preference. Where do you feel the pull for one thing over another? How does it feel?

Slowly, you will develop a relationship with this part of yourself and you can safely move into the bigger questions in life.

Note: If you feel like the not wanting is because you are feeling depressed (or because of other illnesses), a good therapist, psychiatrist or counsellor could – and sometimes should – help with you with process.

Q: How do I know the difference between impulses and “real” wanting?

A: Another question I get as a life coach often is how to know the difference between the wants that last and the wants that are just fleeting and impulsive. Often, the question comes from someone who has experienced wanting something really really bad and then started going after it, only to find the interest fading and the wanting replaced by something new and (even) more alluring.

For me, this answer is divided in three:

First, I would like to ask: Why does it matter? This is the most annoying answer, of course. (And not just because I answer a question with a new question!) People who get this response from me usually respond with a “well, yes! Because I’m so tired of never being able to finish anything!” and then they look at me with a mixture of annoyance and despair.

The reason why I ask this – seemingly stupid – question is that I want to challenge the underlying belief that impulsive wants are not real wants and that short-lived dreams are not real dreams. And at the same time, the belief is very often that not finishing something is bad, bad, bad! Because we need to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish!

Again, this is not so true, is it?

In my experience, if we can free ourselves from these hard beliefs about ourselves and the world, we – the impulsive and multi-passionate – can live more rewarding lives. Remember, living passionately isn’t about achieving and finishing, it’s about the process of feeling and being passionate. And if you can live in your passion by jumping from interest to interest, dream to dream, goal to goal – without judging yourself for it – well, then you can live a very passionate life indeed.

Second, for those of you who want a more practical answer, I return in my life again and again to the phrase “you know the truth by the way it feels”. If you are connected with your body and your feelings, and if you pause long enough to listen to your body’s answer, you will detect a very distinctive nuance between the deep and true want – and the more fleeing and impulsive wish in the moment.

Don’t be fooled by the strength of the feeling. Sometimes our deepest needs are expressed with a whisper, and sometimes it is roaring and loud. The same goes for the impulse. Instead, think quality over quantity when it comes to knowing the truth. Does the particular quality of this want feel true to your soul? Or does it have a flavour of ickiness to it? Does it resonate, or reverberate? Does it make you feel open, or contracted?

Third, and if you want a more practical answer still, I suggest that you take the time test. If you want something – whether it is a job, a person, a feeling, an item or anything else – don’t act on your want immediately. Instead, wait to see if your want is still there a little later. An hour, a day, a week, a month, a year. This works wonders if you are an impulsive shopper or eater – and it can also work well before diving headfirst into a new activity, hobby or profession… not to mention relationship! Is this something you have been wanting to do for a long time? If yes, then go ahead! If no, then it might be a good thing to wait for a little bit before jumping.

BONUS: A journal exercise to liberate your longing

By far, the number one exercise I have done to touch into my longing is to write it all out. Start with a piece of paper, and start by writing things you want – you can do it orderly starting from the top, as a list, or as a random brainstorming. Use your creativity!

The key is to don’t stop writing, even when you feel like you are starting to run out of thoughts. It’s when you go beyond what you think you want, and when you let your hand write without resorting to habit and judgement – that the real magic happens.

If you need a little start help, start with answering these questions in keywords:

What are you craving? What do you long for? What feelings do you desire to feel  What do you want to experience before you die? What would be incredibly amazing? To experience? To own? What’s on your bucket list? What do you like? What are you attracted to? What would make your soul say yesssssss? 

I would love to read your answers and thoughts in the comments.

Love,

Marthe

“It’s all I ever really wanted, that revelation. The possibility of fixed stars.” ― Janet Fitch, White Oleander

 

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